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2020 AIPPI World Congress adapts to an online world

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Diarmuid De Faoite, communication and marketing manager at AIPPI, explores the World Congress which took place virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but still provided attendees with the opportunity to network

Due to the pandemic, the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI), moved its annual congress to a special virtual platform designed to replicate the highlights of its yearly congress. Despite the change in normal circumstances, the attendees from around the globe quickly adapted and embraced the opportunities offered by shifting everything online. In a much-welcomed move, the event was also completely free for all AIPPI members to attend.

Each year, the AIPPI World Congress is comprised of four main components:

  • the substantive legal work or harmonisation programme;

  • the professional development component;

  • the management of the association;

  • networking opportunities.

This year, every component was well-represented in a virtual form. In fact, the ambitious programme had a total of 83 sessions spread out over eight days. This translated into 101 congress hours of IP-related content. This article will now examine each component in turn.


At the heart of the congress are the study questions which result in AIPPI resolutions by the end of the event. This year, the four questions under study were:

1. IP rights in data

2. Inventorship of inventions made using artificial intelligence

3. Descriptive use as a defence in trade mark proceedings

4. Standing to litigate and effect on remedies

Prior to the congress, AIPPI's National and Regional Groups (NRGs) work on reports to describe their country's position on the study questions under review and propose harmonisation avenues. These reports are then distilled into a summary report, which forms the basis of draft harmonisation resolutions. These were analysed at the online congress.

Plenary sessions were held where the draft resolutions were discussed and further amended where necessary. There was one dedicated plenary session for each question. Every AIPPI member could attend these sessions and comment, but only the official delegates of each AIPPI national or regional group could vote on the proposals.

The Executive Committee, during its second session at the congress, adopted the resolutions. These resolutions will now be translated into several languages and shared with intellectual property offices across the world. Previous AIPPI resolutions have helped to shape national law in many countries.

Professional development

As always, the panel sessions covered many topics of interest. This year they included areas such as artificial intelligence, global FRAND, and trademarks on social media. The panel sessions were well attended and often lively affairs.

The virtual roundtables were an exciting new feature of the online congress. These small-format sessions allowed a maximum of 15 attendees to see their colleagues and discuss current topics in an informal format. Each virtual roundtable consisted of a host and a pre-designated discussion topic. Up to six of these were run per day, allowing attendees a wide spectrum of topics to choose from. Among the areas tackled were, "Should a letter of consent be accepted to overcome a conflicting TM refusal?" and "Pro-bono work and Community Service during the pandemic." These 36 sessions proved to be very popular and produced some very stimulating debate.

The lounge area of the virtual platform proved to be one of the liveliest online rooms. Attendees often posed questions which were quickly answered in this area.

A special session was held with the heads of key IP offices and international organisations who provided insights into COVID-19 crisis management at their IP offices. They also touched on the role of IP protection in the current fight against the pandemic and the implications of new technologies. This session featured the new WIPO director general, Daren Tang, in one of his first official engagements.

A second session examined IP enforcement in Chinese courts. Key features of the Chinese IP court system were explained as well as an in-depth update on important developments in practice and law. The panellists included a Chinese Supreme Court judge, a Chinese litigator and a German litigator who shared their knowledge and experience enforcing IP rights in China.

Association management

While many sessions dealt with hot topics in the world of intellectual property, there were of course also meetings to carry out the business of the association. The Executive Committee meetings covered typical administrative elements such as elections, awards, the budget, and reports from the different bodies of the association.


Those who thought that moving the congress online would mean that the usual informal networking would not happen this year were in for a surprise. The lounge area of the virtual platform proved to be one of the liveliest online rooms. Attendees often posed questions which were quickly answered in this area. AIPPI members reached out and introduced themselves to one another using a special congress connection page. Other members availed themselves of the networking possibilities in the sponsor areas and sessions.

The Young AIPPI Forum was led by some lawyers-turned-actors. They focussed on expanding networks in a virtual setting.

Two traditional congress sessions deserve a mention. First up is the Women in AIPPI session. The invited keynote speaker was Gwen ten Berge (the Netherlands).

Gwen entertained about 150 attendees with anecdotes of her experiences in male-dominated work environments. As part of her speech, she shared the tricks and tips she had employed in her career. The importance of having mentors and building a support network featured heavily. Break-out sessions offered the chance to interact on these and other topics in smaller groups.

Secondly, the Young AIPPI Forum was led by some lawyers-turned-actors. They focussed on expanding networks in a virtual setting. Over the course of one (very interactive) hour, tools and tips to help young members expand their networks were imparted. Breakout rooms were also used a lot in this session, something which was itself a virtual networking opportunity.

The general consensus was that this year's congress was a tremendous success. This was in part due to it being online with no travel time needed to attend; but most of all the attendees enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with colleagues from around the world, make new connections and attend the congress programme in this unusual year.

AIPPI members will hopefully be able to meet in person at the 2021 AIPPI World Congress to be held from October 17 to October 20 2021, in Hangzhou, China. Further information will be released on the AIPPI website:


Diarmuid De Faoite

Diarmuid De Faoite is the communication and marketing manager at the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI), a not-for-profit international association for intellectual property rights founded in 1897.

Originally a business lecturer and researcher, Diarmuid now specialises in online and print media. He has voluntarily served as a director of the European Medical Writers Association since 2012.

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