2020 INTA President Ayala Deutsch: Moving Outside the Comfort Zone

Published: February 1, 2020

As Ayala Deutsch, Executive Vice President & Deputy General Counsel at NBA Properties, Inc. (USA), embarks on her term as 2020 INTA President, she draws on more than 20 years of active volunteer work and leadership service with the Association. In the coming year, Ms. Deutsch seeks to encourage members to shift outside their comfort zone and take a fresh look at the future of the intellectual property (IP) field. Ms. Deutsch sat down with the INTA Bulletin to share her vision for INTA and its mission in 2020. 

You’ve been a volunteer with INTA for more than two decades. In your view, how has the Association and industry changed during this time?
I think they’ve both changed tremendously. With respect to the industry, I think IP has become an increasing focus for businesses and consumers. Technology has driven a lot of changes in IP, and it’s clear that brands continue to increase in cultural relevance and complexity. 

The Association has changed a lot, as well. Operationally, it continues to grow. We have a greater global footprint in terms of our offices as well as our global membership. I also think we are more strategically focused. One of the biggest changes has been the expansion of the mission and value of this organization from focusing strictly on trademarks to a much broader, more holistic view of brands. This includes coordinating with non-lawyers—such as marketers or economists—who have good insights about brands, as well as looking into some related rights, such as copyrights and data protection. Speaking of data, we have definitely become more focused on research through the Association’s impact studies, which are giving us a greater understanding of the factors underlying the key policy issues that we address.

What issues do you plan to focus on during your year as President?
As always, I will continue to focus on what we have identified as the Association’s key priorities in our current Strategic Plan, including driving brand value and building consumer trust, and furthering the policy priorities that we already have in place, ranging from counterfeiting to brand restrictions to Internet governance and the Domain Name System.

I also want to focus on developing women’s leadership in the IP field. That’s very important to me. I will also focus on my Presidential Task Force, which is about how to become an all-star IP practitioner. This is about looking at growth and development in IP as INTA is doing, but on an individual level. It’s about motivating ourselves to really think about developing our own skills beyond the core trademark function, and being the best version of ourselves. This, again, is tied to the general focus and strategic direction of the organization. 

In terms of embracing innovation and change, there will be a lot of thinking about the future going on this year. We are preparing to develop our next Strategic Plan. We also have think tanks looking at the future of the IP office, the law firm, and the in-house IP department. Many of INTA’s committees are also very forward-looking and are actively looking into innovations such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and big data. So, there’s going to be a lot of crystal ball gazing!

You just mentioned your Presidential Task Force [that will explore how to develop all-star IP practitioners]. What challenges do you think IP practitioners face today in this regard? What are the Task Force’s goals?
I think one of the key challenges IP practitioners face today is demonstrating the value they can bring beyond the core function of trademark prosecution and enforcement.

The Task Force’s goals are to identify substantive skills in related areas of the law, such as copyright, and also soft skills that can help IP practitioners further develop. This could include a better understanding of marketing or the financial components of their client’s business. It may also encompass communication, project management, and leadership skills that help you excel, no matter what the task. 

Once we identify what those skills are, it is also important to understand how they may differ by function and by region. Then the next step for us will be to make recommendations about what tools, tips, and other support INTA can offer our members to help them be the best they can be in their current roles and also advance professionally. 

I’m hoping the Task Force and the work product they generate will help all INTA’s members recognize their own value as brand professionals and be able to communicate that value to their clients.

What IP and brand-related issues do you think are most on INTA members’ minds these days?
One of the issues that continues to be a long-term challenge is counterfeiting. We need to determine how to address that, particularly with respect to online platforms. There are other issues of growing concern—brand restrictions obviously being one of them. I also think people are trying to grapple with what technology means in a number of ways, such as how IP intersects with new technology such as the Internet of Things and 3D printing, and how all of that is going to play into our role as protectors of IP.

There is also an important focus on how brands translate to business and how we can help with the commercialization of brands. More and more brands are encountering increased shareholder activism, and a lot of INTA members are recognizing—and beginning to focus on—the larger role that brands play in society. This is great, and also relates to the work of one of our newer committees, Brands for a Better Society. 

It seems today that innovation and change are touching businesses and organizations in almost every industry. “Embracing Innovation and Change” is also one of only three strategic priorities contained in INTA’s 2018‒2021 Strategic Plan. How do you see innovation and change affecting brands and brand professionals today?
We lawyers can sometimes be a conservative bunch, and we have a reputation of being risk averse. But in a rapidly changing world economy and brand ecosystem, I believe we really have to challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zone.

Charles Darwin stressed the crucial importance of evolving in order to survive in the natural world, and I think we have to do the same in the IP world. From addressing how to deal with the new generation of consumers and Gen Zers, to how we talk about technology and, overall, how we deal with a complicated, fast-moving world, I think INTA is doing that on all cylinders. Our Association truly is evolving.

The world is also rapidly evolving. Everybody’s interconnected, and social media makes everything move at the speed of sound. Lawyers have to get a little out of their conservative comfort zone and help drive some of the thinking around that. We’re very good critical thinkers and problem solvers. It’s very important for us to try to anticipate where our clients’ businesses are going and where the laws are going, and to educate and prepare ourselves to handle new challenges. We have to make sure we’re challenging ourselves to be open to new ideas and to be innovative in how we are supporting our clients and their businesses. We need to keep evolving.

How has your involvement in the Association helped you professionally and personally?
INTA provides a fantastic opportunity for people early in their career to take on project management and leadership roles. In my early committee work, I was given projects that I was able to manage at a level that, as a junior associate in a law firm, I might not have had the opportunity to handle. For example, in my first committee term, I was able to work on an amicus brief that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was one of the early highlights of my career. In addition to the content and substantive information I gained, my work with INTA was an amazing opportunity to hone my leadership skills and project management abilities. 

On a personal level, I have met a lot of great peers and colleagues and formed a lot of wonderful friendships through INTA. In fact, the public announcement of my INTA presidency has been like a stroll down memory lane. I’m getting a lot of emails and texts from people I have known over the years. It’s a wonderful reminder of the connections you can make in this community. 

No doubt, your work at the NBA and volunteer work at INTA must keep you very busy. In this regard, what advice do you have for young practitioners who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
As someone who tries to be fairly strategic in my job and in my work today, I was not that strategic in my own career path, but I wound up in a good place. I believe that’s because I followed my heart and my passion, and I pursued things that engaged me and that I was interested in working on. There’s a powerful dynamic that drives you when you’re interested. You work hard and you do good work because you’re just totally into it. I think that yields its own success. Then, as you succeed, you build confidence, and that continues to drive you forward. I’ve been with the NBA for 22 years. As in any job, there are ups and downs—but I’ve never been bored! So, my advice is of course to put some thought into your career and to be strategic about your career, but don’t forget the importance of asking, “Am I enjoying what I’m doing? Do I continue to be motivated by it?”

What do you enjoy most about your work at the NBA?
One of the things I enjoy the most is client counseling. I started out as a litigator at a law firm. The reason I moved in-house is I really liked the role of helping clients solve problems. In this role, I’m not necessarily helping them to clean up a mess, but helping them try to avoid the mess in the first place. One of my favorite parts of my job at the NBA is talking with clients about their issues, and trying to help them figure out the right path and avoid problems—and just get a better result. 

What trademark issues are especially relevant to your work right now at the NBA?
Many of the trademark issues relevant to the NBA are the same as I’ve mentioned for members across INTA—namely, counterfeiting and dealing with technology. We’ve also had some interesting issues relating to uniform designs and our trade dress, which is a very important IP asset of the NBA that is not of concern to every brand. In addition, we often deal with the intersection of trademarks and the right of publicity, because our IP is often featured side by side with well-known athletes.

As a global brand, we deal with many of the typical challenges of international businesses, such as understanding the best way to protect your IP in many different jurisdictions. Keeping it all balanced is always a challenge, but that’s also part of why I’m never bored.

What are you most looking forward to during your year as President?
I recently met with the entire INTA staff—and I am really excited about working with everybody. It is a wildly impressive thing to see the staff fully assembled, to attend department-by-department meetings, and be reminded of the amazing work this organization does and the sheer volume of it. 

I’m especially excited about the strategic priority of embracing innovation and change and all the things we’re doing around that, as well as the think tanks looking at the future of our industry and profession. 

I’m also eager to implement ideas and programming around leadership development for women in IP. That’s one of my particular passions and something I’m very much looking forward to.

What has belonging to INTA meant to you over the years?
I’m an IP geek. So, the first thing it’s meant to me is just to be able to plug into like-minded people and have access to all of this amazing knowledge and great peers who can talk at this incredible level about IP law and IP ideas—even looking forward to things that haven’t happened yet and thinking about how those changes could affect our industry. Also, as I said, participation in INTA has given me the opportunity to hone my leadership and project management skills, which have helped me in my overall professional development. I think my participation in INTA has made me a better practitioner for sure. 

I’m a member of a lot of different groups and associations, and I have to say that INTA really has found the recipe for fully engaging volunteer members. These volunteers are extremely busy at their day jobs, but their commitment is truly remarkable—including time commitment, investment of thought, and personal energy. That, coupled with the excellence of the staff, has been a great thing to be a part of.

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.

© 2020 International Trademark Association