INTA 2013: an interview with Etienne Sanz de Acedo

Etienne Sanz de Acedo will leave his position at the Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market (OHIM) to take up the chief executive role at the International Trademark Association (INTA) on July 1. WIPR caught up with him at the association’s annual meeting in Dallas. 

What prompted you to consider applying for this role?

I have always been passionate about IP; I also have had a kind of passion for this association, because I have known INTA for many years in my role at OHIM. And I’ve always liked INTA as a first-class organisation in terms of public policy, in terms of education, in terms of networking, so I’ve always thought it could be a good evolution within my career, and a kind of natural evolution. It was very clear to me that at a certain point I would be quitting OHIM, and getting into an association such as INTA was great opportunity.

What do you think INTA saw in you that made it decide to give you the job?

I think it was a very courageous decision by the selection committee and from the board of directors. The proposal made by the selection committee was unanimously endorsed by the board. I think it shows, as well, how serious INTA is about being global. Hiring a European CEO is clear proof of a wish to go further in terms of programmes, in terms of public policy elsewhere in the world.

What has the reaction been from the membership?

From what I’ve heard, I think many people are very happy about it. European people are particularly happy, and I would say Latin Americans as well because there is a linguistic and cultural common element. But I also think the US constituency is happy about it, because I think we are all aware that the world is changing, the world is becoming global, and we need global people. INTA has been doing a great job. Alan [Drewsen, current INTA CEO] has been instrumental to the international position of this association – there’s no doubt about it. But once he decides to retire it’s perhaps time to look for a different profile, and that’s what happened.

In practice, how do you widen the reach of the association?

It’s a bit early for me to reply to this kind of question, but the first thing I would like to do is to meet people, talk to people, listen to people and based on that we will be able together to implement the strategic plan and look for ways to become more global in terms of public policy, in terms of relations with national offices, in terms of partnership with other organisations, in terms of events and communication activities in all areas.

What do you see as INTA’s role?

INTA is a brand owner’s association, and so the role of INTA is first to protect trademarks. Protecting trademarks and advocating for strong laws, and advocating for strong enforcement – this is the main role of INTA. In addition to that, INTA has a key role in educating its members in providing first-class service to its membership. It also has a role in terms of communication. We’re noticing more and more sentiments against IP. People worry about ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, those kinds of things, and I think INTA also has a role to play there.

How do you change the public conversation about some of these issues?

Again, it’s early to talk about this. We need to set a communication plan first and get it validated by the board. But as a first reply I would say we need to provide a positive message to public opinion. We need to reach that public opinion; we cannot just talk among ourselves. Because we are all very well aware of the issues because we’re all IP professionals, or IP-related. Now we need to go to the people who are not IP-related and explain to them how brands are important within their lives. That means what brands bring in terms of employment, in terms of growth and innovation, in terms of welfare, and we need to explain that. And that’s one of the roles of INTA in the future, there’s no doubt about it. We have a great advantage, in that now we have facts. There’s a report from the US, there’s going to be a report from the EU Observatory, and these reports provide us with facts, with evidence, which we should bring to civic society and explain how brands are important.

What do you see as the highlights of this conference in Dallas?

The first highlight is that with more than 9000 attendees, it is once again a very successful conference. Secondly, in this conference we have also been talking a lot about the Internet, about the impact of the generic top-level domains – that’s a hot topic which we need to follow. I think it’s also a conference where we see more and more government officials attending. Alan showed a slide this morning where we have more than 30 national offices attending. This is a very good sign. The more we cooperate with national offices, the more the offices interact with the brand owners, the better. We are also seeing more countries entering the Madrid Protocol. We’ve had Colombia, Mexico and India, and I think this is a very good sign.  

What do you hope to get from the move to Hong Kong next year for the 2014 Annual Meeting?

First of all, I hope it will be the best attended meeting in the history of INTA. Second, I think it’s somehow a recognition of the great job the Chinese authorities are doing. We have a very good relations with all Chinese authorities and with the Chinese Trademark Association. There is clearly an interest from the Chinese authorities to take IP seriously, and I think it’s good that we have an annual meeting there. And also, more and more Asian countries are becoming interested in joining the Madrid Protocol, so I see the possibility to meet counterparts there, to meet counsels there, so I think it’s a great opportunity. 

Etienne Sanz de Acedo, INTA 2013, Dallas, Alan Drewsen

WIPR