Day One INTA 2017 in Barcelona: publishing war, keynote controversy, Brexit blues and much more

The beautiful city of Barcelona is currently packed to the rafters with trademark experts attending INTA’s 2017 Annual Meeting. Over 10,000 are in town for this year’s event IAM’s sister publication World Trademark Review has a crack team of reporters on the ground - Trevor Little (TL), Joff Wild (JW) and Tim Lince (TJL). Here are their highlights and observations from the first full day of the conference.

Daily drama; INTA critical of unofficial publication – The INTA Daily News has been a fixture of Annual Meetings for a number of years now. Its publisher for over a decade was Managing IP, but last year INTA put the contract out for tender (Globe Business Media Group and World Trademark Review was invited to participate in the tender process but chose not to). As a result, Newton Media title World IP Review is producing the official publication this year. But Managing IP is not out of the newsletter game yet and has produced its own title for the event – the Trademark Times. The first issue was released on Saturday, and it is understood further editions will be released over the coming days. One private practice lawyer told us she would understand if INTA were not happy about an unofficial publication being released around the conference venue; but as an accredited media organisation Managing IP is, of course, permitted to report on the event without restriction. Distribution, though, may be another matter. An INTA spokesperson told WTR: “We learned today [Saturday] that MIP was distributing their publication outside of their approved space within their booth in the exhibition hall and were very disappointed by this. As INTA’s Media Partnership Agreement states, exhibitors are permitted to distribute materials only in their booth. Earlier today, we met with MIP to address the situation and reiterate the terms of their Media Partnership Agreement with INTA. We understand from them that they will abide by the terms of their agreement moving forward. In terms of taking further action, we are looking into it.” So it is a case of watch this space, but in the meantime the INTA Daily News is available around the conference venue, while the Trademark Times can be picked up on the Managing IP stand (of course, if you are swinging by the exhibition hall to collect one, do make sure you visit World Trademark Review’s booth too!). (TJL)

The annual meeting sets new record but the corporate squeeze is on – Last year, in the opening ceremony for the 2016 Annual Meeting, the co-chairs announced that 10,087 individuals had registered for the Annual Meeting, thereby becoming the biggest meeting to date. Well bid adiós to that record – when World Trademark Review downloaded the attendance list three days before the 2017 programme commenced, this year’s attendance stood at 10,429 (and this, of course, doesn’t include the hundreds of trademark professionals that are in town but have not registered for the meeting). Drilling down, 982 attendees are listed as corporate attendees. Barring a last minute rush, this means corporate attendance is around 20% down on 2016 (when 1,186 attended) but that is not surprising. As was noted in our recent Global Trademark Benchmarking Survey, the pressure on corporate trademark budgets is not going away and conference travel was identified as the single hardest activity to obtain budget for. That almost 1,000 have made the trip is positive and some teams are well represented. The list we analysed featured 17 delegates from JT International, 15 from Apple, 13 from Facebook and ten from They, along with their corporate peers, will be highly sought after at networking events. If you want to find them, try spotting those delegates working hard to hide their badges! (TL)

Fakes on the beach – Many attendees will be looking forward to the Annual Meeting’s Grand Finale, due to be held at Barceloneta Beach on Wednesday evening. Curiously, World Trademark Review visited the beach on Thursday – while the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition’s annual Spring Meeting was being held steps away – and there were a host of traders set up on the sand selling, you guessed it, counterfeit goods (click here to view a photo of some of them). We spoke to one of the beach traders and were told the products were “the best quality”, with a further claim they were all “genuine” and “real” (although one private practice attorney told us later on that they spoke to a trader who admitted their goods were fake). Items for sale included Prada and Louis Vuitton purse bags (priced at €20) and various high fashion bags (€30), with branded sunglasses and watches also available. One INTA representative looked surprised when asked if the sellers would be trading during Wednesday’s Grand Finale, and said the association was not aware of the issue. If they are there, it could be that counsel representing fashion brands may have some work to do in-between cocktails. (TJL)

Taxi toil – The queues for the taxis outside the Fira Gran Via Convention Centre were long on Saturday afternoon. That’s before most delegates had arrived, so imagine what they will be like when the working week gets underway. On top of that, there is a distinct possibility that Barcelona’s metro may have a severely reduced service or even be closed completely on Monday as a strike has been called by train drivers. People who brought waking boots with them to Barcelona, as well as hats to keep out the sun, may well end up feeling very smug. (JW)

The canny crocodile – For many brands heading to Spain the priority is connecting with external counsel from around the world. One way to do this is convene a global IP counsel summit. This is the tactic adopted by Maus Frères, which owns such brands as Lacoste, Aigle and Gant. World Trademark Review was invited to attend this year’s behind-closed-doors event, at which the team outlined the company’s strategic pillars and related IP goals, ensuring that external partners truly understand the culture and mission of the company (and can effectively act as brand ambassadors on its behalf). The IP team also introduced its network to new processes and tools, and provided an overview of global prosecution and enforcement activities. The INTA Annual Meeting clearly offers brands a unique opportunity to gather their global partners in one room, fostering a sense of collegiality amongst the network and facilitating a joined-up approach to protection. Crucially, in terms of ROI, it is a canny use of budget and Zeeger Vink, IP Director of Maus Frères, expects more brands to take this approach in future – with INTA’s help: “We have been organising a Global IP Counsel event for many years now, and always during INTA’s Annual Meeting - for obvious reasons. When you work with firms from all continents and in a wide variety of matters, it’s crucial to take some time to explain where the company is going and share your global IP strategy. It allows firms to better tailor their service to our needs and share best practices in protecting our brands. I know that INTA is working hard to facilitate such company events and bring their costs down, so I expect that over time the practice will become widespread. Not too much of course: we want our counsel to keep time for us!” (TL)

Open season at the EUIPO – The theme at the user meeting of the European IP Office was clear; innovation, innovation, innovation. EUIPO president António Campinos spoke of how new technology – especially big data and automation – is going to shape “tomorrow’s reality”, adding: “In this new world, IPR will be the glue that holds things together, and IP offices are not immune to change.” In explaining how the EUIPO itself is adapting, Campinos referenced World Trademark Review’s recent research into the world’s most innovative IP office – where the Alicante-based office came top of the ranking of the top 40 offices worldwide. But not one to rest on his laurels, Campinos further announced a new Open Data Platform, which launched this weekend and allows users to download all of the EUIPO’s trademark and design data in bulk free-of-charge. (TJL)

Up-close-and-personal client relationships – The exhibition hall is jam-packed with stands at this year’s Annual Meeting, with companies demonstrating their IP-related tools and services in the hope of signing up new clients. However, one exhibitor, AltLegal CEO Nehal Madhani, tells World Trademark Review that he doesn’t see the company’s exhibition booth as the most important asset during the event. "While the stand is a convenient way to arrange meetings, I see the evening receptions as our main focus during INTA,” he said. “What frustrates me about the IP software space is that most vendors have been so patent-focused in recent years – trademarks have been given a backseat, and trademark professionals deserve better. That is a message that resonates when I talk to attorneys at receptions over a glass of wine; so far, we’ve found we strike up more new client relationships through meeting at receptions than during the exhibition hours” In fact, AltLegal takes the forging of strong client relationships ‘after working hours’ to the extreme – for the second year in a row, the company has hired out a house for their stay during the INTA Annual Meeting, with a select number of its own clients living with them during that time. (TJL)

A language question – For INTA delegates with a passing interest in the politics of the Iberian peninsula, the choice of keynote speaker for today’s official opening ceremony is an interesting one. On the face of it, in Spain’s second city having Íñigo Méndez de Vigo – the country’s Minister of Education, Culture and Sport – welcome attendees is something of a coup for the organising committee. But not everyone will see it that way. That’s because Barcelona is also the capital city of Catalonia, a fiercely independent autonomous region whose government is currently planning a referendum on separation from Spain later this year – a move that is emphatically rejected by the government of which de Vigo is a part. Among the things of which the Catalonians are most proud and protective is their language, Catalan, which to all intents and purposes has now replaced Spanish as the means of communication in most walks of civil life (though Spanish is still widely spoken in everyday situations). To invite a minister from Madrid to get proceedings underway – and what’s more the one whose remit the INTA programme explains includes “promoting and disseminating culture in Spanish” – is what might be described as a “brave” move (though undoubtedly inadvertently so). It is certainly one that will raise eyebrows among a large number of the local delegates. It will be interesting to see whether de Vigo sticks to his brief and uses Spanish in his address or whether will he play it safe and speak to delegates mainly in English. A few words of Catalan may also be the politically clever thing to do. In Barcelona, these things really do matter. (JW)

Cutting out the chaff – WIPO’s Madrid System user meeting is always a popular affair, and this year it was again ‘standing room only’. Those attending heard that Madrid international applications are rising 7.2% year-on-year, while registrations have fallen by 13.9%. An issue that has blighted WIPO in this regard, explained WIPO director Marcus Höpperger, is in regards to irregularities in applications, which lead to registrations being held up or refused. He revealed that in 2016, 43% of all international applications contained irregularities. Of those, 74% were due to classification errors. “It is highly important to us that the classifying of application gets better,” he said sternly. “This is not rocket science, and we hope our guidelines to classification practices [as well as the improved Madrid Goods and Services Manager] will improve things.” (TJL)

Brexit blues – This year’s meeting comes with extra piquancy for the UK private practice lawyers and attorneys who are in attendance. No doubt just about every single conversation they have over the next few days will include a reference to the issue that dominates all discourse in the country these days – Brexit. And for most Brexit-related trademark questions, the only response the Brit can reasonably come back with currently is “we don’t know yet”. Until negotiations get underway (hopefully soon after the results of the 8th June general election are announced), well-informed guesswork is the best that anyone can manage about how the trademark aspects of the impending divorce will be handled; and what the interaction between the EU and UK trademark regimes will be once the split has occurred. Even then, though, given how much there is to discuss overall and the finite negotiating resources there are, it is highly unlikely that trademarks and other types of IP are going to be at the top of the priority list. Amid all the uncertainty, though, is one thing we can be pretty sure of: come April 2019, the UK will no longer be an EU member state. For trademark owners, as things currently stand, that is likely to mean that grants from the EUIPO from then onwards will not cover the UK, while trademark decisions handed down by either the court of first instance or the ECJ will not be automatically applicable there. What it also means, of course, is that the kind of practices that British trademark lawyers and attorneys are going to have is likely to change, too – there will be a lot less Europe and a lot more UK. For practitioners who have spent long years seeing themselves as part of a wider jurisdiction and pitching for EUIPO-related work, that not only means a big culture shock, but also a need to compete much more fiercely for instructions covering the UK alone. Because the UK is an advanced G8 economy, there is no doubt that international businesses will step-up their filing activities in the country – and with that it will be no surprise to see an uptick in trademark-related transactions and disputes. But a market of 60 million people is not one of 450 million, so a real challenge for private practitioners and their firms will be to maintain billings at current levels, let alone grow them. How this plays out and what damage it does to a talent pool that is widely regarded as being up there with the best in the world remains to be seen. But perhaps Barcelona 2017 is set to mark the high point of British attendance at the INTA Annual Meeting. (JW)   

Meme machines – At yesterday’s session focused on geographical indications, Felix Addor from the Swiss Federal Institute of IP gave delegates a summary on the specific ways in which a company can use the claim to be ‘Swiss’ and the actions that can be taken against parties that falsely use it. “Swissness relies on self-policing, so companies that want to use the Swissness claim must also enforce too; therefore, it is mainly the task of competitors, trademark federations and consumer organisations to act against those that misuse the Swiss designation.” He noted that, in China for example, there has been a number of cases against false claims of ‘Swissness’, with 12 being lost and over 50 being deemed as misleading trademarks. But in highlighting the importance of ‘Swissness’ to the Swiss people, Addor was the first INTA to use an “internet meme” to demonstrate his point – showing that, even at IP law conferences, there is always a place for trendy internet content. (TJL)

Unlock unlimited access to all IAM content