No country can be ignored now

  • New brands will emerge as business and technology develops
  • Smaller and start-up companies will require innovative, commercial advice
  • Emerging markets will be key – both for protecting existing brands and for new clients

With large brand owners tightening budgets and making more use of automation, a key source of revenue for trademark practitioners will change. Big clients will not disappear – as we will see below, they will still seek commercial and strategic advice – but the routine work involved in monitoring and filing trademark applications will decline. Of course, this is a reality that practitioners in many jurisdictions have already had to face. Notably, the growth of the EU trademark has cut down on duplication of search and filing work in EU member states and forced many European trademark attorneys to switch focus.

One area where trademark practitioners are sure to be in demand is advising newly launched companies. Consider the following global brands: Airbnb, Instagram, Fitbit, WhatsApp, Uber. None of them existed 10 years ago, but all are now famous worldwide and are worth billions of dollars. Many similar new brands will emerge in the coming decade, as technology allows the creation of new businesses while the Internet and social media make it possible to build global brands quickly using innovative marketing. Working with such companies provides huge opportunities for trademark attorneys, but there are two key challenges: identifying the next big brands before it is too late; and advising on the particular challenges that new brands face, especially in new technologies.

Meeting the first challenge requires being alert to new business models and emerging technologies. Contacts with investment firms and universities may help, and trademark practitioners may be able to learn from their patent colleagues in this respect. But it also means taking risks – both in identifying potential clients and tailoring services and rates to meet their needs. The second challenge will need trademark practitioners to move beyond trademarks to advise on all aspects of brand protection, particularly online and in new technologies.

The other characteristic of many emerging clients over the next few years is that they will not come from Europe or the United States, but from emerging markets such as China. Western law firms that do not already have the capacity to advise such clients, including in local languages where relevant, will be at a disadvantage. Conversely, clients will also need advice on expansion into new markets. As they seek to develop their brands, more and more companies will want to secure trademarks and fight counterfeits in emerging areas such as Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America and will look to external counsel for guidance. “You can’t ignore anywhere on earth now. You have to file everywhere,” says one US-based trademark lawyer.

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