2014 INTA President Mei-lan Stark (Fox Entertainment Group, USA) met with the
INTA Bulletin to discuss her “fortuitous” path to trademarks, her ambitious goals for the Association and her “call to action” for all INTA members.
How did you come to work in IP?
The way I got into IP is a little bit fortuitous. I grew up playing the piano and cello, and my father is an architect and artist, so I was somewhat steeped in the arts world. I thought that IP would be the perfect marriage between my interest in the arts and my interest in the law. As it turns out, that is not quite true in the way I imagined. I’m lucky, working in a movie and television studio, that everything I touch is a creative work, but I am not part of the creative process as much as I of course focus on the legal aspects.
What was your first job in trademarks, and how did you come to be involved with INTA?
I was extremely fortunate to first start my career with the law firm of Kilpatrick & Cody (now Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton) in Atlanta. So I started my career with people like Miles Alexander, Bill Brewster, Ted Davis, Virginia Taylor and Jerre Swann—outstanding leaders in the trademark field who brought me into the fold and gave me a phenomenal foundation and background. And they were all so active in INTA. It was like growing up in a family where it was assumed that you’d go to college—it was just assumed I’d be active in INTA and attend the Annual Meeting one day.
Where was your first Annual Meeting, and what was the experience like for you?
It was the 121st Annual Meeting, in Seattle, Washington, in 1999. It didn’t feel overwhelming to me, even though it was very large and well attended. Despite its vastness, the Annual Meeting always has a very intimate and collegial feel. I knew a couple of people who were very gracious and shepherded me around that first time, and pretty soon it was my community too.
Did you ever imagine then that you would one day become INTA President?
So, at what point did you become more interested in taking on a leadership role within the Association?
I spent my time coming up through the programs side of INTA, and worked with terrific staff and project teams, one of which was the Advanced Trademark Symposium in Charleston, South Carolina. Since it was an advanced symposium, I was working with some real luminaries and the programming was so high-level. That was extremely engaging for me. That’s where I first got to know former INTA Executive Director Alan Drewsen, and I consider that a pivotal point in my INTA career. I learned there why people devote so much of their time to INTA.
Unlike a lot of trade associations or bar associations, where there can be a feeling of competition, that’s really not INTA. I’ve had some stumbles along the way in my work with INTA, and people have always been very gracious in helping me out. The spirit of the Association is that people want you to succeed. When you have demonstrated your goodwill to them, they will make connections for you wherever you’re going. And it’s not because we’re natural salesmen, it’s because when there’s something that affects you personally and you believe in it, it’s easy to share, and people really do that here. People take to heart the advancement of the ultimate objective and mission, and as a result they help each other out.
What does your role at Fox Entertainment entail?
I’m Senior Vice President of Intellectual Property at Fox Entertainment worldwide. That
includes our motion picture studios, 20th Century Fox; our animation group; our boutique film group, Fox Searchlight Pictures; our free-to-air broadcast television network, Fox; our 27 owned and operated television stations around the country; all of our cable networks internationally and in the United States, including Fox Sports and National Geographic Channel; our online business and home entertainment business. My team supports all of these activities around the world on trademark, copyright, domain (including our new gTLD, .FOX) and patent matters. I’ve been with the company for almost eight years.
What will be your main focus for your INTA presidency?
My goals are aligned with the three Presidential Task Forces I’ve created. The first is a task force on brands and innovation. 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. Trademarks are as vital a part of the economic engine as patents, and we can explore that more fully through this task force.
The second is on building bridges, which Past President Toe Sue Aung (BatMark Limited, UK) started. We need to continue to strive to build bridges not just with governments and other IP associations but with marketing associations, consumer protection groups, and trade unions and other groups. Brand owners represent a huge percentage of gross domestic products, and in order to be really compelling about why trademarks are important, we need to cast our net wider and collaborate in our communication and advocacy efforts.
The third task force will reexamine INTA’s committee structure and participation to align it more closely with the Strategic Plan and to make sure we’re as efficient and effective as possible, and also to provide members as rich and robust an experience as we can.
What will the task forces be doing exactly over the course of the year?
They will meet throughout the year, and in fact have already started. They’re setting up specific objectives for themselves and will meet in person at the Hong Kong Annual Meeting.
They will examine the issues up close and make recommendations to the Association about how to take the next steps. So the Committee Structure & Participation Task Force might make recommendations on which committees should be discontinued and what new committees we might need, for example, while the Building Bridges Task Force might identify who should be our next targets and how we should go about reaching them. The Brands & Innovation Task Force might research whether commissioning a study on brands and innovation would be feasible and helpful, and what kinds of communications efforts we could be making in this area.
They will present their preliminary findings and reports to the Board in November at the Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, and final reports in March 2015. The limits will be the imaginations of the task forces themselves.
How did you choose members for these task forces?
For the chairs of each task force, we chose seasoned INTA volunteers. Each task force has different objectives, but generally we wanted geographic diversity, and we did not want current Board members. We aimed for diversity of experience and industry. On the Committee Structure & Participation Task Force we needed people who had experience working on committees, but on the others we wanted to bring in up-and-comers in order to increase their investment in the Association and put them on a path where they would take on other leadership roles.
Your presidency coincides with the launch of a new Strategic Plan. How is it different from previous Strategic Plans, and what is important about it?
First, we actually changed the mission statement and included it at the front of the document. It is important that we be guided by our mission statement first and foremost. Then, we changed the word “international” to “global.” It gives a little bit of a different contextual feeling. INTA covers the entire world community, and we felt that was really important.
We also believe it is important to explicitly mention our goal of consumer protection. Trademarks have always played a dual role, protecting the goodwill of the trademark owner and its investment, but also providing valuable information to consumers that assists them in their purchasing decisions. We felt it important to remind the public and ourselves that protecting trademarks is protecting consumers and commerce.
In terms of the plan itself, it’s a much shorter document than in the past. We wanted it to signal that we have a lot of confidence in the committee leadership. We didn’t want to dictate very specific tasks, but to give them strategic direction and let them bring all of their creative energy and intellect to help construct specific committee goals aligned with the plan. Hopefully that increases their investment and engagement.
The regional councils are changing this year as well. Can you explain how and why?
In the past, the regional councils have been a little bit on the sidelines, and we felt that was a missed opportunity for the Association. There is a wealth of expertise in those rooms when the regional councils meet. We felt that since we are a truly global Association, why not capture that expertise and use it? We expanded the number of councils so we could focus on additional regions we think are critical for advocacy efforts, and also where we’d love to see our membership grow. So there will now be eight regional councils: North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, China, India and Asia.
Then we really wanted to take that expertise and find a way for it to have direct input back into the staff here, and also to the Board. So we renamed them Global Advisory Councils and they will have a direct advisory role within INTA, including producing quarterly reports in their regions.
What policy issues do you think will take center stage in 2014?
The EU Trademarks Package will of course continue to be at the forefront, and we will be working closely with the EU government on that. The issue of plain packaging will definitely be a hot one as well. We’re seeing it in the EU and Brazil, and the push for this kind of legislation may go beyond tobacco products, to food and alcohol and other industries. 3D printing is an emerging topic too. It has implications for trade dress and other related rights, and it’s something the Brands & Innovation Task Force will be examining. Last, we’ve been on the gTLD train for a long time and now we’re finally seeing them launch. The result will be either the “parade of horribles” that everyone has feared or golden opportunities, and it will be critical to maintain a close eye on that and work with governments and ICANN to maintain the strongest protection possible.
What do you think are the main challenges to achieving the goals you have for INTA?
Time and public perception.
I always feel like I could use an extra six to eight hours in a day. The task forces, for example, have lofty goals and it is a lot of work to put into a short time frame. That’s true of all of our advocacy efforts. We have a lot to do in a short amount of time.
Second, the rise we’re seeing
in anti-IP sentiment is to my mind alarming. We saw it spill over with ACTA into the trademark world in ways we were not adequately prepared for. We’ve allowed certain big players somehow to capture the message. It’s time for us to figure out in a concrete way what really resonates with the public about trademarks, brands and trademark protection, and we need to get our message out in a way that will be embraced and persuasive.
What other projects do you have planned for your presidency?
I have more of a call to action in mind. Toe Su started this effort last year, and I think it’s been incredibly valuable and we need to do more with it. I want every member to be an ambassador of the Association. One of the hallmarks of INTA is that it’s vast but it feels intimate and collegial because it’s personal. And I think getting that message out to more people is important. Folks who are not yet part of INTA need to see that INTA members are people they’ll spend time with and become friends with and benchmark with. That’s a great personal benefit as well as a professional growth opportunity. We’re at one another’s weddings and bat/bar mitzvahs and anniversaries, and that comes from creating a unique community together.
What do you hope to have accomplished by the end of your term?
I would love to see the membership grow, I would love to see us have an even stronger foothold in regions like Asia and I’d like to see staff and volunteers feel that we did something worthwhile and made progress. If we all feel like we’re moving forward, that will be success.
Is there anything else you’d like INTA members to know about you?
People tend to view someone fortunate enough to be in a role like mine as inaccessible. So I’d stress that I’m still the same clutzy, goofy person I’ve always been; one of the things that gives me the greatest pleasure is meeting new people, so I hope no one will ever shy away from reaching out to me with ideas anytime.
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.
© 2014 International Trademark Association