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Weekly take: INTA’s courting of patent lawyers prompts clarity questions

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INTA’s decision to target patent lawyers is intriguing, but the organisation should also decide what it wants to be

Our conversation with INTA chief executive Etienne Sanz de Acedo, published this week, brought about some interesting news: the association wants to bring more patent lawyers and attorneys into its ranks for next year’s annual meeting in Singapore in May – and has tweaked its programme to tempt them.

The idea to branch into patents tells us a lot about INTA, how the association views itself, and whether it needs to adapt.

It’s hardly a surprise that Sanz de Acedo is eyeing change. It was he who, when he took over in 2013, begun to expand INTA’s reach beyond just North America so that it could become a truly international organisation.

Moving into patents is all very well, of course, but the association should be wary of losing focus. It seems, at times, that INTA is too keen to reinvent itself.

According to its own website, INTA was set up to “protect and promote the rights of trademark owners, to secure useful legislation, and to give aid and encouragement to all efforts for the advancement and observance of trademark rights.”

But it feels in recent years like it has strayed more into brand territory, rather than the purely legal. At the last few annual meetings, it has marketed itself and its members as brand custodians and ambassadors, and covered topics such as sustainability and reputation.

At the moment, it seems to sit somewhere between a legal representative organisation and a brand management body.

This idea to get patent lawyers on board, and bring patent discussions into the fold, could risk muddying those waters even further.

There are several existing IP organisations for which patents play a major part: AIPPI, the American Intellectual Property Law Association, and the Intellectual Property Owners Association, to name but three.

Losing focus?

INTA should be clear about its long-term goals. Don’t get me wrong, organisations need to evolve, but if INTA is to move away from being a purely lawyer-led organisation, or indeed expand its focus beyond trademarks, it should consider formally changing its remit and name.

I’m not exactly sure what this would entail. Perhaps INTA could become known as the International Brand Owners’ Association or the Innovators’ Association, though neither would necessarily capture the brand and patent focuses.

The name is just one part of it; what’s clear is that the focus is no longer just on the legal aspects of trademarks.

Sanz de Acedo told Managing IP there is no dramatic shift towards a wider non-legal focus and that expanding to include patents is a natural evolution – particularly for an Asia-focused annual meeting. He said that 70% of all patent filing activity emanates from Asia and that it makes sense to capitalise on this.

That suggests, then, that an increased focus on patents is unique to this year’s meeting.

In the long term, if INTA is serious about widening the conversation around innovation, maybe it should open access not only to all IP lawyers, but also to advertising, marketing, and C-suite figureheads.

After all, we are constantly told that IP operates in a silo and that there is a disconnect between legal and business departments.

One source close to the association told me recently he thought the general conversations at annual meetings would benefit from having an expanded array of views.

Perhaps there is an opportunity here. Let’s start with Singapore.

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