In conversation with…
Etienne Sanz de Acedo, CEO of the International Trademark Association
In the first of a new series of conversations, I recently caught up with INTA’s CEO, Etienne Sanz de Acedo, to discuss plans for the upcoming virtual meeting and to hear Etienne’s thoughts on the current IP landscape and the Association’s key policy priorities. The background of the current pandemic was never far from our conversation, but Etienne, ever the optimist, was always keen to highlight opportunity and appears to be facing the situation with calm resolve.
Consumer trust and behaviour and how these have evolved since the start of the pandemic were a key theme of our conversation. According to Etienne, internet usage is expected to rocket by 160% among new or low frequency users alone, whereas consumers are becoming more frugal in their consumption with a shift in focus towards home and family. The online marketplace will inevitably continue to grow, but consumers will increasingly seek to engage with transparent, fair and ethical suppliers – a major consideration for brand owners and their advisors. It seems that the pandemic is either exacerbating or accelerating trends that were already apparent, including increased consumer fatigue around certain brands and trade marks. Consumers are benefitting from better access to information, which is aiding their desire to interact with brands whose ethos lends itself to a relationship of trust and transparency. It is no longer enough for brands to be seen to talk; they also need to act.
We also discussed brand restrictions: advocating for the right of brand owners to use their trade marks and related IP rights where governments seek to prohibit, misappropriate or significantly restrict those rights. Tobacco plain packaging is the most obvious example, but this also now affects other products such as infant formula, and sugary snacks and beverages. There is unease that a desire to address public health concerns has led to unwanted side-effects, impinging on consumer choice, impeding market competition and, perhaps most worryingly, benefitting counterfeiting and other illegal trade. Such restrictions inevitably erode brand value and arguably restrict freedom of expression. Whilst proponents of such measures argue that their aims are beneficial in seeking to reduce exposure to and use of products and services conventionally deemed to be unhealthy, INTA maintains that legislation and regulation restricting branding and use of trade marks must be driven by clear and convincing evidence of efficacy. They support balanced regulation that addresses public health concerns whilst respecting private property rights.
And finally, the burning topic of the Annual Meeting: education, advocacy and business development form INTA’s DNA and the meeting plays a key part. This year would have marked the twentieth anniversary of my first INTA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, in 2000. Sadly, the meeting planned for April in Singapore was not to be and the 2020 Annual Meeting will be held virtually in November. For me, the elephant in the room was always the question of how to tackle diverse time zones but, as Etienne explained, INTA has addressed this with a three-pronged approach. Sessions are mainly timed to start early in the morning on the US East Coast, allowing for the largest number of attendees to participate at a comfortable time. There will also be live sessions in China standard time zone in Mandarin and English, plus on demand sessions and “Watch Parties”, allowing registrants to view recorded sessions with interaction via live chat.
I look forward to catching up with many familiar faces over the virtual platform and thank Etienne for taking the time to share his thoughts with our readers ahead of the meeting. As has been customary in previous years, OUP will soon be launching a free INTA collection of content, including several key articles from JIPLP, so keep an eye out!
Managing Editor, Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice