Linking the Real and the Virtual


Linking the Real and the Virtual

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The Pokémon Company International —renowned for its popular trading card game, video games, animation, and more recently a location-based augmented reality game, Pokémon GO—must stay on top of global legal issues as the company evolves, as Kaoru Otawara, Assistant General Counsel, tells Aaron McDonald.

“Gotta catch ’em all” is an iconic phrase from the Pokémon animated series that immediately takes millions of people across the world back to childhood.

“Entertainment and gaming are continuously evolving—and Pokémon products are part of that evolution too.”Since The Pokémon Company International (USA) introduced the Pokémon trading cards game to Japan in 1996, and then to North America three years later, it has become one of the leading children’s entertainment companies in the world. The company is owned by a consortium including Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures.

Its enormous growth has been achieved through a series of entertainment avenues, from TV shows to playing cards and video games. In 2016, The Pokémon Company International released the augmented reality game Pokémon GO in partnership with Niantic, Inc.

While The Pokémon Company International is a subsidiary of The Pokémon Company (Japan), its U.S. headquarters is based in Bellevue, Washington, on the outskirts of Seattle. This division is responsible for managing the brand’s IP in most markets outside of Asia.

“Entertainment and gaming are continuously evolving—and Pokémon products are part of that evolution too,” says Kaoru Otawara, Assistant General Counsel at The Pokémon Company International, Inc.

Due to new technology and innovations, she says, it is important for The Pokémon Company International to continually review legal changes.

“By being proactive in understanding our business’s legal environment, we mitigate risks and remain flexible for any unforeseen challenges in the future,” Ms. Otwara explains.

“In order to do that, it’s also essential to develop an understanding for our brand and how the business operates.”

Ms. Otawara says it is important to align IP strategy with the business strategy, legal landscape, and stakeholders for each division, from consumer goods to mobile games, video games, and animation.

“As IP professionals, we need to maintain pertinent communication to all relevant stakeholders of our business to ensure seamless execution of our strategy and creative business,” she comments.

Today, The Pokémon Company International’s legal professionals handle litigation for its animated series and also its trading cards. Its animated series consists of more than 900 episodes spanning 21 seasons in more than 30 languages and 160 countries. More than 23.6 billion trading cards have been shipped in the history of the franchise, and they have been translated into 11 languages and distributed in 74 countries.

“The continued success and expansion of the brand since 1996 means trademark issues around the world are relevant or of interest to the brand,” continues Ms. Otawara.

“Since 1996, the world and global markets have become more connected in general, and even where IP policies and regulations may differ between markets, territories, and countries, these issues don’t play out in isolation, so we have to strategize accordingly.”

Looking to the future, The Pokémon Company International is keen to embrace whatever technologies may be on the horizon to give consumers the best available product.

“After over 20 years, The Pokémon Company International’s use of technology and innovations still focuses on how to enhance the player experience through our products and services,” explains Ms. Otawara.

“That brand goal remains a constant. We carefully assess and review new technology to choose the right innovations to fit our creative business and platforms, not the other way around.”

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