Monday at INTA 2024: What’s keeping law firm partners up at night?
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Monday at INTA 2024: What’s keeping law firm partners up at night?

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Linda Zhao (left), Simon Bennett (centre) and John Lewis (right)

Managing IP reveals highlights from the INTA Annual Meeting, including law firms’ diversity and ESG concerns and a new beginning for a Chinese firm

It was a warm, sunny day in Atlanta on Monday, May 20, and there was plenty on the agenda at the INTA Anuual Meeting, including a look into the issues keeping law firm leaders up at night as well as a lively debate on the territoriality of trademark law.

Sleepless nights

In a morning session that explored what keeps counsel up at night panellists explored how law firms were navigating diversity, artificial intelligence (AI) and other hot topics.

An audience member noted how some firms had been sued for their diversity policies in the wake of the US Supreme Court's ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v President & Fellows of Harvard College.

In that decision, the court found that race-conscious admissions programmes at two universities were unconstitutional.

The audience member asked what lawyers were doing to address this.

John Lewis, partner at Shook Hardy & Bacon in the US, pointed to the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Roberts wrote that the case shouldn't prevent universities from considering how race affected an applicant's life so long as that was tied to a quality or unique ability that the applicant could contribute to the university.

Lewis said: "I do think that as long we can talk about under served groups, knowing that there will be this intersectionality between diversity status and socioeconomic disadvantage in a lot of cases – it allows us to still do this programming [to reach underrepresented groups]."

Lewis added, however, that firms had to be more disciplined in how they spoke about these initiatives and that taking SCOTUS's ruling into account was a concern for firms.

Speakers also touched on the perks and pitfalls of AI.

Anuj Desai, partner at Arnall Golden Gregory in Atlanta, led the audience through a demonstration of the downfalls of relying on generative AI.

He asked ChatGPT what the Northern District of Missouri considers as factors in a trademark case. The tool came back with a list of factors.

The problem? The Northern District of Missouri is not a court.

Desai added that everyone had read stories where lawyers had turned in briefs that cited fake cases.

"It's a huge ethical issue. And I think it's also a training issue for our attorneys. If you're a junior attorney and don't have somebody to bounce these things off and are out on your own trying out the latest technology, you still need to go back to the basic rules of professional conduct."

He added, however, that there were new AI tools that lawyers should test and improve their knowledge of.

ESG goals

ESG (environmental, social, and governance) is another issue on firm leaders' minds, according to speakers.

Simon Bennett, partner at Fox Williams in London, said some law firms are looking into becoming certified B Corps in an attempt to show clients that they mean what they say on ESG.

B Corps are companies that have been verified as meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.

He added that firms are considering what flights have the best ESG credentials when booking travel.

"There's a lot of things that law firms are thinking about in terms of making sure that they're respecting those ESG situations," he added.

Linda Zhao, founding partner at GoldenGate Lawyers in China, said firms needed to minimise their business trips as much as they can. She noted that technology allows firms to conduct evidence preservation virtually – rather than traveling to do so.

Professor v practitioner

Later in the day, those who love a good debate were entertained during a ‘professor v practitioner’ session.

A law firm partner and academic faced off to debate whether the territoriality of trademark law had become obsolete.

The debate was inspired by the 2023 Abitron Austria v Hetronic case, in which the US Supreme Court decided to vacate a lower court's decision to award manufacturer Hetronic $96 million in damages despite the fact that 97% of the infringing sales had taken place outside the US.

Before the debate, Joel Feldman, co-chair of the trademark and brand management group at Greenberg Traurig, took an audience poll.

The poll revealed that just 35% of attendees agreed with the idea that the territoriality of trademark law had become obsolete whereas 65% disagreed.

Amanda Hyland, partner at Taylor English in Atlanta, argued in favour of the resolution.

Hyland noted that e-commerce was now huge, but that this had resulted in a lot of trouble for brand owners, including rampant counterfeiting.

"We are always fighting," she said.

She added that people travel and relocate, which means that brands in other countries have value in the US even when not in use there.

"Our market is no longer local, or even national," she said. "We should all agree that we have a problem. We should agree that it's a global problem and it's a problem that doesn't care anything about our borders."

Meanwhile, Timothy Holbrook, professor at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, argued that territoriality has not become obsolete.

He said individual trademark laws reflect the cultural values of a country.

"It is a form of speech regulation. What we think is acceptable for regulating speech differs from culture to culture," he said.

Getting rid of the territoriality of trademarks would likely impose the cultural values of well-resourced countries to the determinant of local values, he argued.

He added that the US seemed to be running out of good trademarks anyway, which would become even more of a problem if the territoriality of trademark law was obsolete.

In a response, Hyland argued that although these concerns were important, they didn’t compare to the burden that registering and enforcing marks in multiple countries had on brands – especially on those that cannot afford to do this.

After a vigorous debate with strong arguments on both sides, audience opinion shifted even further away from supporting the resolution.

By the end of the session, just 24% of attendees said the territoriality of trademark law had become obsolete, while 76% disagreed.

Looking East

Away from panel sessions, Managing IP also got the chance to meet some of the lawyers who now form China-based firm East IP Group.

In March, Managing IP revealed that Hong Kong-based IP services firm SIPS had combined with Chinese law firms Beijing East IP and East IP to create East IP Group.

A team of 36 intellectual property professionals, including six partners, also joined the group from Zhong Lun Law Firm. They are being led by veteran trademark practitioner Jimmy Huang.

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Joe Simone explains the setup of East IP

Together, the group has become one of the largest firms in China.

The firm hosted a get-together at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Joe Simone, founder of SIPS, noted that his firm had always specialised in trademarks but could now add patent expertise to its capabilities.

He added: "In Beijing East IP, we now have one of the best patent prosecution firms. With expertise in both patents and trademarks and around 400 professionals, we have become a one-stop-shop for all matters in China”.

Question of the day

We also got a chance to grab a coffee with some of more delegates.

Our question of the day on Monday was how lawyers balance their normal workload with the excitement of the conference.

Douglas Masters, managing partner of Loeb & Loeb's Chicago office, said he has an out-of-office message on and tries not to schedule too many things back-to-back, so he also has some time to make calls.

"But a lot of our clients are here, and they sometimes understand that we're going to be a little slower getting back to them. It works out in the end," he said.

Reception roundup

Just because the panel sessions came to a close that did not mean an end to the fun for the day.

Charity Brand Action held its third INTA fundraiser at STATS Brewpub in Atlanta.

Managing IP editor Max Walters and senior reporter Rani Mehta stopped by the venue for the fundraiser, an event made possible by IP practitioners who have come together to support valuable causes.

In addition to the fundraiser, INTA delegates and the Managing IP team also enjoyed a rooftop bar reception hosted by Dentons, and another drinks reception at the Sun Dial restaurant, located at the top of the Westin Hotel which was hosted by Fross Zelnick.

The INTA Annual Meeting runs from May 18 to 23 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

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