New President, New Strategy, New Look—Interview with Mei-lan Stark, President of INTA

By Emily Tan, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

May 10th to 14th 2014 witnessed the great success of INTA’s 136th Annual Meeting in Hong Kong. The Annual Meeting made its mark as the largest and most dynamic trademark event in the world, it is always on the top of the list of not-to-miss events for trademark practitioners.

This year’s Annual Meeting was historically significant for both INTA and Asian countries: It was the first time that INTA held its Annual Meeting outside United States or Europe. This inaugural Annual Meeting in Asia attracted more than 8,600 people from over 140 countries, which provided an incredible chance for IP practitioners from enterprises, law firms, government agencies, universities, IP associations and related non-profit organizations to make friends and learn about trademark updates and development trends around the world. Moreover, there was also a special Focus on Asia track - eight sessions specifically focused on hot topics and substantive case law updates from Asia.

From the topic choices to speaker invitations, the principles of providing better services for association members was fully reflected through every detail of the conference. Many of those who attended the Grand Finale, held at Hong Kong Disneyland, said the amazing ending of the conference will be a lifetime memory. Such a great success cannot be achieved without meticulous preparation, so not surprisingly it took 3 years of preparation for the 5-day conference. China IP got the chance to interview one of the heroes behind the event - INTA President Mei-lan Stark. She spoke about the Association’s new strategies, development trends, and how she became the president of the Association after almost 20 years of hard work in INTA.

Meet Mei-lan Stark: 2014 INTA President

China IP: Your father is an architect and artist, and you are quite interested in art as well. It could be said that you could have stepped into the arts world if you hadn’t chosen to study law and IP. How did you make the decision and choose IP as your career?

Stark: I grew up playing the piano and cello, and my father is an architect and artist. So I was somewhat steeped in the arts world. I thought that IP would be the perfect marriage between my interest in the arts and my interest in the law. As it turns out, that is not quite true in the way I imagined. I’m lucky, working in a movie and television studio, that everything I touch is a creative work. But, of course, I am not part of that creative process, I focus on the legal aspects!

China IP: How did you become the president of INTA?

Stark: Becoming the INTA president was a long but rewarding process. I have served on a number of INTA since 1997 and first served on the Board of Directors in 2007. In 2011, I was the Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee of the Board. Last year, I served as Vice- President and Chair of the Planning Committee. From my experience you can see that members need to serve on the different committees and then be tapped to serve on the Board of Directors. You need to do that for three years and typically you rotate off and come back as an officer. You have to be officer for 4-5 years in different areas, then later you could become the president.

China IP: What do you do as a Senior Vice President of Intellectual Property at Fox Entertainment Group?

Stark: We have a team of around 23 people. We do all of the trademark, copyright, domain name and patent work for all divisions of Fox Entertainment Group worldwide. That includes our motion picture studios, 20th Century Fox, animation group, boutique film group, Fox Searchlight Pictures, free-to-air broadcast television network, Fox TV, 27 owned and operated television stations around the U.S., cable networks internationally and in the U.S, including Fox Sports and National Geographic Channel, online business and home entertainment business. I have been with the company for almost eight years.

China IP: You have rich and varied experiences in IP: you began your career in a law firm following your graduation from Yale Law School in 1994, then worked in companies (The Walt Disney Company and Fox Entertainment), and joined INTA in 1997, what were some of the differences for working in those different places?

Stark: It is quite interesting. I started in a law firm. That is quite early in my practice, I was very fortunate because the lawyers there were extremely professional, and I got very good training. But there are some differences between in-house and outside council. When working in a law firm, you are brought in for specific issues, while being in-house, you are involved in whole IP cycle. Disney and Fox are also very different. Most of the content produced by Disney is for children, while most content produced by Fox is for adults. They use different strategies for IP protection. Disney is more conservative while Fox does not mind controversy. One can be more daring with the strategy. The experience in INTA is amazing. While working in the different parts of the Association, I have had the opportunity to meet government officials, judges, professors, all the people one would not meet during their day job. I have learned so much from this experience.

China IP: As a senior trademark practitioner, could you give some advice to the people who are now in or planning to go into the trademark industry?

Stark: It is very fortunate if you are able to find a good mentor to help you learn about this area of law. Read as much as you can. Be a part of INTA because you will learn so much. It is a very special community. People in INTA are all devoted to the trademark practice, they come from different counties, companies, law firms. You will make some great friends, who really love trademarks and are passionate about the job. It will be such a rich experience. We have professional staff, but a lot of the work we do, the advocacy efforts, all the publications we create, educational programs, it is the volunteers, who put that together.

Meet INTA: Rich History, Exciting Future

China IP: This is the first time INTA has held its Annual Meeting in Asia. What considerations went into INTA choosing Asia, especially Hong Kong?

Stark: There are so many booming economies in Asia. Hong Kong, in particular, has a colorful history as the place where East meets West. It is a commercial, economic, and legal hub. Many of the local, important brands have become worldwide brands, and, of course, there are so many multi-national corporations and trademark owners based here in Hong Kong. No wonder it is considered a gateway to Asian commerce. So it seems that Hong Kong is the perfect place to come. The city is phenomenal, it is a cosmopolitan city with lots of wonderful sights to see, great transportation, marvelous restaurants to try and stellar services. The fantastic Convention Centre and all of these other factors make it an attractive place for meetings.

China IP: Are there any hot topics that INTA will pay special attention to at this Annual Meeting?

Stark: Yes, the educational program has a whole track just devoted to Asia IP issues, and some of the presentations will include simultaneous translation in English and Chinese. The goal of the Asia track program is to help people from the other parts of the world understand what is happening in the Asian economies, how to take advantage of these markets, and bring their business and brands to Asia.

We have almost 800 people coming from China alone, which is the largest number of Chinese attendees that we have ever had at an Annual Meeting. We really want to focus on some of the developments that are happening in Trademark Law in the Asian countries and have speakers from government, academia and practice, who can all talk on this topic.

China IP: INTA released 2014-2017 Strategic Plan several months ago, could you briefly introduce the plan?

Stark: There are four directions of the Strategic Plan. First: the protection of trademarks. INTA’s primary strategy is to advocate for the vigorous enforcement of strong laws that provide protection for trademarks. So that, on the one hand, the trademark owners can market their goods and services with confidence and protect consumers from counterfeits and other unauthorized products; and, on the other hand, so that customers and consumers can rely on trademarks to differentiate sources of goods and services in the marketplace.

Second: communications. The effectiveness of the advocacy contemplated by the primary strategic direction will turn, in a large part, on INTA’s communications plan, which must have at least three components: (1) an energetic program to explain the benefits that trademarks and related forms of intellectual property bring to consumers, national economies and society at large; (2) a clear exposition of INTA’s public policy positions, directed at both INTA’s members and its various non-member constituencies; and (3) a concentrated, easily understood explanation of the value of INTA, its programs and online resources.

Third: international expansion. INTA’s broad global reach is one of its strengths, and INTA supports its international members in many ways. Further international expansion will permit a more targeted advocacy, the development of stronger relations with local trademark offices and national or regional associations, more educational programming in more areas of the world, and a more meaningful participation by and through a growing international membership. The opening of the Shanghai and Brussels offices has been instrumental in advancing INTA’s mission in China and Europe. This objective contemplates the growth of the office in Brussels, additional staff resources in China (based in Beijing), and the establishment of an INTA office to serve other areas of the world such as Southeast Asia, Latin America and India.

Fourth: member satisfaction. The benefits of INTA membership include the opportunity to shape trademark policy through advocacy and committee work, the education that INTA’s programming provides, superior networking, and the availability of online resources that are easily accessible and well-organized, complete, accurate and up-to-date. Drawing the distinction between INTA’s members - the corporations and firms that pay the dues - and the volunteers from those members who are individually active in INTA, this strategic direction aims (1) to promote to corporate and firm decision-makers the value of volunteer participation in INTA, and (2) to develop new opportunities for volunteers to contribute to the success of INTA and to further their own careers in the trademark community.

China IP: It seems that INTA has attached great importance to China, according to the third point of the Strategic Plan you mentioned above?

Stark: INTA is a global Association. So we are looking at all regions of the world all the time. China is always a major focus for us. We have had a presence in China for ten years now, we have been doing a lot of work in the country in recent years, and we are looking for ways to increase our presence in the future. This year our CEO has been to China twice already, and I have been to China once. We are now in Hong Kong this week, and we will go back to mainland China in October to do another two-day program, probably centered on counterfeiting. We have had very successful meetings with the government officials. The Chinese government is focused on “Double Fight” against infringement and counterfeiting. We wish to deepen our cooperation with the government and help to educate people on the harms of IP infringement and counterfeiting. China has just amended its Trademark Law. We think that is a great step to the right direction and are pleased to be able to work with government in the revision and implementation processes of the China’s Trademark Law.

China IP: You have set three goals as key from the organization in 2014 during your presidency, could you elaborate more on these aspects?

Stark: The new Strategic Plan is in place for 2014 to 2017 and guides all the activities of the Association. I have created three Presidential Task Forces to help refine that vision and make sure we are striving for the goals of our Strategic Plan.

The first is a task force on brands and innovation. Innovation has traditionally been associated with patents and technology. However, I think there are very strong ties between trademarks and innovation. Trademarks can inspire and foster innovation. We saw that with the Internet, social media, online commerce, and now 3D printing. Trademarks also help brands take hold and gain legitimacy in the marketplace.

We are also working on building bridges. This is the part of the whole idea behind being in a place like Hong Kong for our meeting. We want to reach outside our typical constituencies and reach new ones by developing closer ties with more governments around the world, with different member groups, like marketing associations, consumer protection groups, and trade unions and others. We wish to collaborate with all those who really care about trademarks, find ways to align our messages and begin to have more powerful voice. This, in turn, will also support our global advocacy efforts.

Finally, we also have a task force devoted to looking at our structure, commit tee membership and participation. We have over 200 committees, and with several thousand people serving on those committees. The committees take the lead in our advocacy and education efforts, and develop our publications. So we want make sure that the committee structure is in line with the Strategic Plan, and is efficient and effective. And, of course, we want to provide a rewarding experience to the members and the volunteers of the committees.

China IP: INTA now represents over 6,400 organizations from more than 190 countries, were there any challenges during the development? How do you solve these problems?

Stark: Being so large is one of the challenges. Any time you have members from such a variety of industries and such a wide, diverse geographic mix, you always run into challenges. We must be sensitive to all the cultural differences of everybody. We are sensitive to the fact that people from different industries may have different opinions about certain issues. Meanwhile, it is always important we remain focused on the overarching global efforts of strong protections for trademarks around the world rather than focusing only on the needs of individual industries.

Moreover as our Association is a member-based organization with a vast committee structure, we want to make sure that all our volunteers have very rewarding experience, and access to excellent networking opportunities and educational resources. But it is a very broad membership to reach and providing all they want can be challenging. Indeed, one of the reasons we came to Hong Kong is that it has world-class facilities that can handle meetings for 8,500 people. Finding a suitable place for such a meeting can also be a challenge.

China IP: Besides this Annual Meeting, what other activities will INTA organize in 2014?

Stark: There are a lot of activities coming up. We have a board meeting in September, and a conference themed “Internet, Innovation and ICANN: The Evolving Landscape of the Net” in San Francisco in September, a meeting devoted to “Trademark Administrators and Practitioners Meeting” in October in Arlington, and a Leadership Meeting for committee members in November. An overlapping trademark rights conference, themed “When Trademark Overlap with Other IP Rights,” will be held in December in Munich, Germany.

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