Last year was your first Annual Meeting as INTA CEO. How is it going now?
I’ve been at INTA almost two years now. In that time we’ve been able to bring change to the organization, and we’ve been very successful in terms of attendance, delegations and policy issues. Since this time last year we have been in a transition period, as a result of the different Presidential Task Forces intended to prepare ourselves for the future.
What changes will there be?
It’s always evolution not revolution and has to be consistent with the Strategic Plan and service to members. A lot of it comes from the three Presidential Task Forces: Brands and Innovation; Building Bridges; and Committee Structure and Participation. Each task force presented their final report to the Board in March and they were approved. We’ve now requested them to do a follow-up by the end of the year, when we enter into a new term and new committees.
On top of that, we have a new Presidential Task Force looking into governance, and reviewing INTA bylaws and executive committees.
What does that mean in practice for members?
In terms of the bylaws, you will not notice changes. But those active in the Association, such as the 3,200 volunteers, will see changes from the 2016-17 Committee structure. We will move from 29 to 38 Committees, with new Committees in the advocacy group and a new communications group.
There will be new Committees on brands and innovation, copyright, data protection, design rights, geographical indications (GIs), indigenous rights, right of publicity and unfair competition, as we have expanded the related rights committee into specific committees. The reason is that we remain a trademark association, but we should be looking with a broader perspective at related areas such as GIs and the EU Digital Agenda. And it cannot be that in the 21st century design issues do not have a specific committee.
For example, in December we will have a conference around geographic indicators—including GIs, domain names and national brands—in Rome. If we are to remain the leading trademark association worldwide, we need to look into these issues. Our aim is always to make sure there is legal certainty and security in the market. The basis of that should be the first-to-register approach, no matter the nature of the right.
On the communications side, we need to pay more attention to how we communicate, especially how we influence public opinion. The only way to do that is to simplify our messages and hit the issues that concern public opinion, and provide factual evidence. There will be one committee called impact studies and one for public and media relations. Also, there will be a new Unreal Committee that will provide more opportunities for members to get involved and will work on expanding the campaign in regions throughout the world.
When you see what happened with the Protecting IP Act (PIPA)/ the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Anticounterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), there is clearly an issue. When we attend the Annual Meeting, we all feel comfortable, but when we meet with someone unfamiliar with our business our messages are not getting through. An Association has two main roles: one is being influential and one is serving our members. We are very good at the latter, and we do a fair job at the former but we could do better at reaching out to the public, as that shapes the legislators. As INTA, we should be promoting and financing impact studies, for example on the value of trademarks in a specific region or for a particular audience. We recently agreed with ASIPI to co-finance a study on the impact of trademarks on GDP and employment in five countries in Latin America. A joint project team is working on that issue and the fieldwork should happen next year so we have the results by the end of 2016.
Does this mean INTA is becoming more involved in international issues?
Being fully international is about many things, including the delegation visits we are running, where we open offices and introducing more languages in INTA. This year, for the first time we are taking the Leadership Meeting outside of the U.S. to Panama City. One of the reasons is that, when it expands, the amount of containers moving through the Panama Canal will move from 6 to 21 million a year, and around 70% of them are goods in transit and 80% come from Asia. We want to raise awareness with officials in Panama. That is one way we can be influential.
With the Annual Meeting, we agreed every third year it will be outside the U.S., so in 2017 it will be in Europe and in 2020 in Asia. With the Leadership Meeting, we will take it outside the U.S. from time to time and it will probably be Latin America. We also have conferences outside the U.S. each year. We had a conference in Japan earlier this year as well as the one in Rome coming up. Next year we expect to have a conference in Africa and for the first time our Board will go to China in September. We are going to take our trademark administrators meeting outside the U.S. for the first time this year: it will be in Alicante in October. For each meeting, we will do a study on the possible venues before making a proposal to the Board.
INTA is willing to become even more global, but that does not mean we are not paying attention to the U.S. For example, for the first time this year we’ve been able to put together the bicameral bipartisan Congressional trademark caucus and we have strongly reinforced our DC team. We want to pay a great deal of attention to what we do in the U.S. as we are very aware that a lot of our corporate members come from the U.S.
What’s been the highlight of working at INTA so far?
There have been so many things. I will always be able to say that I’ve met a great bunch of people and made great friends within this Association. I continue to be really impressed by the volunteer spirit in the Association.