An Interview with INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo: Facing the emergence of new things, we need to think about both new and existing of intellectual property rights

2023/07/01,China IP, Jane Jiang,[Comprehensive Reports]

The 145th INTA Annual Meeting (2023 Annual Meeting Live+) will be held in Singapore from May 16-20. As a far-reaching and influencial global intellectual property conference, this is the second time that INTA will hold its annual meeting in Asia and the first time it will be held in a Southeast Asian country. China IP invited Etienne Sanz de Acedo, CEO of INTA, to share the highlights of this grand event and his insights on the recent development of intellectual property rights. The following is the interview.

China IP: Since it was first held in Asia (Hong Kong) in 2014, the INTA Annual Meeting is back in Asia again this year. How did you come to the decision to return to Asia? Why Singapore?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo: As you said, our first time in Asia was in 2014 when we had the annual meeting in Hong Kong. We're thrilled to be back in Asia, and to go to Singapore, in 2023. This is a major IP event in Asia, particularly after the reopening of China, so we're absolutely thrilled. And we're seeing massive registrations from Asia. We have over 1,800 registrants from Asia alone, out of more than 6,700. So far, we have around 715 registrations from China which shows there is a real interest from Chinese IP Professionals to attend our annual meeting. Singapore is very interesting, because it's very well-located in Asia. It's also very easily accessible to the Chinese. So we're very excited about it.

China IP: What are the highlights of the Annual Meeting? What can be expected? Is there anything different from the previous ones?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo: Yes. There is definitely many things different. We will have 2 main tracks. We have the IP Innovation track with more than 45 sessions, plus 10 sessions dedicated specifically to government officials. And then we have the Business track that has 14 sessions. On top of that, we're putting together what we call Leadership Development sessions which include leadership labs, leadership boot camps, and we also have a set of workshops from The Women Initiative on DEI, as well as the in-house practitioners workshop.

Participation has been strong across the board. Registered there are more than 1,800 from Asia, 1,700 from Europe, about 1,200 from North America, about 500 from that Latin America, and all of those numbers are growing. So it's truly a global IP event, one where we will be talking about trademarks, about designs, about copyright, even about standard essential patents. And we'll be talking as well about intangible assets such as IP valuation, IP monetization access to IP funding. We think it's really a unique opportunity.

China IP:  For Chinese participants, they have been waiting for the INTA offline conference for more than three years, and Singapore also is a place very convenient for Chinese participants to travel. There is no doubt that there will be many Chinese participants this year. So, are there any suggestions or tips for them to maximize their gains?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:  As I mentioned, we have over 700 registrants from mainland China alone. I would like to see that number double and I think it's possible that it will. I think it's realistic to think that over 1,000 participants from China alone could be attending the annual meeting. We received very strong support from the leadership at the CNIPA, which was very welcome. We also got support from the People’s Supreme Court very recently, as well. As I think you know, the leading authorities on intellectual property in China will be attending the meeting, so I think that's a good reason for Chinese professionals to attend.

Now, if you ask me in terms of tips for Chinese professionals, I think, first, of course, the sessions and the quality of the sessions in either track, both IP Innovation or Business track are all exceptional.

Second, all the networking opportunities are incredible. There are more than 250 table topics. There are approximately 14 social offerings. There are many receptions. In addition, there are many events that are being planned by law firms from all around the world. And we have, of course, all the committee meetings. So all in all, I think it's a unique opportunity to learn about content, to network with professionals from all around the world, and also expand the business of Chinese firms and Chinese professionals in the region and outside the region.

China IP:  According to various data, China's trademark applications have maintained a high growth rate in recent years and more and more Chinese companies have realized the value and importance of trademarks and brands as corporate assets. Are these data consistent with the data of INTA regarding to the number of INTA members from China?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:  Yes, of course. With the exception of last year,When statistics showed that, overall, filings were decreasing everywhere, worldwide, China included. But aside from that, over the past years, there's been a significant increase in filings, both within China and outside China, and that applies both to trademarks and patents.

To give you an example. We have approximately 2,000 individuals from China that are benefiting from INTA membership, and that's a very significant amount in terms of corporate membership. We've seen this number doubling over the past years, so it is clear there is a real interest from the Chinese IP Community to be part of INTA. In fact, something that many people do not know is,  the city worldwide where we have the highest number of members is Beijing. And I think that's a very interesting piece of data. I think it shows how IP is becoming critical to businesses and undertakings in China, and how Chinese professionals understand and value the benefit of being part of global associations such as INTA.

China IP:  What is the proportion of Chinese members in the total INTA members? I guess America would be the top 1.

While I don't have the exact numbers, yes, you're right. That is, in terms of percentages, the largest percentage remains members from the United States. I think there are two reasons for that. First, INTA was initially founded in the United States. So there is some kind of legacy, there's no doubt about that. And second, it is true that United States probably has the longest tradition of intellectual property, and a very strong IP culture that over years has been replicated in other parts of the world.

We see that in our membership within INTA that IP culture has been developing more recently in Asia. It makes sensethat it takes a little more time. But the speed at which members from China are joining is a very interesting one. What I can tell you specifically is that currently, we have approximately 1,772 individuals at 192 firms from China; we have 140 individuals at 38 corporations from China; and of our INTA members, our corporate membership, for example, has doubled between 2,017 and today.

China IP:  Are you satisfied with this number in China?And why?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:  Yes and no. I'm definitely satisfied with the trend these numbers indicate. But I want that to keep increasing and it's extremely important to us that all IP professionals join an association such as INTA, because together we work all to get better laws globally, to protect brand owners and to protect consumers, no matter what country, no matter which kind of issues are at stake. Intellectual property is about innovation. It's about promoting our businesses. It's about GDP. It's about development. It's about the future.

China IP:  Nowadays, with the rapid growth of science and technology, new concepts such as blockchain, metaverse, ChatGPT, etc. emerge in just a few years. Do trademark and brand owners also face the impact of these new things? How can they consolidate and protect their trademarks and brands in the fast-growing technology era?

China IP:  As Hermes just won an NFTs trademark infringement case recently.

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:  We could spend hours talking about this topic alone. But first, on the question of if IP professionals should be following those issues, I would say yes, absolutely. Why? Because all of those technologies are absolutely changing, and our businesses, economies, areimpacted. The professionals, the lawyers, and particularly the IP lawyers, need absolutely to get involved. They need to understand what all the consequences are and will be. What are the challenges, what are the opportunities?

For example, when we talk about blockchain, this is really interesting as a technology. But it also means that some of the IP rights that have existed, might be registered, might be protected through blockchain. Now, when we talk about Metaverse and NFTs, and you refer to the Hermes case, this is a question of how the development of how new technologies can affect existing rights. And what is the balance between art, creation, and existing IP rights? As CEO of INTA, I will always support the protection of IP rights, but we also need to understand that there is a creative industry on the other side. And you also mentioned ChatGPT. These kinds of new technology are truly revolutionary and have a potential impact on the volume of copyrights we're going to see. And then, of course, there are all of the patents, all the different rights that might be behind that technology. There are a lot of things that need to be looked into.

This is why we like to define ourselves as a forward-thinking organization, and this is why we're currently looking into knowing what should be the IP office of the future, what should be the in-house department of the future, what should be the law firm of the future, and, more importantly, what should be the IP rights of the future? We need to start thinking about perhaps the need for a kind of new IP right, or some kind of evolution in the existing IP.

I'll give you a final piece of information here. When you look at what companies are relying on more and more, which is looking to trade secrets as a way to protect their IP assets, we should not forget that while we live in a tangible economy, the value of intangible assets has become far more relevant, far more valuable than the tangible assets owned by companies. This is an incredible opportunity for IP professionals.

China IP:  I have noticed that the two co-chairs of this year's annual meeting are both women and the INTA 2023 President Jomarie Fredericks, is a female, too. How do women perform in the entire INTA community? How are they doing?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo:  I think they're doing great, and we're thrilled to have so many women engaged with the INTA. I'm going to go perhaps even further, in terms of the data that you were sharing. If I look at the Presidents, out of the last 4 Presidents, 3 have been women. And out of the next 4 presidents, 3 will be women. If we look at our Board of Directors, at least 50% of them are women. We take the issue very seriously because we're really committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Gender balance is an absolute priority for us, and we think we have a role to play within our small ecosystem within the IP ecosystem to make everyone understand that we absolutely need to have a total gender balance between men and wome. This is true when it comes to leadership roles, when it comes to salaries, when it comes to recognition, when it comes to work-life balance. All of these issues are a priority for the association. It is an explicit part of our strategic plan. It's part of our different projects. We have what we call The Women’s LeadershIP Initiative. We have a DEI Council. We have a DEI foundation. I'm very proud to see how well women are performing within INTA, but we need to make sure that continues.

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