Keeping Up with Change: Track Leader Monique Cheng Joe on Innovation and the Future of IP
Published: September 29, 2021
“Innovation” will be the word of the day on November 18, when the Annual Meeting Virtual+ moves to the fourth of its five daily tracks: Innovation and the Future of IP.
Marking a new format, the virtual component of the Meeting includes one track on each day of the event, from November 15 to 19. The tracks are, in day order: Building a Better Society Through Brands; The Business of Brands; Enforcement and Anticounterfeiting; Innovation and the Future of IP; and Regional Updates.
Innovation and the Future of IP could not be timelier. The past two years have seen tremendous changes across the world, largely resulting from the global pandemic and a proliferation of new technologies. Brands need to adapt quickly to the transforming marketplace and cutting-edge technologies. And understanding these new technologies and their impact on businesses and legal teams is now de rigueur in brand legal practice.
Monique Cheng Joe (NBCUniversal Media LLC, USA) is a member of the 2021 Annual Meeting Project Team and the track leader of the Innovation and the Future of IP track. She is senior vice president, head of brands and content IP at NBCUniversal Media LLC, and currently serves on INTA’s Board of Directors and the Anticounterfeiting Committee.
As a legal professional in the entertainment business, Ms. Joe knows first-hand the power of innovation. She also recognizes how it plays a significant role in legal issues that practitioners face today. In this interview with the INTA Bulletin, Ms. Joe discusses why brand professionals need to embrace innovation to future-proof themselves, drive their businesses forward, protect intellectual property (IP) assets, and increase brand value.
INTA’s In-House Practice of the Future Think Tank Report noted that technology solutions are embraced and integrated at different speeds and levels within organizations, but legal teams are generally behind the times with integrating technology solutions into their practices. How will the Innovation and the Future of IP track help legal teams go perhaps beyond their comfort zone to catch up and speed up?
Recognizing that things move very, very quickly, we all need opportunities to really catch up. The panels [on the Innovation and the Future of IP track] are going to not just reflect the newest trends, but also provide a practical guide on how to approach any issues that might come down the pike.
There will be tips on how folks can keep abreast of technology but to do so in a way that’s a little bit more organic. Watching the news or reading the newspaper is pretty natural for us, but what else can we be doing? It’s about having that natural curiosity and willingness to look beyond what’s right in front of them.
Clearly, coming to INTA’s Annual Meeting is one of those great opportunities [to get up to speed]. We have the best speakers who are experts in their fields—so not only are you learning about something new, you’re doing so from the very best.
Innovation impacts all aspects of a business. What do you see as the correlation between innovation and brand equity?
I see innovation as being about competitive edge. When a business just stands still and doesn’t look for ways to improve or expand, then they really become stagnant and fail to compete. Consumers will come to expect state-of-the-art solutions to whatever is a brand’s core business. It is not just one product or service, but rather the value of the overall business that drives a brand’s value. Ultimately, innovation drives a brand’s equity.
When a business just stands still and doesn’t look for ways to improve or expand, then they really become stagnant and fail to compete.
You served as chair of INTA’s 2020 All-Star Practitioners Presidential Task Force, which provided enormous insight into professional development—now one of the pillars of the Association’s 2022‒2025 Strategic Plan. When you envision the future of IP, what do you see as the most important soft skills and mindset to future-proof brand professionals and position them for success?
As I was thinking about those skills that really help each professional and their career—at the beginning, middle, and end—it’s the same foundation. It’s communication, it’s collaboration, and it’s curiosity—that willingness to want to know more. If you stop learning, you stop innovating. The execution of those skills changes over time, but the areas of expertise are the same.
Being curious helps you to learn and to think differently. Companies that embrace that curiosity also embrace innovation with a willingness to change.
We’ve all heard about and seen the technological tools that are available to facilitate our businesses and make the actual practice of law easier, faster, more efficient. That’s only going to continue. And while our jobs are not going to get done by robots, I think that there are certainly areas where we must look to automate, because we’ve seen an increase across all business sectors in the importance of branding, the importance of trademarks, and the importance of IP, and that really is driving growth in many different areas. We see more work, less time, and fewer staff.
It is through the embracing of technology together with those core dynamic skills that you will be able to future-proof yourself. It’s going to help you find solutions and get work done more efficiently and effectively.
In your role at NBCUniversal, what’s your secret to staying ahead of innovation strategies and technological trends to bring additional value to members of other departments and the company as a whole?
It is about keeping your ear to the ground. It is about making sure that you are not just being reactive but rather being proactive—seeing things coming around the corner and understanding that if we started at Point A and have gotten to Point B, chances are we’re going to get to Point C quickly.
Staying ahead means anticipating and being willing to be out in the forefront of emerging issues. That’s my job. I need to be able to think about where we’re going, and then what are the IP issues that may arise, and, potentially, how can I make it a more hospitable environment for our business.
It’s also about being able to have a good relationship with all your business clients in such a way that you can be a trusted partner, and not just that person out there saying, “Hey, you can’t do that.” It’s about being the person who can create and craft unique solutions that consider what’s top of mind for the business but, at the same time, recognize the importance from an IP perspective, whether it’s protection, enforcement, or otherwise.
Being curious helps you push yourself to learn and to think differently. Companies that embrace that curiosity also embrace innovation with a willingness to change.
Emerging technologies, especially in popular culture, such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual gaming, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and blockchain, have changed the nature of goods and services and triggered new trademark issues for brand owners. How will the Innovation and the Future of IP track help brand practitioners navigate this brand-new world to protect IP assets and increase brand value?
As I mentioned, with the great panels that we have on the innovation track, it’s going to provide you with tools on how you can approach any problem. Because of new technologies, it is important to be in lockstep with the business—not be in some ivory tower where all the lawyers are approached only at the last resort. You need to be in the room when it happens, as they say. If you are not working closely with the business teams to help identify potential issues and craft workable solutions as the business is developing, then you are not a value-add to the process.
We have panels of experienced professionals who’ve been doing this for a long time and have tips and tricks to help us navigate these situations. And [they’ll talk about] how they’ve managed to navigate their careers and have been able to transition into different roles. There are opportunities to learn from experts who are bringing all their years of collective experience together to demonstrate how they have been able to partner really well with their clients.
So, for example, if registrants come into the session knowing nothing about NFTs, knowing nothing about AI, will they emerge with the level of knowledge that could help them in their day jobs?
Yes, the goal is to be able to provide folks with tools to approach each of those new areas. Each of the panelists is going to bring a fresh insight. While I can’t guarantee that you’re going to walk away with the most pristine understanding of what an NFT is, you’ll know what the issues are around it. You will learn the fundamental tools of how to approach the problems. Whether it’s an NFT today or a blockchain tomorrow or AI the next day, you’ll be able to understand them at a foundational level and then be able to counsel as necessary.
Our track will show you how to be an integral part of the brand story as brand professionals.
What do you see as the most important learning that registrants will take away from the Innovation and the Future of IP track?
Every brand and everybody who’s building a brand has a story. They’re not all the same, but what makes them similar is that they have that entrepreneurial spirit and that drive to excel. While the new good or service is different, the initiative and drive to create a new brand or service is the same. Each one wants to craft their own story, and I think our job as IP professionals is really to understand that story. We may not understand exactly how everything works, but we need to understand what they’re trying to accomplish and then be part of that vision. Our track will show you how to be an integral part of the brand story as brand professionals.
Is there something that excites you most about this track—that made it sort of a natural fit for you to lead?
I love the idea of innovation and where it takes us, because honestly, that’s the future—nobody’s staying in the past. If you’re really thinking about where we are going to be tomorrow, I like the idea of being able to help people understand what the story will look like.
Coming from an entertainment background, we’re always on the cutting edge of technology. Whether we’re talking about theme parks, whether we’re talking about streaming services, whether we’re talking about NFTs, we are talking about different ways of delivering content or creating content or providing entertainment. That’s all about innovation and thinking about how we develop, utilize, and protect our assets in different ways. For IP-based businesses, it all comes down to IP.
You’ll be attending the in-person mini-conference in Los Angeles during the Annual Meeting Virtual+. What are you looking forward to most?
I’m very excited about the mini-conference because it will be an opportunity to bring together a lot of different folks in the area, specifically related to Los Angeles. [In developing the programming], we’ve really taken an opportunity to think about brands and innovation and how that pertains to the Los Angeles region. The mini-conference will have three great topics: startups, entertainment, and food.
It has been a really long time since we’ve gotten together, and I feel like there’s absolutely nothing like being there in person and being able to interact with people—to feel the energy of the room and be able to really share an experience with one another. It is going to be so amazing after the past almost two years of not being able to do that.
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.
© 2021 International Trademark Association
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