The six panelists in a session entitled Utilizing Regional IP Attachés as Resources and Allies all serve as attachés around the world. They are responsible for addressing policy issues in countries in their region, conducting outreach and training for IP enforcement officers in their host countries, and lending support to brand owners.
The IP attachés work in concert with other delegations for promoting trade. In particular, the USPTO is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, so the attachés are often located with the Department of Commerce’s regional trade mission, such as the Foreign Commercial Service. Similarly, the UK IPO is part of the UK’s Department for Business Innovation & Skills.
One important advantage that IP attachés have is their in-depth knowledge of the workings of regional governments. For example, Albert Keyack, USPTO IP Attaché for South America, explained that even though some brand owners have sophisticated outside counsel, they often still may not have the same level of knowledge about the host government, or access to it, as attachés.
“Sometimes, like the blind man and the elephant, you still don’t know what all the parts of a government like the Brazilian government looks like,” he explained. “And we do, because we train border guards, we train the police who do seizures, we train municipal police, we train judges.”
“So we know everybody in the enforcement food chain ... and in several instances we have been able to direct people to exactly the right people.”
Keyack gave an example of the rights holder for STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE, who had detailed information of a shipment of counterfeits entering Brazil but did not know how to use this information. His office was able to direct them to the exact officials at the Port of Santos to stop the shipment.
The attachés’ understanding of the practices of these foreign governments also help brand owners be more effective when raising their concerns. One thing that they stressed is that the best approach is different in each country.
For example, Donald Townsend, USPTO IP Attaché based in Russia and covering other countries in the region, pointed out that he works in some countries where it may not be advantageous to engage the U.S. government too early in the process. Instead, in many countries, he stressed that it is best for the company to go through local channels first to raise their complaint or bring up their issue, and then request support from the attaché at a later stage.
Aisha Salem, U.S. IP Attaché for the Middle East and North Africa, said that the first question she asks companies seeking assistance is what steps they have taken. She pointed out that one thing that the IP attachés can help with is figuring out what steps the rights holders should take, and the best way to proceed.
Michael Lewis, the attaché to Mexico, pointed out that the Mexican government is very keen to engage with international companies and would encourage brand owners to reach out. This, he notes, is different from some of the countries in Townsend’s region and illustrates the importance of knowing the nuances in each country.
Both the USPTO and the UK IPO have websites for their programs, with contact information for each attaché.