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Etienne Sanz de Acedo Interview: Projecting INTA into the future

James Nurton spoke to INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo about continued globalization, engaging new constituencies and working towards INTA’s next Strategic Plan

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Asked about his priorities for INTA, Chief Executive Officer Etienne Sanz de Acedo picks out two themes: “becoming truly global” and “engaging as many constituencies as possible”. They’re topics that are evident in this year’s Annual Meeting and other INTA activities, and both are likely to feed into the process of drafting the next three-year Strategic Plan, which is now well underway.

Thinking globally

Registrants at this year’s Annual Meeting will notice that there is a continued emphasis on broad ranging topics covering multiple jurisdictions and engaging various stakeholders. There are Users’ Meetings hosted by WIPO, the EUIPO, JPO and USPTO, and on Monday registrants can meet IP offices and IP attachés in a special open house session, expected to feature representatives from Canada, the Cayman Islands, Denmark, Georgia, Ghana, Japan, Namibia, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Vietnam.

On the same day, for the first time there will be parallel receptions for registrants from diverse regions: India, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Middle East (the latter two are both new this year). “We know registrants find these meetings very rewarding and they are always well attended, so we are pleased to be able to expand them,” says Sanz de Acedo, who joined INTA in 2013 and is taking part in his third Annual Meeting as CEO.

The past year has also seen greater emphasis on INTA activities around the world. Last year’s Leadership Meeting was held in Panama City, the first time it has taken place outside of the United States. “Panama is a country which has a very important role to play in IP, and this was a great opportunity to raise the importance of IP in high level meetings with officials at ministerial level,” says Sanz de Acedo. INTA has also held well-attended meetings in Singapore and Rome in the past year, as well as in New York, and has sent delegations to China and India. Later this year, it will hold its first event in many years in Africa—a region to which Sanz de Acedo says INTA will be “paying more and more attention.”

But globalization is not just about one-off events. It is a permanent effort to visit countries, meet members, recruit local corporations and interact with officials and legislators. This year, INTA opened a branch office covering Asia-Pacific in Singapore, and has plans to open a ­similar office in Latin America. Sanz de Acedo says having such offices “means a lot to our members globally and to officials.” INTA also recently jointly organized (with IPEC, IMPI, ASIPI and BASCAP) a workshop on enforcement in Latin America attended by representatives of 12 national offices; this will be repeated annually and one of the concrete achievements already has been the creation of a repository of information on IP enforcement.

Engaging new constituencies

As well as reaching out to new regions, though, INTA is also seeking out new constituencies and aiming to build bridges between the global trademark community and organizations and individuals not directly involved in IP—be they officials, judges, academics, consumer associations or politicians. Sanz de Acedo says he is “very pleased” to see how the Congressional Trademark Caucus in the United States is working, for example: it has had three briefings in the past year, there are 19 members of Congress involved and Senator Grassley made a memorable speech at a recent event to mark World IP Day.

Also important is working alongside other IP associations, something that has been effective notably in the advocacy on the EU trade mark reform package, from which he believes lessons can be learned: “Did the associations work well together? Yes they did. Could they work better? Yes they can.” This type of engagement is also evident in the Association’s efforts in the U.S. to collaborate with other IP associations via the U.S. IP Associations Coalition. Since 2015, INTA has been taking part in meetings with leadership of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), the ABA Section on Intellectual Property Law and the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) to strengthen the voice of trademark owners and users in the United States.

In terms of non-IP constituencies, the Association’s Building Bridges Committee, created as part of the new committee structure announced in 2016, is dedicated to the task of identifying key issues and creating new relationships. The committee focuses on developing long-term trust with non-trademark groups worldwide in order to expand INTA’s reach.

“We need to engage with non-IP professionals—marketing people, consumer associations, the younger generation, economists, and so on—ask them what they think about IP, and listen to them,” says Sanz de Acedo. This is particularly important with respect to non-IP constituencies, the general public and legislators. “Lawmakers need to understand the positive contributions of IP to innovation, GDP growth and employment,” he says, adding: “Protecting brands is protecting our economies.”

Holding events dedicated to specific topics—such as geographical indications, designs, or sports—is one way to bridge some of the divides that exist, says Sanz de Acedo. In March, INTA held its first Brands and Sports Conference in New York. The event’s 242 registrants heard from speakers across many sectors, including sports leagues and sports governing bodies in both the United States and abroad, licensing companies, private practitioners, consumer products, entertainment companies and government agencies. “We will take a similar approach with our upcoming conferences in Africa and Europe. We need to bring people, including non-IP professionals, to the table. Are they all going to agree? Maybe not, but at least let’s try to talk to each other,” says Sanz de Acedo.

Towards the new Strategic Plan

The emphasis on looking beyond traditional borders is also apparent in the process now underway to draft INTA’s Strategic Plan 2018-2021. Sanz de Acedo says the Association has already reached out to members, staff, organizations such as WIPO, the TM5 and non-IP constituencies, as part of a process that will take another year to be completed: “We want to have as much input as possible,” he says. “INTA’s role is to advocate and provide networking opportunities, but also project into the future. We need to be thinking about what the next trend will be and how will it affect the IP industry.”

In particular, he stresses the importance of speaking to consumers and young people—who will be the consumers of the future. “As lawyers, sometimes we spend too much time discussing the wording, when what is important is the meaning behind the words. We need to bring more factual evidence and be more engaging, and this is an area where perhaps we can do a better job.”

Etienne’s Annual Meeting

As well as speaking at today’s Opening Ceremony and at a number of other receptions during the coming week, Etienne Sanz de Acedo says he hopes to attend as many educational sessions as possible—though other commitments do not allow him to attend as many as he would like.

Other than that, he is looking forward to meeting INTA members and government officials and in particular to interacting with Past Presidents. “We owe them great respect for what they’ve done, I think they have a great deal to offer, and I like to talk to them about where we’re going,” he says. Another meeting he hopes to attend is today’s Trademark Administrators’ Brunch, which he describes as “always a very rewarding event.”

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