Invest time and effort with external providers

  • The client-law firm relationship will change considerably in the next decade
  • The onus will be on law firms to adapt
  • Clients are likely to have more power over advisers

The relationship between clients and law firms will change considerably in the next decade, thanks to automation, cost pressures and the effect of harmonisation of laws and procedures. As service providers, the onus will be on law firms to adapt – as discussed in our report on trademark practitioners.

However, in-house trademark counsel will also need to think more strategically about which outside advisers (counsel and other service providers) to work with, how to do so and what kind of service they want. Law firms are generally good at responding to instructions and managing issues that arise, but not always good at what one in-house counsel refers to as “creative thinking and trying to understand problems”.

Moreover, clients may find they have more power over advisers. It will become easier to move files around, and new types of law firm and service provider such as IP-PORTUNITY will try to tempt clients away from existing providers. Law firms are also more likely to be investing in building IT systems tailored to particular clients or groups, possibly even jointly with clients. In-house counsel should take any such opportunities to shape the development, as one counsel argues: “You need to invest the time and effort to get it built, put data into the system and set up the processes you want. There is an investment to be made in educating people and software.” What is more, as one interviewee cynically describes, when it comes to renewing instructions, this might give clients more leverage in discussing fees – if a law firm has put a lot of money into building a tailored system, they will not want the client to move to a firm down the road.

Table 1. Which geographical areas do you think will become more important?

China83.33%
India55.56%
Asia (excluding China and India)55.56%
Africa44.44%
Middle East22.22%
Europe16.67%
North America11.11%
Australasia5.56%
Latin America0.00%

Where will the next big markets be?

Eastern Europe – the economies of the EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe are likely to grow over the next decade and will provide opportunities to extend brands that are established in major markets such as France and Germany. The bigger countries – Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – provide the most opportunities.

China – no trademark owner can afford to ignore China, due to the size of its market and its role as a manufacturing centre, although other countries in the region may take up that mantle in due course. In the future, companies throughout the world will regard a Chinese trademark as essential, and more products will be launched to target or prioritise the Chinese market. The difficulties in the country – including huge volumes of applications, unpredictable enforcement and the threat of bad-faith applications – will have to be negotiated.

Middle East and Turkey – the Middle East region will become a more important market, particularly for luxury goods, but also as a transit point between Asia and Europe and Africa, particularly with the development of the One Belt, One Road initiative. Trademark owners face particular challenges here today, including cultural and linguistic barriers to certain brands, high official fees, lack of harmonisation and mixed enforcement efforts, so improvements are anticipated.

Africa – much of the research conducted for this report predicted substantial growth in Africa – not only in large markets such as Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, but also the next tier of countries, for example, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya. Young populations will drive demand for products in sectors such as telecoms, entertainment and luxury goods. But will the infrastructure of offices, agencies and courts be able to guarantee trademark protection?

Mexico – as one of the few Latin American countries to be a member of the Madrid System, and given its new trading relationship with the United States and Canada, Mexico should be more attractive to brand owners. It is also a good base for expansion in Latin America and the Caribbean, although it is notable that no respondents in our survey identified Latin America as an area that is likely to become more important (see Table 1).

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