China IP Interview: INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo

China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

INTA’s 2022 Annual Meeting Live+ has been held in Washington, D.C., as a combined physical + virtual event from April 30 to May 4. The choice of a hybrid format reflects the association’s response to the easing of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, with the transition from its 143rd Annual Meeting Virtual+ to the 144th Annual Meeting Live+. With 6,500 organizations from 185 countries comprising INTA’s membership, its Annual Meeting has been recognized as the world’s largest IP event. As INTA’s media partner in China since 2014, on February 28 China IP interviewed INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo.

China IP:

What were the thematic topics of INTA's 2022 Annual Meeting? Compared with those of previous Annual Meetings, what was the defining feature of these topics of 2022? 

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:

Having hosted Annual Meetings for almost 150 years, INTA has rich experience designing educational programming and providing business development and networking opportunities for Annual Meeting registrants. Because of the pandemic, and in response to our members’ needs, in 2022, we decided to organize the meeting slightly differently.

There has been seven education tracks this year, some of which we featured in the 2020 and 2021 meetings. The first track I’ll mention is “Building a Better Society Through Brands.” As part of this track, we have talked about corporate social responsibility [CSR], ESG [environmental, social, and governance], and other issues that brands must engage in as they assume greater social responsibility. A second track covered “Complementary Rights, Regulatory Issues, and Brand Restrictions.” And we have talked about “Enforcement and Anticounterfeiting.” The fourth track has been “Innovation and the Future of IP,” with a strong focus on blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs, in response to our members’ deep interest in these technologies. In “The Business of Brands” track we has talked about the commercialization of IP and the economic value of IP rights, which is becoming increasingly important to brand professionals. Rounding out the seven tracks was “Professional Development” and “Regional Updates.” INTA is known for a global perspective as well as relevance to each region. The Regional Updates track includes sessions covering case law updates from the US and the EU, and, in 2021, the program included a China Case Law Update. These were very popular sessions among Annual Meeting registrants. Across the seven tracks, I would say we have covered the major topics that were relevant to brand owners today, including Chinese brand owners. 

China IP:

INTA held the 2021 Annual Meeting as a Virtual+ event and has held the 2022 Annual Meeting as a Live+ event. What were your expectations for the 2022 Annual Meeting?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:

Our Annual Meeting was fully virtual back in 2020 because that was the only option. In 2021, we hosted an Annual Meeting Virtual+. It was essentially a virtual event plus small-scale in-person events organized in Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles. We would have liked to hold one in Hong Kong, but unfortunately things didn’t permit at the time. In 2022, we called our Annual Meeting “Live+” as we were back to being in-person as well as host a Virtual Only event for those who could not – or chose not to – travel this year. 

Our intention was to maintain this model for future Annual Meetings, so that people who could not or preferred not to travel could easily access the virtual event and even interact with in-person participants during the Meetings or at their leisure after the Meetings. This was the greatest advantage of virtual technology. Basically, registrants have benefited from the combination of the strengths of live and virtual events.

China IP:

Do trademarks and brands have eternal or phased significance? In light of INTA's own evolution and the data it holds, do you find human beings are paying more and more or less and less attention to trademarks and brands? What are the emerging trends of the industry of trademarks and brands?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo: 

Consumers are paying more and more attention to brands, but they might be doing so in a different way. Brands are connections between consumers and companies. The 2021 and 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reports show that consumers are now paying close attention to the behavior of the companies that own the brands. When it comes to ESG, CSR, and critical issues for humanity, such as environmental protection, consumers are paying more attention to what the companies behind the brands are doing. This change (in how consumers are interacting with brands) is positive - I think the future for brands, trademarks, and the whole of IP will be very bright.

Regarding emerging trends, interestingly, we can see the growth of different forces. On the one hand, we see global harmonization and the extensive adoption of international treaties, for example, the Madrid Protocol, which will possibly have more versions in new languages such as Chinese. INTA is very supportive of this move. On the other hand, we also see the development of emerging technologies including, for example, artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs, which, as we discussed, featured prominently in the 2022 Annual Meeting educational program.

China IP:

Based on the above judgments, how do you think INTA is positioning itself in the world of trademarks and brands? Has this positioning changed over time? Premised on this positioning, what is the significance of being an INTA member?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:

This is a very big question! INTA used to be a specialized trademark organization and has been evolving from dealing exclusively with trademarks to covering brands and complementary IP. Today, INTA is looking at almost all types of IP rights. We do that from a global perspective, which means that we try to protect brands and consumers all around the world, in their home markets as well as in the international markets. 

INTA has also made a clear decision to become a forward-thinking IP organization. We’re projecting ourselves and the IP community in the future through our own research and by working with various think tanks. What will IP offices of the future look like? What will IP law firms of the future look like? What will be the future role of IP departments in corporations? We facilitated three think tanks to answer these questions, and their reports are available on the INTA website. We are now facilitating two further think tanks, looking at the future of the IP judiciary and the future of technology in the service of intellectual property. All in all, we're trying to assess how intellectual property will be evolving and how we need to continue developing better laws to protect brands and consumers globally. 

With this being said, I personally would like to see more Chinese corporations join INTA. We are an association of brand owners and the positions that the association is taking are influenced by the brand owners. INTA is the voice of the brand owners, and I would like to hear more voices coming from China to represent Chinese corporations, as IP matters affect all corporations worldwide in the same way.

China IP:

How many Chinese members does INTA have as of 2021? What are the main components of these members? What trends have you observed in terms of number and composition? How do these trends corroborate with the overall trends in China’s trademark and brand development? 

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:

INTA’s Chinese membership includes 1,415 individuals in 157 law firms and 143 individuals in 46 corporations as of 2021. It is very interesting that the city with the highest number of individuals as INTA members in the world is Beijing, which is great news. However, of the 46 Chinese corporations that are INTA members, 8 are Chinese corporations and the remaining 38 corporations are multinationals, with a base or domicile in China. INTA has approximately 500 member corporations in the US and 275 member corporations in the European Union. We should have more member corporations from China as many Chinese brands are growing into huge multinational conglomerates.

We are seeing the number of law firms grow steadily. Historically, Chinese law firms have understood the importance of being part of INTA to serve both their Chinese clients and their international clients with business in China. With INTA, they get a lot of information and educational resources relevant to their business and take part in the decision making and drafting of position papers and resolutions for the association. These are among the membership benefits waiting to be explored by Chinese corporations.

China IP:

In terms of number and composition of Chinese members, what are the goals INTA sets for 2022? With the rapid growth of China's trademark industry, does INTA hope to enroll more members in China? 

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:

We like to see significant increases in membership, and we always set ambitious goals for ourselves. We have seen more Chinese law firms become INTA members and we want to see more Chinese corporations join our community.

China is extremely important to INTA. We appreciate Chinese authorities for their achievements in intellectual property protection over the years in China and internationally. We would very much like to contribute to further development of IP in China and, as noted, we are very supportive of the incorporation of new languages as part of the Madrid Protocol, including Chinese. Given the very high volume of Chinese applications filed through the Madrid system, it makes a lot of sense to include Chinese as a language of the Madrid Protocol.

China IP:

How are Chinese members doing in the INTA community now? Meanwhile, how do they contribute to the community?  

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:

Our Chinese membership is very active and dynamic in many INTA’s committees, including the Anticounterfeiting Committee, the Trademark Office Practices Committee, the Legislation and Regulation Committee, among others. And we also have the China Global Advisory Council, through which the INTA Board of Directors is advised on the pri priorities and concerns of our Chinese members. 

INTA opened its first representative office ever in China in 2004. The China Bulletin is our only non-English publication. We also have sessions in Chinese at Annual Meetings. 

We look forward to engaging more with our Chinese members both in person and virtually all year round.


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