"It is important to continue developing your own knowledge"
How are client demands changing and what impact has this had on your practice?
There is an increasing demand for highly specialised lawyers. In Vinge’s IP department, some of the trademark lawyers now focus on litigation, while others focus on M&A support and commercial agreements. Moreover, others work on more strategical trademark tasks and prosecution. In order to keep up with complex legal developments and give efficient advice, you have to be fairly specialised. I mostly work on litigation.
Which trademark-focused case has been your most memorable and what can be learned from it?
I will never forget the FELIX case, in which we represented the owner of one of the most famous Swedish food brands, FELIX, against a third party using the same word for cat food. In my doctoral thesis, many years before the case, I had written about the so-called ‘rat poison rule’, which relates to a situation where there is an unpleasant relationship between the goods (eg, perfume and manure). In FELIX, I had the opportunity to practise what I preached.
What are the top qualities that clients should look for when seeking world-class trademark advisers?
An understanding not only of the law, but also of the underlying commercial reality – including the business of the client – is crucial. It is important to get to know your client and the market context. Further, advisers should have the capacity to explain both the law and the commercial aspects in a clear and comprehensive way (eg, to a court). This skill is similar to that of a good teacher at a university, making complex issues easy to grasp and capturing the interest of the audience. It is all about communication.
What do you think will be the big trends to affect IP professionals and owners in Sweden over the next few years?
I think that there will be an increased interest in modern trademark issues such as 3D marks, position marks and colour protection. Further, the non-contentious side of M&A-related trademark work and trademark licensing strategies will play an even more important role – at least at the big firms. Cross-border work and international cooperation between firms will also become increasingly important.
Finally, reflecting on your experiences, what advice would you give to younger practitioners looking to pursue a career in trademarks?
I think that it is important to continue developing your own knowledge – not only through reading, but also through writing; for example, by writing articles in periodicals and attending seminars and conferences. I started out as an academic, teaching and writing about trademark law at the University of Stockholm. Later, when I began working as a litigator, I kept in close contact with the university. This helped me to keep up to date with the latest developments, which is important in a fast-moving field such as trademark law.
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Richard Wessman is a partner in Vinge’s IP department. He graduated with an LLM and an LLD from the University of Stockholm, Sweden. His areas of expertise include IP litigation, IP-related commercial agreements and offering strategic advice on IP protection. He is the author of several books on IP law and teaches IP law at the Universities of Stockholm and Uppsala.