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Three challenges for new INTA chief executive

James Nurton

Most trade mark practitioners heading to Dallas for the INTA Annual Meeting next week will be aiming to learn a little bit, pick up some business cards and see something of the city. But for one attendee, there will be a lot of thinking to do

Etienne Sanz de Acedo
Etienne Sanz de Acedo: new man at INTA

Etienne Sanz de Acedo's appointment as the new INTA chief executive was announced earlier this month. He succeeds Alan Drewsen, who has led the association for 15 years and retires in July. We've picked out three long-term trends for Sanz de Acedo to think about as he prepares to take on his new role:

1 Globalisation. It's 20 years since USTA became INTA, and the Association now has a diverse membership, a multinational Board and meetings held worldwide. It recently launched an initiative targeting Africa and held a policy tour in Asia. But to be truly representative of brand owners, INTA needs more corporate members in Asia and Latin America and even greater diversity in its leadership. Appointing a non-American chief executive is a welcome move in this respect.

2 Participation. INTA membership and Annual Meeting attendance continues to grow, but corporate legal budgets are also under greater pressure, and in-house counsel face more demands on their time. INTA needs to ensure that in-house counsel participate at all levels of the association, and that it continues to represent them, even on those issues (such as the Madrid Protocol) where they may be at odds with private practitioners.

3 Communication. It might seem surprising to say that communicating the value of trade marks could be the biggest challenge. Some might dismiss the protests and vote against ACTA in the European Parliament last year as little local problems. But concerns among the public at large about IP rights are genuine and growing. This week, the Pirate Party won three parliamentary seats in Iceland.

If you doubt that trade marks are affected by the IP backlash, read Cory Doctorow's blog in yesterday's Guardian newspaper: "It's time we stopped giving trademark bullies a free pass to tell us what our own words mean - it's time to take them back." Once such arguments get picked up by politicians and protesters, legislation to restrict trade mark rights might not be far off. Look at how quickly plain packaging of tobacco products has become a reality in Australia (with other countries likely to follow).

Alan Drewsen: still at his desk until July

Some IP owners and practitioners prefer to dismiss such arguments as based on "misunderstanding" or "ignorance". But they need to treat them with respect and take them on. Otherwise, the critics will have run the race before the defenders are even off the starting blocks. Congratulations to patent attorney Dan Ballard for commenting on Doctorow's piece; it would be good to see more responses from trade mark practitioners. Associations have a vital role to play here.

Sanz de Acedo brings many years of working in trade marks, is well connected with IP offices globally and also has the ability to be charming in five languages. We've worked with him for a number of years in his capacity as head of communications at OHIM and he's always been approachable and practical. I fully expect that he will be a visionary leader for INTA and wish him well.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should remind readers that we publish the INTA Daily News during the Annual Meeting (in other words, we have a commercial relationship with INTA). Both Drewsen and Sanz de Acedo will be interviewed in next week's newspapers, which will be available in Dallas and online. Whatever we think, it's what they say about the challenges ahead that really matters.


Article Comments

As someone who remembers when INTA was the US Trademark Association and was in the thick of the discussion when the association was so pretentious to change its name to "International," I agree with James that the association has come a long way in its internationalization but like so many other things (Who Moved the Cheese?), the standards have changed over the years and INTA must continue to internationalize. I also think that James has "nailed" the key challenges that Etienne will need to address in his new position. But that said, let us not forget that one of INTA's trademarks is its collegiality and community -- meaning that the serious work of the association must be balanced by also keeping INTA an organization that members enjoy participating in. With all the stress in today's workplaces, participants need to find enjoyment in INTA as an extracurricular activity or participation will wane. Thus, as INTA grows, it needs to resist the tendency to become just another big corporate institution. It can do that without compromising the quality or importance of its work but it another significant challenge that will define the future of INTA and what distinguishes it.

Robin Rolfe May 01, 2013

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