Heather Steinmeyer (Anthem, Inc., USA) and Curtis Krechevsky (Cantor Colburn, LLP, USA), Co-Chairs of the Brands and Innovation Task Force, have spent more than one year working with the Task Force to craft and refine its recommendations to INTA’s Board of Directors on how to establish a clear nexus between two traditionally distinct realms. While they admit that part of what they discovered is that the perception of the relationship between brands and innovation is not always a positive one, “until we understand more, we don’t know what else we have to say about it,” says Ms. Steinmeyer. That is why they and the Task Force have developed a plan to help the Association more fully grasp this complex and increasingly important connection. Ms. Steinmeyer and Mr. Krechevsky spoke with the INTA Bulletin to explain the Task Force’s recommendations and how they will benefit membership in the years to come.
Mr. Krechevsky and Ms. Steinmeyer would especially like to thank the “extremely dedicated, bright, thoughtful” members of their Task Force and commend the “extremely capable assistance” of INTA Advisor, External Relations–Enforcement, Kathryne Badura.
Can you explain what is meant by “Brands and Innovation?” Why is that a topic INTA members should be concerned about?
Heather Steinmeyer (HS): It was Past President Mei-lan Stark’s idea at the beginning of her presidency to explore the connection between brands and innovation. There has been a sense that there is an important connection that hasn’t been fully explored, and this was an opportunity to begin that. It’s deliberate that the term “brands” was used as opposed to “trademarks.” That represents an institutional shift on the part of INTA, which we have seen carried further this year by current INTA President, J. Scott Evans. We are moving away from the strict legal concept of trademarks to the broader concept of brands, which also encompasses marketing and the full consumer relationship that brands represent.
There has been a lot written about brands and innovation, but what we found is that much of it is not very definitive and doesn’t get at the fundamental issue of whether there is a causal driver—whether they truly impact each other positively, negatively, or both. It probably is all three to be honest, but it has not been explored as thoroughly as it could be. So there is a lot of room for INTA to dig in on that topic to see where the pressure points really are and to use it as an opportunity to develop advocacy positions, to publish and perhaps to develop communications programs that will benefit members and consumers of the other target constituencies that INTA seeks to communicate with.
Curtis Krechevsky (CK): Because the concept of innovation now seems to permeate so much of public discourse and what you read in mainstream media, this is a very important topic for INTA to turn considered attention to, in order to be sure that the organization’s policies and advocacy efforts reflect a focus on what innovation means as far as brand owners are concerned.
Heather, are there particular recommendations made by the Task Force that you would highlight?
HS: I’m not sure I would highlight one over another as being most important, but I do think the research recommendation (see box, number 3) is perhaps the most foundational. So many of the opportunities that exist for INTA in this area depend upon what it is we want to communicate, whether that’s through advocacy or programming or communications or seeking out engagement with particular stakeholders. All recommendations depend to some extent on what it is INTA has to say on this subject.
For example, at one point in time I think there was a perception, both within INTA and elsewhere, that innovation generally is positive for brands. That certainly may be true in some cases, but it is not universally true. Innovation can be disruptive. It can have a negative effect on brands, and vice versa. For example, there are times when brand changes, in effect, substitute for true product and service innovations, potentially undermining innovation. The nature of the relationship between brand and innovation isn’t fully understood yet, and until we better understand, we don’t know what else we have to say about it to some extent. There has been a view among the Task Force members that getting more baseline information through research, addressing whether there is a causal relationship between brands and innovation, is foundational to implementing other recommendations of the Task Force.
CK: The projects we have identified as justifying near-term focus cover a lot of these aspects. For example, one of them is a more considered study of the economic impact of branding. Ideally, we would love to be able to demonstrate in a concrete way what a lot of us feel instinctively—that brands can act as a catalyst or incentive for innovation, particularly in a case where a brand has a legacy or reputation for innovation in the market. But we don’t want to pre-judge it because the existing literature and research is a bit more equivocal as to whether that is the case.
The second project is looking at whether and how branding can help fund research and development. There is some literature that makes the perhaps obvious point that effective brands and commercial success generate revenue that returns the investment made in innovation and generates additional revenue that can be reinvested in R&D. But to demonstrate that on more than just an instinctive level is an objective for that study.
And then third, as Heather mentioned, there is some literature out there that looks at the potential for brands to have a negative impact on innovation, particularly where branding seeks to substitute for what we would consider to be true innovation in a product or service. So that study would actually look at that potential negative impact of branding. In the Task Force’s judgment, these three projects seemed logical to rise to the top in terms of initial exploration.
Besides this research, what will be the new committee’s role?
The committee’s remit is really to drive forward, in cooperation with other INTA committees whose work may be relevant, all of the recommendations coming out of our report. The research is only one piece of it. INTA has a new committee structure, and one of the new committees being formed is the Impact Studies Committee. I think there is an expectation that the Brands and Innovation Committee will work with that committee to pursue the research. But the overall job of the committee is to help refine and develop INTA’s agenda with respect to brands and innovation and to carry out all of these recommendations.
Also, there isn’t going to be a wholesale transfer of the Task Force members to the committee, so this is an opportunity for people who are interested and may have some experience to bring to bear in this area to apply. I think it will be an opportunity to get some new bodies and new ways of thinking to help move forward with what the Task Force has done.
What are the next steps?
The Task Force has been continuing to work and will through the end of this year. We’re going back to the research projects to more specifically detail the nature of the research or study. We’re also looking at trying to develop an initial structure for the new committee so they have something to work with and react to. One of the things we did during the Annual Meeting was to develop a profile of what the responsibilities of the new committee chair and vice chair should be. We will also consider what subcommittees will make sense to have, and we hope to give the new committee some guidance on what we’ve done and where we see the work going.
We’ve also been pulling together some thoughts to provide to the Planning Committee on how to incorporate the subject of brands and innovation into the next Strategic Plan.
The reason we’ve identified that as a near-term goal is that, although the next Strategic Plan won’t be in place until 2018, it won’t be very long before the Planning Committee starts to frame out what it should look like.
How will this new committee and these projects benefit INTA members directly?
We think that innovation is becoming an increasingly important subject, and if it hasn’t yet brought challenges to trademark practitioners in their practices, it will. So we want to provide members with tools and techniques to help them manage both the opportunities and the potentially disruptive effects. The Task Force report lists a number of examples where innovation obsoleted entire industries. That can be very disruptive to the people who were responsible for the brands – how do you stay ahead of that? That’s one of the primary benefits in terms of how it can benefit our membership. Allow them a better way of facing innovation in all of its various manifestations and leverage so it really does become more of an opportunity than a threat.
We also view it as an opportunity for INTA to find new ways to develop the membership itself. INTA has been seeking to find smart ways to grow its membership outside of the legal community. The Association has been very legally oriented for a long time, but there is a strong perception that there is a benefit to bringing in other types of viewpoints, particularly if we’re moving beyond the concept of trademarks more broadly to brands and into other areas of IP and related rights areas. One area the report goes into detail on is types of stakeholders INTA may wish to engage in the development of future positions, such as economists, engineers, journalists and scientists. There are a lot of different points of view that can be very informative on this subject that come from outside IP law. So that may benefit the membership development efforts of the organization as a whole.
That’s a very important point; this topic offers such a terrific opportunity for INTA to engage with audiences that in the past didn’t really see any relevance to what INTA was doing or stood for. Part of the challenge for the IP community as a whole in influencing public policy and legislation is that there has often been a fractured approach to such public agenda items; different groups speaking with voices that are, if not contradictory, not as consistent as they could be. This offers INTA an opportunity to change that dynamic and to engage with organizations that in the past we might not have thought about.
Brands and Innovation Task Force
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© 2015 International Trademark Association