22 May 2017

Etienne Sanz de Acedo: INTA's New Strategic Plan

“We need to talk about brands,” says Etienne Sanz de Acedo, INTA CEO, as he discusses one pillar of the Association’s new Strategic Plan 2018–2021.

Launched in the Keynote Address yesterday, the new plan has three core strategic directions: promoting the value of trademarks and brands, reinforcing consumer trust, and embracing innovation and change.

There are similarities with the 2014–2017 plan—the core aims of which are “Protection of trademarks,” “Communications,” “International expansion,” and “Member satisfaction”—but it builds on those foundations to provide a sturdier outlook.

“This is not a change of focus, it’s an evolution,” says Mr. Sanz de Acedo. “Companies do not necessarily talk about trademarks versus patents, for example—they talk about brands.

“We are an organization serving brand owners and professionals, and we need to talk about brands. Brands play a key role for corporations and consumers and we want to be part of that conversation.”

Discussing the second pillar, he notes that INTA is placing greater focus on the importance of consumers while “looking more at innovation.”

“Innovation is impacting everything we are doing, even the work of our members and the way organizations are structured. We want to be part of that conversation too and be a platform for thought leadership and the exchange of ideas.”

These three principles fall into a wider mission statement that INTA is a global organization dedicated to supporting trademarks and related IP, helping to foster consumer trust, economic growth and innovation, according to Mr. Sanz de Acedo.

Work on the new plan began two years ago in the Planning Committee, but with a desire to be “open-minded, inclusive and bold,” INTA sought input from a range of stakeholders, both IP and non-IP.

These included Past Presidents, “whose voices are important,” Mr. Sanz de Acedo says, as well as the INTA Board of Directors, members, and staff. This latter group were involved for the first time in building the Strategic Plan, with focus groups playing an important role in its creation.

Another first was input from non-IP groups, including CEOs, media professionals, business school professors, and marketing experts.

“We can’t just talk to ourselves,” argues Mr. Sanz de Acedo, adding that, as INTA continues to become a truly global organization, the scope of its interaction on substantive issues needs to expand in addition to its geographical coverage.

Asked about the main differences with the current plan, he says the new version takes things “one step further.”

“That should always be the case with any organization—the next plan should allow you to become more ambitious and provide a better service to your members. That is what’s it’s all about. This is bolder and more ‘blue sky.’

“It’s one step further and more ambitious,” he adds.

The Value of Brands

Moving on to discuss INTA’s work to strengthen the three pillars, Mr. Sanz de Acedo says being more active on the enforcement side is a priority, but that there is much more to do.

“It’s also about looking more into the business value of brands and allowing members to show that within their companies their work is valuable—not purely a cost, but an investment.

“We need to talk more about the economic and financial side of trademarks and brands,” he says.

“On consumer trust, we are reinforcing the idea that trademarks are sources of information and that brands are promises of delivery. We have Impact Studies looking at the trends that are worrying to us.

“For example, with brand restrictions, in some countries it seems that trademarks are not perceived as importantly as they should be.”

Finally, Mr. Sanz de Acedo explains, in order to embrace innovation, the Association wants to understand how technology and innovation will affect consumers’ needs and values.

Could one of these technologies be artificial intelligence (AI), an area of increasing interest?

“It could be. If IP offices use AI to perform trademark examination, we need to think about the implications for quality and whether that is going to impact the work of professionals, but we need to go beyond that.

“I don’t think we want to anticipate the trends we see out there, because that is extremely difficult and probably too ambitious. But we don’t want to look at those issues three to five years after they happen. INTA is the leading global trademark organization and we want to reinforce that leadership,” he says.

The Road Ahead

Mr. Sanz de Acedo is confident INTA will meet its goals, despite admitting there will be challenges on the way.

“There will be challenges, but it’s important we have a clear vision on what we want to achieve. We have a clear vision and objectives, so regardless of the challenges, we are going to achieve that vision.

“The big strengths of INTA are its members and staff, who are extremely dedicated and committed. Another strength is our presence in more than 200 countries. We can reach most of the world. We have a solid foundation from which to achieve our goals.”

Inevitably, factors outside INTA’s control, including political developments, may influence its ability to fulfill the new plan. However, Mr. Sanz de Acedo dismisses the significance of their impact.

“There might be some political changes that do make things a little difficult, but trademarks and IP have no political colors. We are a professional, not a political, organization. We need to work with every administration around the world to protect trademarks and brands.

“No matter what the political changes may be, we will adapt and do our job properly. Trademarks and brands are tools for companies and consumers, and they will continue to exist no matter what happens on the political scene.”

With the current plan due to end in December 2017, Mr. Sanz de Acedo reflects on its performance, stating that not only he is very happy, but the members are too.

“We are reaching our goal with respect to geographical scope and there is more interaction from officials from lots of countries. We are going to China three times a year, and India annually,” he says.

“INTA’s mindset is ‘you can always do things better;’ if there was one area that we needed to improve, it was communicating our thinking more and why we wanted to introduce changes, which I think we’ve become better at now.”

Other signs of INTA’s health are the Annual Meeting attendance, which is on track to exceed 10,000 this year, and the fact that the Association has opened representative offices in Singapore and Latin America.

After the success of the current plan, INTA and its members and staff can look forward to another four years of hard work in achieving the organization’s core aims, says Mr. Sanz de Acedo.

“There are lots of reasons to be proud of the work being done.”

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