The Business of Brands: Interview with Track Leader Tali Alban of Uber Technologies
Published: July 28, 2021
INTA’s 2021 Annual Meeting Virtual+, from November 15 to 19, includes five educational tracks—one track on each of the five days of the event. The five tracks are: Building a Better Society Through Brands; The Business of Brands; Enforcement and Anticounterfeiting; Innovation and the Future of IP; and Regional Updates.
Tali Alban (Uber Technologies, Inc., USA) is a member of the 2021 Annual Meeting Project Team and the track leader of The Business of Brands track, taking place on November 16. Ms. Alban, senior counsel, advertising and marketing at Uber, advises the business on all matters relating to marketing, advertising, and consumer protection. Prior to joining Uber, she was the associate general counsel, brand & eCommerce at Rodan + Fields, and was counsel at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, where she advised clients on trademark and copyright matters. Ms. Alban previously served on INTA’s Data Protection Committee.
In an interview with the INTA Bulletin, she describes what Annual Meeting Virtual+ registrants will take away from the sessions on The Business of Brands track, including gaining skills to expand the brand professionals’ role in the business, understanding brand valuation, and identifying and responding to risks and trends.
What do registrants have to look forward to in The Business of Brands track?
Our track will center on helping practitioners focus on key elements of the “Business of Brands.” We’ll talk about valuation and what IP valuation means and discuss strategies and how to communicate about it internally and externally. We’ll also talk about the importance of adjacent areas, such as copyright and advertising, and the ability to flag issues—even if you’re not reviewing for them—to at least see them and be able to loop in the right people, when appropriate. We’ll look at working cross-functionally with other legal members, other in-house or outside counsel, and colleagues in the business departments, and generally about how to be a better partner to the business, whether you’re outside counsel or in-house.
Registrants will take away real-world, practical skills they can put to use in their practices.
How will this track help legal practitioners stretch themselves, from the standpoint of legal skills as well as dynamic skills?
Practitioners will gain a better understanding—or for some perhaps, a refresher—on areas that to some can seem mystifying or overly complex, such as taxation as it relates to IP and trademarks in particular, methods of valuation, and the factors that might impact that valuation. Registrants will take away real-world, practical skills they can use in their practices.
As an in-house lawyer, you work very closely with business teams. What do you think are the most important things legal practitioners need to be a successful partner to their business teams/clients?
As an in-house lawyer, the number one most important thing you can do is become a trusted advisor—someone your internal clients feel comfortable going to for advice. So, get out there when you meet your business clients, show your face, whether in person or on a videoconference. Give trainings in the area of your expertise so people can see you in action. At the same time, learn the business, learn the company’s objectives, and work with the business to achieve those goals.
What you absolutely don’t want to do is become the place “where good ideas come to die!” Unless it truly is an insurmountable legal risk, learn to say, “We may not be able to do it that way, but here’s an alternative that I think will achieve what you’re looking for,” rather than just “No.” I think that especially young practitioners or practitioners just coming out of a law firm aren’t used to that kind of attitude. It’s a little bit different; it’s more business-focused and less of a purely legal focus.
What you absolutely don’t want to do is become the place ‘where good ideas come to die!’
Finally, learn to spot potential risks that are not yet legal risks but could be down the road. By that I mean, for example, public relations, which is particularly relevant to brand professionals. Negative backlash to something that the brand does or says is not necessarily an immediate legal risk. However, unhappy consumers might lead to legal claims down the road, or could lead to unwanted regulatory scrutiny, and so on. Whatever it is that you’re doing and looking at, it’s helpful to just keep in mind that there are legal risks that may not yet look like legal risks.
Brand owners have long followed trends and shifts in society. How can brands stay out front of these and make it a source of value?
Brands should not just be mindful of obvious trends, but should keep abreast of political movements, particularly nascent ones, and the tone around them. For example, when the #MeToo movement launched, some brands did better than others at understanding the collective zeitgeist and were able to tap into it in a respectful way.
The key today is to keep an ear to the ground and to be authentic. The public knows when a brand is trying to capitalize on a trend or cause without truly believing in it or living it. Brands that state their values and back them up with actions are poised to come out ahead, particularly when we are talking about social causes, DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion], or sustainability.
And, of course, brands need to be smart about social media. Not only should they be using it well: they should also be aware of new platforms and how to use them and engage with the users, without seeming like the adult trying to be cool like the kids! That’s a fine line to walk.
Brand practitioners need to talk more about the IP as assets, and the discussions should go beyond the value of the trademark portfolio.
In-house brand legal teams are often considered cost centers, yet IP and brands are usually the most valuable assets that an organization owns. How can brand professionals overcome this perception issue among their colleagues internally?
This is a universal challenge for legal teams everywhere. Our value, unless perhaps you are in mergers and acquisitions, is often in what we’ve prevented rather than what we’ve brought in, and that is difficult to quantify. But, unlike many other legal specialties, brand professionals are charged with protecting an important asset, and if they can speak about it effectively, they can overcome the perception that they are just a cost center.
Brand professionals, therefore, need to talk more about the IP as assets, and the discussions should go beyond the value of the trademark portfolio. Brand professionals can educate their clients on the various ways IP, and trademarks in particular, can be monetized and used to help boost the overall brand value. Whether it’s as an asset during fundraising rounds, private equity investment, loan security, or in advance of an IPO, the in-house brand professional should have a robust understanding of—and ability to explain—the importance of these assets.
Of note, our track includes a panel discussion dedicated to understanding and explaining the value of brands. And learnings from this session can help change perception.
A key takeaway from INTA’s 2020 In-House Practitioners Benchmarking Report and INTA’s In-House Practice of the Future Think Tank Report is how the role of the trademark practitioner has evolved from specialist to generalist and into a more holistic “brand counsel” role. The Reports also provides insight on how in-house teams work with outside law firms and other vendors. What advice do you have for law firms or other vendors as to how best to work with in-house legal teams?
My advice is always the same on this topic: it’s to really listen to your in-house clients and adapt your style to their needs. A lot of in-house practitioners these days don’t have time to read big legal memos, don’t want to pay for the work to put the memos together, and really just want real-world answers. We understand that outside counsel needs to be careful, but even if it’s just over the phone, give me the answer. Tell me what you really think is the real risk and how likely that risk is to happen. I know that this is not true for all clients, and there certainly are occasions that call for a formal legal opinion, but that is why listening to your client’s preferences is so important.
As an in-house lawyer, the number one most important thing you can do is become a trusted advisor.
The other piece of advice is something a partner at my former firm used to always say: “Know your client’s business.” It was true then, and it’s true now. There’s nothing worse than getting legal advice that doesn’t apply to your business.
What lessons has the pandemic taught you in terms of servicing clients/marketing your company?
I joined Uber a month before we were all sent home for what we thought would be two weeks and ended up being a year–and–a half. So, in terms of servicing my clients, I don’t know that I can say that the pandemic has changed my approach or thoughts on how I work with my clients.
But, in terms of marketing, the pandemic has brought home for me the importance of public perception and goodwill toward a brand. Uber is a great example. It’s no secret that Uber has had some reputational challenges in the past. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we can still see the effects. For example, Uber has done some amazing things around the pandemic, from donating free food to health care workers in the U.S., hauling produce that would have otherwise gone to waste from the farm to those who needed it most, free rides to National Health Service workers in the UK, helping victims of domestic violence get to safe spaces at no cost, vaccine awareness campaigns, free rides to and from vaccine sites, and the list goes on. However, what you read about online is often still quite negative.
Nevertheless, it has become ever clearer that it’s important for brands to stand up and do the right thing during a crisis, even if they don’t get tons of credit for it. The hope is of course that this eventually translates to goodwill toward the brand, but regardless, it’s always important to do what’s right.
Registration for the 2021 Annual Meeting Virtual+ is now open to INTA members.
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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