Dr Bernice King (R) onstage with Auma Reggy (L), managing lead counsel of IP at McKesson
20 May 2024TrademarksTom Phillips

INTA 2024: Civil rights leader receives ovation at memorable opening ceremony

Association hosts Dr Bernice King | Amazon assistant general counsel says biodiversity destruction and Gen-Z buying habits make CSR ‘imperative’ | Venue for next year’s meeting revealed by INTA CEO. 

Delegates at this year’s International Trademark Association (INTA) Annual Meeting enjoyed an unusually hard-hitting opening ceremony that revealed an organisation determined to participate in issues beyond brand protection.

With Dr Bernice King, daughter of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, as guest speaker embodying the tone, the Atlanta event witnessed an association leaning into its efforts to promote diversity and encourage sustainability.

And on a day when US President Joe Biden visited the city to speak at Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s alma mater, Morehouse College, the guest speaker’s appearance took on wider significance.

INTA’s five-day event, the largest in the IP industry, this year amassed 9,650 delegates from 136 countries—revealing a return to pre-pandemic form.

Among those soaking up the city’s mix of sun, showers and humidity were more than 1,000 corporations and almost 200 officials.

“I am personally so excited to host you in Atlanta,” Auma Reggy, managing lead counsel of IP at McKesson told a packed auditorium.

The co-chair of the meeting compared the fortunes of the “revitalised” ‘Capital of the South’  to the last time INTA came to town in 2004.

The birthplace of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Atlanta is steeped in the history of the civil rights movement, and the organisers had “endeavoured to infuse the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) through the whole annual meeting,” said Reggy.

‘Pivotal’ year for the world

INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo, joined the stage to “confirm the rumour” that San Diego will host next year’s meeting on May 17-21.

Describing 2024 as a “pivotal” year in which 49% of the world’s eligible population will vote to elect potentially new leaders in 64 countries, Sanz de Acedo went on to describe how members could react to the turmoil of global events.

“It’s a year of challenges, of trade conflicts, geopolitical tensions, of wars in Ukraine and Gaza,” said Sanz de Acedo, who noted how the “dramatic impact” of climate change, cyber security, and pollution was impacting how “as individuals we think, we feel, we behave”.

“That has created heightened concern about the future,” he added.

Bringing it back to IP, Sanz de Acedo said that despite these existential fears, there were opportunities for the audience, too.

He said that emerging technologies are transforming the IP rights system and capital from private equity and venture capitalists is entering the IP business.

“What is more important—IP rights cannot be locked into silos anymore. We need to transform, leverage ourselves, add technology and financial acumen and sensitivity to our skills. It’s time for all of us, for INTA, to start building for the future.”

Praising the association’s dedicated members and robust financials, INTA is “uniquely positioned” to manage the global changes that will affect IP, he added.

Amazon IP leader: ‘CSR is imperative’

INTA president Dana Northcott, vice president and associate general counsel at Amazon, took to the stage and focused her presentation on corporate and social responsibility (CSR).

“CSR is no longer the icing on the cake—it’s imperative,” said the Amazon executive. The impact of climate change on biodiversity was “impossible to ignore”, said Northcott, who outlined the increased efforts taken by the association to reduce the carbon footprint of its events.

She explained how consumer perception of sustainability is also behind a totemic shift in buying habits.

The “brand trust” of Gen-Z, she noted, was “for good reason” closely linked to the consumer’s perception of brand sustainability.

“Data shows that they seem more interested in the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’,” said Northcott.

“Most Gen-Z shoppers prefer sustainable brands and are willing to spend 10% more on sustainable products,” she added, which added an economic driver to the issue.

King: ‘This world is very important to me’

Introducing civil rights lawyer and minister Dr Bernice King, Reggy said Atlanta “has become known as the cradle of the civil rights movement,” and conducted an onstage interview.

King shared her memories of coping after her father was murdered in 1968. She was five years old and the event “shifted our household” and led to her mother, Coretta Scott King, taking over her father’s legacy.

Her mother helped to “transform the South of the United States of America in terms of de jure segregation,” said King. “She built the biggest civil rights brand in the world.”

King, who “watched Perry Mason as a kid”, said she always wanted to be a lawyer. She shared her family’s own efforts to protect her father’s estate, which included being the instigators of a case that led to the creation of the posthumous right of publicity in Georgia.

Her father’s legacy lives on through The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (known as ‘The King Center’). The organisation has an active licence programme “because we want to make sure that the integrity of the words of my father is protected,” explained King.

“We have to be proactive in our thinking,” said King. “When we do campaigns now, I immediately trademark, I want to make sure that someone doesn’t take [the brand] and use it for something that we don’t mean. This whole world is very important to me.”

Reggy concluded: “We owe you a debt of gratitude, thank you,” and King left to a standing ovation.

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