Mei-lan Stark has been busy since becoming INTA President. The Senior Vice-President for Intellectual Property at Fox Entertainment Group took over from Toe Su Aung in January.
In her day job at Fox, Stark says one of her biggest challenges is combating unauthorized uses of trademarks while not diminishing fans’ loyalty. She has been at the company since 2006, having previously spent four years as Executive Counsel at The Walt Disney Company.
“We have the privilege of working on some of the most well known and beloved properties around the word,” she said. “We have a lot of fans that are ardent about us but that make unauthorized uses of our intellectual property – oftentimes inadvertently, sometimes very consciously. But there are unauthorized uses that don’t necessarily fit with the business unit’s strategies for that property or trademark. Then it is really about: how do you convince fans to stop doing things that are problematic for the company but still keep their enthusiasm and their passion as a fan? That can be a bit of a tightrope.”
At INTA, the start of Stark’s presidency coincided with the launch of the Association’s 2014-2017 Strategic Plan, the four prongs of which are protection of trademarks, communications, international expansion and member satisfaction. She has established three presidential task forces to help with this.
Three Presidential Task Forces
The first task force is focused on brands and innovation. Stark believes the patent world has done a good job of capturing the public’s imagination around innovation but she pointed out certain types of innovation also have a big impact on trademark practices. “That’s something we need to really dive into and make public,” she said. Examples include the explosion of e-commerce and social media, brands synonymous with innovation such as Apple and Google, and what 3D printing will mean for brand owners.
The second task force is focused on building bridges, which ties in with the communication and the globalization part of the strategic plan. “This task force is charged with looking out into the world and seeing other constituencies with which we have not necessarily created as strong a tie as we could, where we have common alignment on issues, and where we may be able to collaborate to speak with a more powerful voice in advocacy efforts and our educational endeavors,” said Stark. “This would be things like trade or labor unions and other types of consumer groups. There are other groups that have a real stake in what trademark protection accomplishes and it is important that we are reaching out to those folks too and finding way to work together where we can.”
The third task force is focused on re-examining INTA’s committee structure and participation. This corresponds to the member satisfaction part of the strategic plan. INTA has more than 250 committees and subcommittees, with more than 2,000 volunteer members serving on those committees. “That is a huge and amazing wealth of expertise, knowledge and man power,” said Stark. “But it is hard when you have a structure that large to make sure you are making the most efficient and effective use of it. It’s hard to make sure that you have within all those committees the right type of experience to make it a rewarding and robust and enriching member experience. So that task force is going to be re-examining that and seeing if there are ways to improve our structure or ways that our processes work to keep improving the system and keep improving the outcomes and the experience for the members.”
Stark reported that the task forces in January provided their specific objectives and how they align with the strategic plan. They have also had monthly calls and will meet in person in Hong Kong. The task forces will also meet at INTA’s Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona in November and the first quarter Board Meeting in 2015, where they will present their final reports.
Combating anti-IP sentiment
With a number of big issues facing brand owners, there will be much to discuss at this year’s INTA Annual Meeting. Stark believes one of the biggest issues is a growing anti-IP sentiment. “It is hard capturing the public’s imagination about why it is they should care about this and why trademark protection matters are absolutely critical,” said Stark.
She said recent legislative efforts have not helped, especially on the copyright side. “You saw the SOPA and PIPA legislation in the U.S. and then the ripple effect of the anti-IP sentiment to the ACTA legislation worldwide and particularly in Europe. That was legislation that had everybody’s support but then suddenly was just unpalatable,” she said.
Stark has also detected greater skepticism to big business in general in recent years. She believes the concept of brands in many people’s minds tends to represent big business.
“You see it in all kinds of different ways,” she said. “You see it in the plain packaging context. You see it in the generic pharmaceutical debate about whether the brand and patent just make things more expensive. It is important people see that brands and trademarks absolutely have a value for those that devise, market and use them. But equally important are the services they provide to consumers.”
Plain packaging is a particularly important issue to watch, said Stark. Australia has already implemented this for tobacco companies. The UK, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel and Brazil are among other countries debating a similar move.
“I am not at all qualified to say what product especially from a health and safety standpoint should be on the market or not, but if the product is going to be on the market I truly believe trademarks are one of the most efficient and effective tools of communication ever devised,” she said. “When you see Apple, Amazon, TENCENT, PEPSI or Toyota you instantly have a whole set of information and expectation around what that product or service is going to be. Plain packaging takes away from the valuable information that consumers should be able to use in terms of making their purchasing choices.”
Meet INTA’s President
Mei-lan Stark is Senior Vice-President, Intellectual Property for Fox Entertainment. In this role she heads the IP legal group, which is responsible for all trademark, copyright, domain name and patent work for the Fox Entertainment Group worldwide. This includes film banners such as 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, Fox Animation and Fox 2000, television businesses such as FOX, FX, FUEL, SPEED, FOX SPORTS, FOX NEWS, SHINE LIMITED, as well as several other entities such as AskMen and IGN.
She joined Fox in 2006 after spending four years at the Walt Disney Company as Executive Counsel, where she was responsible for IP matters for several Disney divisions including Feature Animation, Buena Vista Pictures Marketing and Distribution, and Disney Consumer Products.
She began her career as an IP attorney with Kilpatrick Stockton following her graduation from Yale Law School in 1994.
Stark has served on a number of INTA Committees since 1997 and first served on the Board of Directors in 2007. In 2011, she was the Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee of the Board. She also chaired the 2008 INTA Advanced Trademark Symposium and served on the INTA Task Force on Anti-IP Sentiment during Anne Gundelfinger’s presidency in 2005. Last year, she served as Vice-President and Chair of the Planning Committee