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December 15, 2016 Vol. 71 No. 21 Back to Bulletin Main Page

INTA Brands & Innovation Committee: Defining the Brand-Innovation Relationship


During her term as INTA President in 2014, Mei-lan Stark (NBC Universal Media, LLC, USA) established a Presidential Task Force on Brands & Innovation, with the goal of more fully exploring the nature of the brand/innovation relationship. “Innovation has traditionally been associated with patents and technology, but I believe there is a real nexus between brands and innovation, in the sense that brands can stimulate innovation and pave the road for innovation to take hold,” Ms. Stark said in a 2014 interview with the INTA Bulletin. Ms. Stark’s Task Force, co-chaired by Curtis Krechevsky (Cantor Colburn, USA) (pictured right) and Heather Steinmeyer (Anthem, Inc., USA), thus spent 15 months surveying the existing literature about the relationship between brands and innovation, ultimately presenting a final report to the INTA Board of Directors in March 2015, which included six recommendations for the Association to implement in order to become a leading authority on the subject.

One of those recommendations was to establish a standing Brands & Innovation Committee, which the Board agreed to during its meeting in March of 2015. Mr. Krechevsky chairs the committee, with Mladen Vukmir (Vukmir & Associates, Croatia) (pictured below) serving as Vice Chair. One year into its mission, the committee has now made the Task Force Final Report public, refined and presented working definitions of the terms “brand” and “innovation,” engaged in concerted collaborative efforts with other INTA committees working on related tasks, and much more. Mr. Vukmir and Mr. Krechevsky spoke with the INTA Bulletin about the committee’s background, what lies ahead, and why curiosity about how brands and innovation interact must become integral to the Association’s mission.

Mr. Krechevsky, how was the Presidential Task Force organized, and how did you handle the transition to the committee?
INTA Past President Heather Steinmeyer and I were invited to become the co-chairs of the Task Force, with an additional eight members drawn from the three main categories of INTA membership: regular, associate, and academia. In addition, the Task Force had a broad geographic representation, which reflects the diversity of INTA’s membership. The Task Force made findings and recommendations for INTA to execute on, and we presented those to the INTA Board of Directors in the form of a 66-page Final Report, delivered at the Board Meeting in March of 2015. The Board received that report very enthusiastically and adopted it.

The Final Report contained six key recommendations, the first of which was to make the relationship between brands and innovation a primary strategic direction for the INTA Strategic Plan for 2018–2021. Within each of the six recommendations were a series of specific steps to implement them, and one of those was for INTA to establish a permanent standing committee on the subject of Brands and Innovation. Both Heather and I were very gratified when the Board approved the creation of such a committee during the March 2015 meeting.

The Brands & Innovation Committee initiated its work in January as part of the 2016–2017 committee term. I was invited to chair the committee and was joined by Mladen as Vice Chair. We also had a superb staff liaison designated, Christina Sleszynska, INTA’s Chief Representative Officer, Europe Office. However, during the remainder of 2015, and with the support of the Presidential Task Force which continued operating through year-end 2015, we developed a structure for the committee, considered which subcommittees would be advisable, who should chair them, and also developed a set of objectives for the committee to tackle in its inaugural term. Those objectives were meant to implement various parts of the six Final Report recommendations, as well as support the existing and future INTA Strategic Plans. The foundational items for the committee were finalized during the 2015 Leadership Meeting in Panama City, Panama, and we started communicating with the new committee members in November and December of last year, so that we could hit the ground running in January 2016.

(The remaining questions were answered jointly by Mr. Krechevsky and Mr. Vukmir).

Was there a lot of interest in the new committee from the membership?
Yes, the Brands & Innovation Committee was very popular during committee selection.

How is the committee now organized?

Ultimately, after debating about how many subcommittees there should be and what they should focus on, we wound up with four.

The Definitions Subcommittee, is chaired by Elisabeth Bradley (Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, USA) a Presidential Task Force alumnus and INTA Board Member. Her mission was to take a fresh look at a working definition of “innovation,” and one of the great things Elisabeth’s subcommittee achieved was to refine it even further.

The Task Force also realized that while the committee was called Brands & Innovation and that INTA encompasses the concept of brands in its tagline, there did not seem to be a usable definition of “brand” within INTA. The committee therefore broadened the scope of the Definitions Subcommittee to also develop a working definition of “brand.” It was a more complicated task than expected, but we asked the subcommittee to come up with both new definitions by March of this year, and they met that objective. Both working definitions of “brand” and “innovation” were adopted by the committee, were subsequently reviewed by the Advocacy Group Council and INTA’s Executive Committee, and were finally presented to the Board at the Leadership Meeting in November 2016. Ultimately, the ideal objective is to come up with definitions that work—if not universally—at least internally and for many of the other constituencies we’re hoping to approach. If you read the definitions, they don’t merely include references to the legal concepts behind “trademarks,” they are much broader. They are definitions for the future.

The Research and Policy Development Subcommittee is chaired by Aimee Mahan (Amazon.com, Inc., USA). This subcommittee’s mission is to consider what further research INTA could conduct or sponsor to develop a better understanding of the nature of the relationship between brands and innovation. The Task Force had noted that existing literature in the field was rather sparse and somewhat equivocal about whether the nexus between brands and innovation was a positive one—in the sense of brands acting as a catalyst or stimulus for innovation—or a negative one, or whether there was any type of causal relationship at all. Much of the literature appeared to equate a correlation between brand-related activity and innovation, such as studies showing that in countries known for technological development more trademark applications are filed, with causation, but there was other commentary that the Task Force thought properly criticized making the jump from correlation to causation.

The Research and Policy Development Subcommittee has been developing a request for a proposal (RFP) to conduct a study on the above topic (see Final Report) and has been working closely with the new Impact Studies Committee (ISC), chaired by former Task Force Co-Chair, Ms. Steinmeyer. We hope to submit the RFP to the ISC by the end of this year.

This subcommittee also will collect the latest literature and the traditional resources and reference materials that we consulted, in order to make this information available to INTA members via our website. Finally, there will be recommendations from this subcommittee in the form of policy proposals for INTA, although that’s a little bit down the road.

The Stakeholder Outreach Subcommittee, chaired by Jeremy Roe (Anheuser-Busch InBev Services, LLC, USA), is tasked with making sure that what we are looking at and doing is coordinated internally within INTA and the other relevant committees, and with messaging the Association’s position to external audiences. For example, INTA’s new Building Bridges Committee is both an internal and external facing group and we want to coordinate very closely with them in terms of reaching out to other entities to establish a dialogue. Such entities could include legal associations that focus more on patents and technology development and protection, societies of industrial engineers and designers, marketing associations, and advertising associations. We hope to start reaching out in the new year and believe that all kinds of opportunities can arise out of this external engagement on the subject of brands and innovation.

Similarly, representatives of the subcommittee have been invited to attend the discussions of other committees and subcommittees that are interested in some of the same topics we are. For example, 3D printing is a new technology that presents both opportunities and risks for brand owners and has attracted the attention of other INTA committees, including the committees on Designs, Emerging Issues, and Famous and Well Known Marks. We met with representatives of some of these committees at the Leadership Meeting and discussed how to work together to avoid duplication of work and coordinate efforts. I think that’s a great example of the kind of cooperation, coordination, and communication among committees that INTA wants to see.

Finally, the Programming & Communications Subcommittee, chaired by Marc Trachtenberg (Greenberg Traurig, LLP, USA) is tasked with developing helpful materials and helping to ensure that they are made available to INTA members. An immediate example will be the publication before the end of 2016 of the Presidential Task Force Report.

The Presidential Task Force Report also lists a number of technologies and even entire industries that have been negatively impacted by disruptive innovation over the last 20 years. Indeed, there are two sides to the brands and innovation coin—the impact that brands have on innovation, but on the flip side, the impact that innovation has on brands. One of the committee’s objectives is to contribute to the development of tools and resources for INTA members in order to help them anticipate and respond to the impact, whether positive or negative, of innovation on the brands they are responsible for.

What are some of the “disruptive technologies” the Brands & Innovation Committee will be looking at?
We are looking at technologies that are emerging as we speak, such as 3D printing, wearable technology, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things, to determine whether we can be an early forecaster of issues that may present themselves to brand owners once these technologies are adopted and exploited.

Artificial intelligence (AI), for instance, is a technology that is likely to experience a very rapid expansion, and AI is an area we would like the committee to look at in the future. In conjunction with this, we will be looking at the integrity and morality of doing business using AI, and the implications for brands if consumers perceive its use as unethical or dishonest. The development of general AI that comes close to or equals human intelligence is something a lot of organizations are looking at or working on, but there are some very serious risks that these and other truly disruptive technologies can present. For example, we already have seen some of the potential impact of AI in the increased use of robotics in the manufacturing industries and the impact on the traditional employee base. AI has the capability of throwing millions of people out of their jobs, and unless there is a concerted effort to retrain these people, you’re looking at tremendous dislocation and negative impact on people’s lives. That in turn affects the brand owners, many of whom may employ some of these people. Suddenly, you’re introducing a technology that will be a very big disruption to the traditional business model and production system that we have, and so we’re starting to think about those kinds of things too, as part of anticipating and providing resources to members about what to do if AI really takes off as many are predicting.

To what extent do you think the relationship between new technologies and brand value will become a core part of INTA’s mission as an Association?
The publication of the Final Report truly marks an important moment in the way the Association sees its role and the scope of its mission. The INTA Board of Directors is currently developing the next Strategic Plan (2018–2021), and the concepts of brands and innovation will be mentioned.  These concepts were also reflected in the opening remarks of INTA President Ronald van Tuijl at the 2016 Leadership Meeting. We were delighted to hear him quote verbatim the working definition of “brand” that we had presented to the Board earlier that day. In addition, he  listed in one of his slides what he believed were the three main themes for the next Strategic Plan: (1) brands, (2) consumer trust, and (3) innovation. We are confident that these will be key themes for INTA as it moves into the next Strategic Plan period.

What do you see for the future of the committee?
This committee has received great support from INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo, INTA staff, the Officers, and the Board of Directors. All of them have encouraged us to think broadly, make bold proposals, and they really do believe that this is an area INTA needs to educate itself about. We both are seasoned INTA leaders and members, but this is one of the most exciting tasks we’ve had the opportunity to participate in at INTA.

As INTA Past President J. Scott Evans (Adobe Systems Incorporated, USA) said, Association members should think of themselves as brand ambassadors, and the concept of “brand” is broader than the legal aspects of trademarks. Brands have emotional and psychological as well as intellectual components. To be effective practitioners in the trademark field, this understanding is going to become ever more important in representing and counselling clients. Also, issues may emerge that we are not even aware of now. Curiosity and detachment from specific positions are necessary prerequisites for this committee to maintain its importance in the future. This committee is positioned to support INTA very well in that endeavour. In addition, this is an area that naturally lends itself to INTA’s goal to start engaging with organizations and people we’ve traditionally considered not to be interested in or relevant to the Association. This interconnectivity is paramount. It’s the right time, and it’s incredibly exciting.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

© 2016 International Trademark Association