INTA 2015: Trademark Practitioners Must Redefine Their Role in Branding

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International Trademark Association INTA

The 137th International Trademark Association (INTA) annual meeting just wrapped up in San Diego, and by all accounts, it was the biggest ever—with nearly 10,000 trademark practitioners from more than 150 countries in attendance.

The topics under discussion did not vary much from years past—issues such as IP infringement and brand protection remain at the forefront. But this year’s attendees were reminded that they are one of a brand’s most important ambassadors, and they need to start seeing themselves as such—still protecting trademarks but also contributing to the creative success of brands.

INTA International Trademark Association 2015 .sucks

A major talking point this year was the marketing tactics of the .sucks generic top-level domain (gTLD): a mobile billboard bearing the words “inta.sucks”; a large screen displaying well-known brands followed by the “.sucks” suffix; and even “.sucks” condoms being handed out in the name of brand protection (possibly).

Currently under fire by the trademark community for its pricing structure (one panelist remarked that “fear is not a good business model”) and under review by the FTC, it didn’t appear to have many fans at this year’s event, but that didn’t stop the chatter (“.sucks marketing is .annoying”).

The new gTLDs are not being well received by the IP community, with “.sucks” and others causing attendees to wonder whether the protectors of IP portfolios really have the desire and appetite to go through a second expansion of the new gTLD program, which is gaining interest in some areas. All of this raised the topic of the challenges of managing trademarks in a mobile world, where trademark rights are territorial but the internet is global.

While the role of brands remains constant in our lives, the role of the consumer has changed. More empowered in this digital age, they contribute—actively or not—to brand development.

Successful brands engage with social media to gain consumer trust and involve them in the branding process. With information constantly being shared, consumers are more prepared to trust each other’s opinions about brands than to accept what the brands themselves advertise.

With that, the role of the trademark practitioner must also evolve. They need to think differently about their contribution to brand identity and how to enforce rights. And still, as the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization recently said, even with the increasing importance of brands to consumers, “awareness of IP is our greatest challenge.”

—Jerome McDonnell is Group Trademark Director at Interbrand. You can follow him on Twitter: @jeromemcd

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