Eastman Chemical Company
How did you come to choose a career in brand protection and what has been the key to your success?
I am fascinated by how brands are created and celebrated in different cultures, in line with evolving consumer trends. I have also observed how changing preferences and demands for counterfeit products directly shape the business models and value propositions of these products. Early in my career, I was exposed to both IP litigation and trademark prosecution. Due to my interest and experience in litigation, my IP career naturally gravitated towards brand protection and IP enforcement, which are still a significant part of my practice today.
For corporate IP professionals, business sense is key to success. Legal counsel should avoid having tunnel vision and, instead, explore the bigger picture of the business world. We are battling counterfeiters and infringers, who are business people after all, with profit as their major motive.
What are the particular brand enforcement challenges for a company in the chemical industry in China and how are these best overcome?
There used to be a misconception that brand management and enforcement were not as important to chemical companies as patent and trade secret protection. However, actions (and results) speak louder than words; through a series of massive seizures, which have led to the criminal prosecution and imprisonment of various counterfeiters, Eastman has sent a clear message that it is committed to the protection of its brands in the interests of consumers. Over time, we have secured more support and resources from management, as well as positive responses from industry peers joining the game.
I see great potential in fostering industry awareness and collaborating in joint enforcement actions to maximise damage to counterfeiters, creating a greater deterrent in the market.
The exchange of valuable intelligence and enforcement data among chemical companies can also put the industry in a better position to portray its concerns to governments, the courts and industry associations, and to garner policy support.
What have been the major changes in the Chinese IP environment over the past few years, and have these been positive or negative for major brands?
In 2017 we launched a criminal enforcement action with the Public Security Bureau, which raided the plant of a major syndicate within 20 minutes of receiving intelligence about the counterfeiter’s presence at the plant. This action highlighted the readiness of the enforcement authorities in China, which have substantial enforcement experience and are built on more than 20 years of professional collaboration with brand owners.
At the same time, brand owners must step up to stay ahead of the curve. We must refine the ways in which we conduct investigations, devoting more resources to data mining and analysis, and communicating effectively with enforcement authorities on the utilisation of data relating to counterfeiting.
What qualities do you feel contribute to effective leadership in the IP industry?
The IP industry is fascinating and eclectic, as you get to know people from a wide range of backgrounds, including legal, government affairs, investigation, media, academia and information technology. Feel free to talk to people and learn from them.
Intellectual property protects and powers innovation. Go beyond your comfort zone and learn more about the world of your clients to understand brand building, marketing, technological innovation, AI and fintech in different parts of the world. Your clients do not just want your legal opinion, they want you to be part of a team that can make things happen in the market.
Build your personal brand and trademark, and polish and leverage your soft skills in regard to presentation and leadership. An extrovert, friendly personality is always a plus.
Finally, if you could make one change to the IP environment in China, what would it be and why?
Counterfeiters and infringers want to make money, so the most effective ways to combat counterfeiting and infringement are to put counterfeiters behind bars and dampen their financial incentive by maximising costs and minimising profit margins. With discovery absent from civil litigation procedures in China, I encourage Chinese courts to go beyond statutory damages and come up with creative but practical ways to award reasonable damages and costs to winning brand owners. A high volume of judgments with hefty damages awards and proper enforcement and media coverage will create a snowball effect that can reinforce brand owners’ confidence in the courts and create an effective deterrent against counterfeiting.