The Rise of the Machines


Artificial intelligence has great potential as a powerful tool to serve—not replace—trademark attorneys, as Rory O’Neill finds out.

“I don’t think any of us got drawn into the trademark profession because we like looking at 1,000-page PDFs,” said Makalika Naholowaa, Head of Trademarks at Microsoft Corporation (USA) at yesterday’s session CSU57 How to Fit the AI in TM: Keeping Up with the Joneses and the Jetsons.

With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), such laborious tasks could soon be a thing of the past—but only if the trademark profession is willing to embrace change. This was the view of the panel assembled to discuss how AI is likely to transform the work of trademark professionals in the coming years.

As moderator, Tiffany Valeriano, Director at Corsearch (Germany), noted, 84 percent of  companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 were not on the list in 2018. What explains the drop off? According to Ms. Valeriano, one likely explanation is that “they weren’t able to adapt to certain transformations in today’s economy.”

Adjusting to the rapid development of AI will be crucial to both brand owners and trademark practitioners, according to the panel, which was keen to assuage some of the lingering fears many hold about the technology.

“Legal has been a little bit behind in terms of adopting AI and adopting legal technology, and now we’re finally getting to that place where we’re ready to take that next step,” said Nicole Arbiv, Onboarding Director at LawGeex (Israel).

“We’re here to augment your role, to help you do more strategic legal work and save you time doing this redundant work,” she added.

LawGeex, which offers AI-powered contract review services to lawyers, is just one of many AI applications designed to automate the more tedious aspects of practicing law.

According to Michael Edward Williams, Vice President at Brandsymbol (USA), the branding agency has seen no evidence that AI poses a threat to the work of human professionals.

Much of Brandsymbol’s work focuses on creating names for new pharmaceutical products, Mr. Williams explained. The firm uses a program based on the same AI-algorithms used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in order to identify similarities between current and proposed drug names.

But even with the aid of AI, the task “still requires the human element to go through each name and consider whether it’s even a viable candidate,” he said.

As Ulrich Hildebrandt, Partner, SKW Schwarz Rechtsanwaelte (Germany) explained, there are many responsibilities of a trademark lawyer for which AI is no substitute.

For example, there are many “hidden factors’ when considering the likelihood of confusion between marks, Mr. Hildebrandt said.

Theoretically, there could be an AI solution to read all decisions, but, he explained, such determinations often involve weighing the balance of justice in a particular case.

So what are the next steps toward embracing the benefits of AI on an industrywide scale? According to Ms. Naholowaa, one of the most important tasks in the next five years will be codifying the ethics surrounding the use of AI so that people “feel more safe adopting it.”

The benefits will be worth it, she suggested. Thanks to her team’s embrace of AI-powered aids, “the people that I work with are happier because they can get their jobs done better.”

Corsearch, SKW Schwarz Rechtsanwaelte, artificial intelligence, AI, Brandsymbol, Microsoft, LawGeex, FDA