30 April 2021TrademarksMuireann Bolger

Exclusive: Etienne Sanz de Acedo on INTA’s ‘Virtual +’ Annual Meeting

The chief executive of the International Trademark Association, Etienne Sanz de Acedo, has revealed that more than half of the association’s members who responded to a survey wanted a virtual Annual Meeting in 2021, with additional in-person gatherings—prompting it to upturn earlier plans.

This week, INTA confirmed that its Annual Meeting will be carried out mostly virtually in 2021, reversing its previous decision to hold an in-person meeting in Houston, Texas in November.

In an exclusive interview with WIPR, Sanz de Acedo explained that as the threat posed by the pandemic still prevailed in early spring this year, INTA decided to potentially re-evaluate its plans based on the feedback and views of members.

“We needed to understand the evolution of the pandemic and the path of vaccinations globally, and also the potential restrictions faced by members by travel policies within companies and firms,” said Sanz de Acedo.

He also pointed out that while some countries were on the path to recovery after COVID-19, many countries such as India were in the midst of a dire crisis.

“Our priority is the health and safety of our members and staff, and we also want to be very respectful of our members' feelings,” he said. “When we see the situation that is happening in India; I think we need to be very respectful of that—we need to treat this situation with a lot of caution.”

To respond to ongoing concerns, INTA surveyed the views of its internal groups in March to better gauge their thoughts on the best approach for the Annual Meeting. Those surveyed included INTA’s law firm committee, in-house committee, the board of directors, the programming advisory counsel and the annual meeting project team, while the association also carried out focus groups among members.

According to Sanz de Acedo, the survey yielded a “very satisfactory” 65% response rate, which increased to 75% among corporate members.

It revealed that around 55% of members had travel policies within their firms or companies that would not presently allow them to attend an in-person event, while 40% believed that these policies would not change until 2022.

According to the survey, only 14% wanted an entirely in-person meeting, 27% were in favour of a totally virtual meeting and 55% of the respondents favoured a mostly virtual format with some in-person gatherings.

Consequently, INTA decided to adopt an “innovative virtual” format with ‘plus’ elements which will involve in-person events in three to four locationsprobably in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

Sanz de Acedo confirmed that plans for these exact locations as well as the programme content would be revealed in coming weeks as registration for the annual meeting opens.

He predicted planned in-person meetings could potentially see two to three hundred participants and added that this ‘plus’ element would support the content of the Annual Meeting hosted on the virtual platform. “This is not going to be an aside from the virtual meeting. It’s an offering, so it’s going to be aligned with the content on the virtual platform,” he confirmed.

“The idea is that those who feel comfortable travelling will be able to meet together in one location at an in-person event that will be run in parallel to the virtual offering on the platform.”

He added that people who are comfortable with this option can also have discussion forums, followed by receptions and dinners which would echo the format of Annual Meetings in pre-pandemic years.

“We can accommodate people’s health and safety, but also their wishes to meet in-person again in small groups. From a health and safety perspective, we can establish rules and control mechanisms and we can also ensure that social distancing is respected in the right way—and that is the priority for INTA,” he said.

This year’s event will be as successful, if not more so than the virtual event carried out in November 2020, predicted Sanz de Acedo.

The “impressive” numbers of registrants for INTA’s virtual Leadership Meeting next week, which stands at 1,400, showed there was an appetite for virtual events, he explained.

“That number is just as good, if not better than numbers we have had for in-person leadership meetings in the past. This means that people are getting used to the virtual environment; they see that INTA is able to put together a very high level, high quality event and they see value in it.”

He pointed out that last year, INTA secured 3,400 registrants for its Annual Meeting—and that the success of its virtual events so far was building momentum for the success of the ‘virtual +’ meeting in November.

He added, however, that nothing would replace the atmosphere of a predominantly “in- person” meeting and that INTA was looking forward to hosting that format as soon as possible after this year.

But it was likely that a virtual element of future Annual Meetings would remain in a post-pandemic world, confirmed Sanz de Acedo.

“Every year we know that some people will not be able to travel perhaps due to personal or family issues, so we will have virtual options for those people so they can attend the meeting,” he said.

“No format is ideal: we are never going to be able to make everybody happy,” noted Sanz de Acedo. “People were really looking forward to meeting in-person, but I don’t think it’s realistic….the ‘virtual + option’ is the best one for this year.”

He added: “We are strongly convinced that this ‘virtual +’ meeting will offer something different, and I’m sure there are going to be many of our members who are going to take advantage of the ‘plus’ element in small gatherings,” he concluded.

The Annual Meeting will be held on November 15–19, 2021.

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