1 Jul
2017

Household & Consumer Goods Team of the Year: Inter IKEA Holding Services

L-R: Richard Menzies (Ikea), Cecilia Emanuelson (Ikea), Gabrielle Olsson Skalin (Ikea), Dragos Vilau (Vilau & Associates)

For many, Ikea is still firmly rooted in the brick-and-mortar world, designing and selling ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories from its vast showrooms. However, when asked how the company’s enforcement strategies are evolving, general counsel Gabrielle Olsson Skalin cites the online space as a central focus. “We have experienced a great increase in online matters over the past five to 10 years,” she muses. “In addition, these different technologies are evolving very rapidly. We have been forced to dedicate more resources to online infringements and we believe that it is important to try to stay ahead of the fast-paced changes in the IP world and adopt strategies accordingly, while still keeping to our core IP strengths.”

At the same time, expansion in the physical world has generated a significant amount of work for the team. “New Ikea stores are opening up in new markets,” explains Olsson Skalin. “This means we are constantly looking into reinforcing our rights in these jurisdictions.”

Last year the company made headlines around the world when Indonesia’s High Court ordered the cancellation of marks in two classes for non-use; the decision was widely misrepresented as meaning that the company could no longer use the Ikea brand in Indonesia. The trademark team quickly swung into action to reshape and correct the message, taking out advertisements to emphasise that Ikea retained rights to the name. “The IP team worked together with the franchisor and the franchisee, as well as local counsel, to come up with a suitable strategy,” Olsson Skalin elaborates. “This highlighted that the IKEA trademark was still owned by Inter Ikea Systems BV – even after the decision – in order to answer any questions with regards to ‘lost’ rights.”

Franchisees are a key partner at local level and the team continues to work with them to ensure that the company’s intellectual property is deployed properly. “The first Ikea IP and trademark manual came out in 1984,” she recalls. “While it has since been updated a number of times, the content is still remarkably similar after all these years. We work proactively to educate franchisees and all users of IKEA trademarks so that they follow the rules and guidelines. We also strive to provide a good platform for any questions and concerns that franchisees may have in relation to IP matters.”

This rich and uniform brand history makes it easier for the team to ensure that other stakeholders and internal partners can easily understand what use is permissible and act as proactive allies in the fight against infringement. “A consistent approach to what we consider is acceptable and what is not acceptable,” replies Olsson Skalin, when asked for the key to her team’s effective enforcement efforts. “This needs to be spread throughout the organisation to ensure that everybody knows the rules, even for internal trademark use. This in turn helps us to engage Ikea co-workers, who then report back a great number of enforcement cases to the IP team. The team also works closely with the marketing/branding department to ensure that we are aligned.”

This relationship with other departments is key – despite the scale of the company’s brand operations, the IP team consists of just three legal counsel based in Waterloo, Belgium, as well as Olsson Skalin herself (who devotes a substantial amount of her time to IP matters). Yet despite its compact size, the team manages to provide seamless protection for one of the world’s most valuable brands. Asked how she accounts for its successes, for Olsson Skalin it is simple: “It is a small team of highly motivated people working very closely together and enjoying what they are doing.”

Other nominees:

American Greetings

Johnson & Johnson

Procter & Gamble

Unilever