Interviews

Interview: Habip Asan, President of the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office

Published: June 9, 2021

Habip Asan knows the accomplishments, capabilities, and future of the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office (TÜRKPATENT). After all, he has been President of TÜRKPATENT, as it is known, since October 2008, making him the longest-tenured holder of that position.

Dr. Asan has served in numerous leadership roles outside of his Office, particularly at the European Patent Organization (EPO). There, his roles include having been a member of Administrative Council of the EPO since 2008 and a member of the Council’s Board since 2013. He was elected to the Supervisory Board of the European Patent Academy in November 2009 and served as its chairman from 2011 to 2012.

He is also the chairman of the executive board of Turkish IP Valuation Inc., which TÜRKPATENT established for the valuation of intellectual property (IP) assets for commercialization purposes. He is also the chairman of the Executive Board of IT Valley, Turkey’s tech hub. Dr. Asan holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and is an extensively published author.

In an interview with the INTA Bulletin, Dr. Asan talks about trademark and design filings and decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing new Office initiatives, supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), technological transformation, and achieving near-gender parity.


Prof. Asan, you have been heading TURKPATENT for many years now. What are some of the most salient changes that have occurred in the Office during your leadership?
Indeed, it has been more than 13 years since I was commissioned as president to the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office. This is the longest tenure for this post since the Office was established in 1994. Since then, there have been many reforms thanks to consistent Office management and, more importantly, sustained political stability in the country.

The most critical change has come from transforming the Office’s role from a traditional public agency into a customer-oriented and market-driven institution that has developed the skill to respond to varying needs and demands of the IP community in Turkey and globally. This transformation best demonstrates itself in several institutional breakthroughs, such as the assignment of TÜRKPATENT as an International Search and Preliminary Examination Authority, migration to fully digital services, and the establishment of the Turkish IP Valuation Company and Turkish IP Academy.

 

The most critical change has come from transforming the Office’s role from a traditional public agency into a customer-oriented and market-driven institution.

Intellectual Property Offices (IPOs) worldwide had to adapt under lockdown and social distancing measures during the pandemic. How has this impacted the volume of trademark and design applications in Turkey?
Total trademark applications increased by 27 percent (from 134,353 to 170,590) in 2020, compared to 2019. In the first quarter of 2021, we observed a 41 percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2020.

Meanwhile, the number of designs filed through TÜRKPATENT increased by 3 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. We saw a 15 percent increase in the first quarter of 2021 compared to last year.

In both fields, the driving force was the increase in resident applications: a 30 percent increase in local trademark and 7 percent increase in local designs applications compared to a 1.7 percent decrease in foreign trademarks and 8.5 percent decrease in foreign designs applications.

How has your Office responded to the crisis? Were there any changes or measures implemented that the Office will maintain into the future, even after the pandemic is over?
We have taken measures to ensure the core mandates of the Office are duly accomplished while under lockdown. This includes enabling our examiners to work from home by providing them with VPN access to their office computers. Besides the internal IT operating systems related to IP services, redirecting the office telephone calls to personal mobile numbers and ensuring the staff’s daily requirements, such as shuttle and meal services for those present in the Office, was essential.

Meanwhile, we have continued undertaking secondary duties in a digital environment where feasible, such as organizing and attending online conferences and meetings, entering into cooperation agreements with international partners, and awareness-raising and IP education through webinars.

Our success in using the digital infrastructure and the boosted staff performance during the pandemic has revealed itself in the increase in examiner decisions by 27 percent in trademarks and 13 percent in design applications during this time. Our Office has taken steps to analyze the reasons behind this performance increase and use that information to investigate the possibility of examiners working from home in the future, even after the pandemic.

Another significant challenge was that the pandemic compelled all IPOs to reconsider how they maintain foreign relations. In the very early stages of the pandemic, bilateral and international relations were almost frozen. Thanks to more efficient and broadening technological means, we have developed innovative ways to interact with our foreign stakeholders. For example, we know very well that organizing a bilateral meeting with the management of an IPO, or a regional seminar with a remarkable number of foreign participants, is much easier and convenient than ever before. I believe that we will continue to use these methods after the pandemic.

How is TÜRKPATENT supporting Turkey’s SMEs and raising awareness among them about the benefits of IP rights?
In collaboration with WIPO [the World Intellectual Property Organization], TÜRKPATENT established the IP Academy in 2016. The Academy has delivered more focused awareness programs for SMEs and enhanced its overall awareness and education services.

Furthermore, TÜRKPATENT has undertaken an initiative called the “Hezarfen Project” since 2007 to directly engage with Turkish SMEs and analyze their IP capacities and potential. So far, we have entered intensive exploratory activities with 650 SMEs in 23 cities, resulting in tailored IP roadmaps for the enterprises while raising the awareness and interest of local SMEs pursuing IP rights.

Finally, in 2017, we established the Turkish IP Valuation Company (TURKSMD) as a subsidiary to TÜRKPATENT, to assist SMEs in making full use of the economic aspects of their IP rights while selling, licensing, and entering into other financial arrangements.

 

I believe the most critical challenge is to adapt to the requirements of the knowledge-based global society.

During INTA’s 2021 Leadership Meeting, on May 3, you led the virtual European Regional Dialogue on the IPO of the Future, together with the heads of the French, Norwegian, and Spanish Offices. During this dialogue, did you identify best practices that could be reproduced by other Offices?
As I touched upon, we organize special programs such as patent workshops and have implemented special projects, such as Hezarfen and IP pre-diagnosis services, IPDs. These projects aim to strengthen the innovation capacity of Turkish SMEs. Also, within the scope of these projects, we provide free-of-charge training and one-to-one consultancy services.

A second important project, which TÜRKPATENT developed in 2015, is the Technology Transfer Platform. This platform brings together inventors and entrepreneurs. Publications related to industrial property and its management, such as the announcements of activities and offers for licensing, have been delivered via the “Technology Transfer Platform” website.

These are some of TÜRKPATENT’s best practices that could be reproduced by other Offices.

Embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and other new technologies is portrayed as a must for IPOs in the IPO of the Future Report recently released by INTA. What is TÜRKPATENT’s stance on this?
TÜRKPATENT has always been a close follower of technological advancements, particularly in digital services. We look forward to working with international and regional organizations, including the EPO, EUIPO, and WIPO, in using AI as an asset in IP management. As soon as the technologies are mature enough, TÜRKPATENT will pioneer the legislative policies and assist the political decision-making agencies in regulating those new technology areas, including but not limited to IP-specific areas.

At this point, I would like to mention the digital transformation project, which TÜRKPATENT initiated in the second half of 2020. This project aims at creating a new common IP database and replacing current internal administration and search tools with new ones by effectively making use of new IT technologies. Developing AI-based IP searching tools will be one of the key outcomes of this project.

In your opinion, what are the most pressing challenges the Turkish Office must face and anticipate as it projects itself into the future?
I believe the IPO of the Future Report, which collects almost all possible scenarios and future challenges, provides an excellent basis for future considerations of any IP Office, including TÜRKPATENT.

I believe the most critical challenge is to adapt to the requirements of the knowledge-based global society. In that context, transforming TÜRKPATENT into a data-driven Office will be one of the biggest challenges toward producing, managing, and making use of analytical IP information. This transformation will not only assist in the day-to-day management of the core IP services, it will be an essential prerequisite for adopting new technologies such as AI, which are entirely data-dependent.

 

The IPO of the Future Report, which collects almost all possible scenarios and future challenges, provides an excellent basis for future considerations of any IP office.

TÜRKPATENT’s and INTA signed an MoU during the 2021 Leadership Meeting last month, through which the two organizations will foster collaboration, exchange experiences, and work on concrete projects of mutual benefit. What are you most looking forward to working on through this increased cooperation?
Since starting my career at TÜRKPATENT, I have closely followed INTA’s efforts and activities. I always find them very target-oriented, adequately planned, and quite efficient. As commonly accepted, inventors, right holders, attorneys, lawyers, courts, and IP Offices are closely interlinked stakeholders of the IP ecosystem.

WIPO defines the ultimate duty of the IP system as “fostering an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish by striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest.” This aim only is achieved by establishing healthy and efficient communication channels and relations between all the above-mentioned stakeholders.

In this regard, through this MoU, we will improve how we understand each other and our perspectives, as well as learn more about right holders’ and their representatives’ priorities, needs, and expectations.

I am also delighted to express that, thanks to this MoU, my Office will find an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to the vast network of INTA. This MoU prescribes various means and ways of cooperation, such as exchanging information, organizing joint events and training, and developing a policy dialogue.

I honestly expect that proper implementation of this MoU will have a remarkably positive impact not only for my Office or INTA but also for all stakeholders in Turkey.

Last year INTA launched The Women’s LeadershIP Initiative, in line with its strategic direction to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the global IP community. How is TÜRKPATENT approaching DEI in the Office and generally?
Since its establishment, our Office has upheld gender balance. I am proud to note that there has been an almost equal gender distribution in TÜRKPATENT with minor fluctuations in the last 15 years. As of 2021, we have a 48 percent female/52 percent male staff distribution in our Office. We will undoubtedly continue adhering to the principles of equality and gender balance as always.

We also have been and will continue to be champions of women inventors through officially sponsoring their participation in international innovation expositions, particularly in the Korea International Women Invention Exposition and the Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions.

Meanwhile, our Patent Workshop program administered by the IP Academy is a tool to reach out to school-age children in raising IP awareness and motivation to create and innovate, which we will continue in the future.

Broadly speaking, what is your vision for the future of TÜRKPATENT?
I have been and will continue working toward shaping the TÜRKPATENT as an agency that contributes to raising the Turkish intellectual capital and innovative capacity, which leads the national and international policies on industrial property rights to that end.

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

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