Faye Waterford, CTC Legal Media Editor: Myself and my colleagues are very excited for the next month to fly past so that we can all meet again. So, 2022 marks the return for INTA’s annual meeting that features a fully in person event, why is this the right time for us to be returning to an in person gathering of this scope?

Etienne Sanz de Acedo, CEO: That’s a big question and a simple question at the same time! We’ve endured more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and, of course, these have been terrible times. We’re also now facing the horrific situation with the war in Ukraine. But, when it comes to intellectual property (IP), it’s definitely time for us to begin returning to normal and, in terms of the pandemic, the situation is stable enough to bring people back together in person again.

There is a lot of excitement around seeing each other and being in person again. From a business perspective, the corporations are very much looking forward to meeting their external counsels. The sense I got from my conversations with corporate members is that there’s been a status quo for the last two years in how they are managing their portfolios, but I think now they’re probably looking for new opportunities either to reinforce existing partnerships or to create new partnerships with external counsels.

This is why I think it’s so important to be attending this meeting and why this is the right time. Plus, we’re seeing the numbers growing daily and in a very significant way – we’ve now surpassed 5,200 registrants – which is a very positive sign.

Faye: That’s great to hear. In 2020, INTA pivoted to a fully virtual meeting followed by a Virtual+ format last year which included a virtual program of mini conferences in select locations. In 2022, the annual meeting is described as a Live+ meeting – what does this entail and how will this evolution of the annual meeting inform future INTA events in 2023 and beyond?

Etienne: As you’ve described: 2020 was virtual, 2021 was Virtual+, 2022 is Live+. 2023 onward will remain Live+.

Of course, we had to pivot to fully virtual in 2020 because, given the pandemic, there was no other option at the time. More than 3,000 registrants attended at about an 80% participation rate, which was good for a fully virtual event. Last year we wanted to start opening up a little and testing new formats and chose a Virtual+ format, with most of the event taking place on a virtual platform, but also offering three in-person mini-conferences in Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles. We would have liked to include an in-person mini-conference in Hong Kong but, because of the pandemic, that was not possible. We had around 3,000 virtual registrants, and 800 registrants attended the three in-person events. I was in New York and LA. The vibe was absolutely incredible in both cities!

So, what we’re doing this time is combining the best of live events and the best of virtual events. We hope to see as many people as possible attending in person, but we also want to acknowledge that some people might not be able to travel or do not yet feel comfortable travelling. We very much want to cater to this group, which is why we have adopted this format, and which we plan to maintain in the future.

Faye: It’s really great to hear that because I know that there are a lot of people that are missing the in person events but also there are people that, as you say, are unable to attend, or perhaps aren’t usually able to attend even if the circumstances were different because of numbers or because of budgets so I think having both is a really good plan for moving forward. Of course, health and safety is top of the mind of every in person registrant, what steps have INTA taken to address these concerns?

Etienne: Health and safety is the first and foremost priority for the Association and staff. We decided on Washington, D.C., by no coincidence. Not only is it a great city – it’s a business city and an international hub – but it has probably one of the best convention centers when it comes to health and safety measures.

We’ve been there quite a few times—I was there myself back in November and we were extremely impressed by their health and safety measures. They have permanent temperature taking when you enter the convention center, they have cleaning robots in the rooms and the escalators have automatic self-cleaning mechanisms, so the convention center is really at the very top in terms of health and safety.

Regarding our own measures, everybody will need to be fully vaccinated to be able to get their badge and they will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hours prior to getting their badge. This is because there are no controls on the health status of those who are unvaccinated and untested. It’s critical for us to know we are doing all we can to keep registrants safe.

In terms of the vaccine, we are requiring two shots, we are not necessarily requiring the third shot or the booster because not all jurisdictions have made those available, but we feel that with the two shots, with all vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organization, plus a negative test within 48 hours, that sets a high standard. As for tests, to make it as flexible as possible, we’re accepting self-tests [or rapid PCR taken at a facility]. Last but not least, we are providing rapid PCR tests on-site for international travellers to take before they return home. They will have to book the PCR test themselves but they will at least have the convenience of getting the test at the convention center.

Through these various measures, we’re making it as easy as possible for the registrants to attend the in-person Annual Meeting and, at the same time, feel safe and comfortable doing so.

Faye: It sounds like you’ve worked very hard to put that together and I’m sure that it will put a lot of people’s minds at rest so it will definitely be worth it. So, why should others besides trademark lawyers, like trademark administrations, government officials and even students consider registering for the Annual Meeting?

Etienne: Well, I think we have to acknowledge that the INTA Annual Meeting is the largest IP event every year and it’s not just bringing together the trademark professionals. We also see patent professionals, and we see a lot of people who are in the field of design protection. We are seeing more and more branding experts who find interest in attending the Meeting.

For students, I think it’s really a unique opportunity to understand what the industry is about, to start networking, to perhaps start interviewing with potential employers. So, I really think it’s a unique opportunity.

For this year’s in-person program, we have seven tracks, and Virtual Only registrants will have access to the majority of sessions on all the tracks. We are dealing with all the relevant topics, with a strong accent on some of the very hot topics: blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFT’s. We’re also looking at many other things, such as what should be the role of the IP office of the future, which will be addressed by a panel with seven or eight directors of IP offices from around the world. We’re expecting around 250-300 government officials; including delegations from the EUIPO, USPTO, and WIPO, for example. All the major offices are going to be there.

Last but not least, we’re paying more and more attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is really dear to our hearts, and we really want to bring change to the IP ecosystem.

In short, I think everyone has great reasons to attend the Meeting!

Faye: Most definitely. And you’ve touched on some of them there but what new things can registrants expect for the 2022 Annual Meeting?

Etienne: There are a lot of new things. I would describe them from a program perspective, from a format perspective, in terms of green initiatives, and with regard to our digital transformation.

From the program perspective, I already mentioned the seven different tracks, with a strong accent on technology. We have around 40 educational sessions with six Capsule Keynote speakers, on top of both a Keynote and Special Guest Speaker at the Opening Ceremonies. We have a strong program when it comes to updates from all around the world, including the highly popular case law updates from Europe and the U.S., and this year for the first time, we will also have a case law update from China, which is an excellent addition to the virtual program.

We’ll have Business Development opportunities, including Speed Networking, and more than 100 Table Topics, 15 of which will be hosted by corporate members.

In terms of the format, it’s in person and it’s virtual. Notably, all the content delivered virtually will be available to registrants until August 5 to give everyone time to revisit and digest the information.

Our hospitality area and rebranded Brand Marketplace [the exhibition hall] are larger and include some new, innovative features and events. For instance, many of the receptions will now take place in this area.

We’re very proud to be incorporating some great CSR initiatives. We have the Green Swag Awards, encouraging exhibitors to come up with innovative, sustainable giveaways. We’re providing registrants with a simple way to offset the carbon footprint from their travels through a carbon offset donation campaign. We take these kinds of things very seriously.

And then from a digital transformation and technology perspective, one of the things that we’re changing is that you’ll go to a station to print your own badge. We are working hard to continue to transform ourselves.

Faye: What can you tell us specifically about the virtual program?

Etienne: The virtual program is extremely robust. It will feature a mix of virtual-only sessions, as well as livestreaming of some featured sessions from the live program, including the highly popular case law updates. Then, when you add in the on-demand sessions, Virtual-Only registrants get access to sessions from all seven tracks.

The Opening Ceremonies, on May 1, will also be livestreamed, where we will have WIPO Director General Daren Tang as our special guest speaker. Our keynote will be branding expert Andy Stalman of Toten Branding in Spain.

One thing that we’re doing differently with the virtual program is that we’re trying to be respectful of our international audiences, which means that the Monday program will be under the Beijing time zone, the Tuesday program will be under the European time zone, and the Wednesday program will be under the U.S. time zone.

Virtual attendees will also have access to an array social networking and Business Development opportunities, and Table Topics.

Faye: Brilliant. That sounds great and I’m sure that those attending online won’t be missing out. So, a gathering of this size has a big environmental impact, you have mentioned already in passing, but could you tell us a bit more about the approach that INTA is taking from a CSR perspective?

Etienne: Indeed. So, we’re currently at more than 5,200 registrants, and I think there’ll be around 6,000 at least.  Of course, that has an environmental impact, there is no doubt about that. INTA takes the environment very seriously, and it’s something we’ve been working on for many years in several silent or discrete ways.

First, when we select a venue and convention center, we make sure that the procedures and operations of the venue are eco-friendly and that’s an absolute must for us! This is one of the things that we always do.

Secondly, we provide a lot of food and beverages to registrants, and what happens with that food and beverage – is there any waste? No. Systematically, leftover food is donated to local charities on the same day.

This year we’re also putting together two initiatives: one being a carbon offsetting campaign and the other being the Green Swag Awards. The idea here is really to recognize our exhibitors who  reinvent themselves and instead of providing small token gifts that are plastic or not necessarily eco-friendly, we’re really looking at the best ideas and initiatives to be respectful of our environment. That’s something that we will keep doing because; it’s a priority and we really want to walk the talk!

And I would like to take this opportunity to say that our members in Ukraine are definitely in our minds on a daily basis. And, as part of our Annual Meeting CSR program, we’re running the Ukrainian Refugee Relief initiative to support the humanitarian needs of Ukrainian refugees. We will distribute contributions from registrants along with a donation from INTA to UNICEF-Ukraine and World Central Kitchen, two non-profit organizations directly helping those in dire need.

Faye: That’s great. I think it’s very important that it’s known that you’re putting those measures into place because, as you say, even though they have been running in the background at INTA before, they are very important steps to making sure that we’re making the world a better place. So, what is your message for those still unsure about registering for the annual meeting this year, either in person or virtually?

Etienne: My message: You’re absolutely going to miss something really important for the IP community!

First, I think it’s an opportunity to celebrate because, there are many who have suffered or are still suffering today, those of us who are fortunately not suffering should be extremely thankful, so I think that’s the first message: it’s a great opportunity to celebrate and to be together. INTA has always been a big family, so let’s celebrate as a family.

Second, from a business perspective, I really believe this is an opportunity to develop your business network. I see some firms that are really appreciating this point. They’re sending large teams, and they’re taking this opportunity to attend the meeting, to attend the receptions, take part in the various activities, and interact with potential clients. Again, as I mentioned earlier, there is definitely an appetite on the corporate side to reshape the portfolio and build new partnerships.

And then there is the last aspect that we should not forget: The emergence of the metaverse, blockchain, crypto, and NFT’s, represents another revolution. To get involved, brands need external support, and they need it globally! So, if I were managing an IP law firm, I would no doubt be sending my counsel to the Annual Meeting.

I would also think about sending my support staff and my younger associates – they are the future!  The younger generation is entering the profession in big numbers. We need to support them, bring them into the community, interact with them. They are the present and the future of the organization!

Faye: Of course. I think that’s a really good point to make. So finally, you’ve led the Association through a global crisis, how has your approach to leadership changed over the past few years?

Etienne: That’s a great question. First, I need to be thankful to the people who have been working with me: INTA staff, members, the Board. We need to recognize this is not a one man or one woman show; it’s really a team effort, and I always keep this top of mind.

The second lesson – and I’ve always tried to be in such a way – you need to be very balanced; you need to remain extremely calm; you need to be strategic, and you need to always think about the long game. If you do that, if you think long term, if you’re strategic, if you respect your principles and ethics, and if you work hard, you will always be successful. It’s as simple as that. It’s perhaps not very simple on a daily basis, but that’s the way it should happen.

Faye: Definitely. Well that’s great. I’m looking forward to the meeting even more now than I was before and we thank you very much for your time and look forward to seeing you in D.C.!


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