The Many Implications of Innovation
Published: February 23, 2022
Scott Mayhew (Zoetis Inc., USA) has one warning to brand owners and brand professionals: “Innovate or get left behind.” That emphasizes why both can benefit from discussions on the Innovation and the Future of IP track at the 2022 Annual Meeting Live+. Mr. Mayhew is the track leader of this thematic track, which is part of the in-person programming on May 4.
In our ever-changing technological world, innovation plays a significant role in the legal issues faced by brand legal practitioners today, and being nimble amid the changes that it brings is a must. Understanding new technologies, anticipating the future state of the marketplace and the role of intellectual property (IP), and how they impact businesses and legal teams is now de rigueur in a brand legal practice as well as crucial to ensure brand protection and the continued relevance of IP practitioners.
In an interview with the INTA Bulletin, Mr. Mayhew, who is the chair of INTA’s Brands and Innovation Committee, looks at “innovation” through various lenses and discusses why brand owners and legal practitioners should embrace it.
What are the key ingredients in the making of a so-called innovative company, and what role does IP play in that?
For me, it starts at the top—the leadership team, senior executives being willing to invest in innovation. I’ve worked with companies where they weren’t willing to do that, and others that are all in. A lot depends on the size of the company. Some companies just intentionally decide that they’re not going to be innovative. But if you want to be an innovative company, you’ve got to invest in that innovation. We’ve seen across many different industries that if companies don’t innovate, if they rest on their laurels too much, they get left behind.
The second piece of that, though, is making sure you’re hiring innovative, creative people and letting them do what they are hired to do in terms of developing those innovative ideas for your company.
In terms of the role of IP, if companies are willing to invest in innovation, but not willing to invest in protecting their IP, someone is simply going to copy that idea. So, I think it’s two parts: you must be willing to invest in innovation and you must be willing to invest in protecting that innovation.
[Make] sure you’re hiring innovative, creative people and letting them do what they are hired to do.
We talk a lot about how to define brand value and brand equity. How does innovation contribute to the equation?
Innovation has the potential to significantly increase a brand’s value and equity in terms of becoming more well-known. Of course, there’s also the flip side—that you could devalue the brand if you get those things wrong. The takeaway is that it’s great to be innovative, but you better get it right. It can lead to negative consequences if you don’t get it right when, for example, a company is using technology to drive consumers to websites or apps that can’t handle the traffic and then crash. Be prepared, and if a campaign is a success, you want to make sure it stays a success.
One of the strategic directions of INTA’s 2022‒2025 Strategic Plan calls for “embracing innovation and change,” which includes studying the correlation between brands and innovation, and how technology and social trends impact brand expectations. What do you see as the impact of innovation and change on brands and complementary IP?
It’s all about staying relevant with consumers, particularly millennials. They love technology and cool gadgets, so brands are going to need to adjust if that’s their target audience.
When we talk about complementary IP, NFTs jump out to me as being an area requiring knowledge of the law in many areas. A lot of people are still thinking about ways to protect NFTs. That’s a type of technology or innovation that crosses a lot of different types of law—contract, copyright, trademarks, patents.
For practitioners, there’s a world of innovation in terms of legal tech. Artificial intelligence (AI) is one that immediately comes to mind. I think lawyers are like anyone else in being hesitant to adopt new technology. But there is a clear benefit here for the client—technology brings more efficiency. It’s all about customer service for our clients, and if new technologies can bring those efficiencies, improve that customer experience, then savvy lawyers are going to be driven to implement them for that reason.
Innovation has the potential to significantly increase a brand’s value and equity in terms of becoming more well-known.
The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer highlighted that emerging technologies, such as AI and virtual reality, are distrusted in key markets such as France, Germany, the UK, and the United States. With new technology and new buzzwords, like “metaverse,” continually emerging, how can brand professionals help guide their companies in navigating what may or may not be the “next big thing”?
Be rest assured that whatever the next big thing is, your client, whether it’s the CEO of the company or a business development person, is going to know about it, and they’re going to be asking you questions about it. So, you better be able to discuss it with them, and how you might go about protecting or exploiting it.
A couple of years ago, NFTs were unknown to the masses. You look at that technology and it seems new, but what we’ve learned is that with some of the new technology, there’s typically existing laws that apply to them. As practitioners, we must understand how to apply those laws to the new technology. Being able to do that can help your client out tremendously. You don’t necessarily have to be the one that’s leading the charge, but you certainly need to be able to tell the client that you’re on top of it, following it, and have some understanding, not only of the technology, but what laws might be applicable to how you could exploit or stay clear of potential legal issues.
Do you think the metaverse is the next big thing?
Absolutely, the two things that I hear the most about are NFTs and the metaverse. The metaverse is very interesting to me. It’s a bit mind blowing, the money spent on NFTs or real estate in the virtual world, and where that virtual real estate can be more valuable depending on location—just like in the real world.
Given that you began your career as a patent attorney, what is your elevator pitch to entrepreneurs who are on the fence about applying for patents for their inventions as well as protecting other IP?
I love this question because I did have to do this! When I first started out in private practice, working with a lot of “garage inventors,” one of the questions they would ask me when we first met was, “Is this a million-dollar idea?” Of course, I’m in no better position to tell them whether it’s a million-dollar idea than they are—they know the market better than I do—so my answer was always, “I can’t tell you if this is a million-dollar idea, but I can tell you that you’re going to feel really bad if you don’t protect this and someone else either copies it because you move forward without protecting your IP or someone else comes up with it independently. That may be a regret you have to carry around for the rest of your life. It may not pan out to be a million-dollar idea, but at least you don’t have to worry about someone else exploiting that if it is.”
INTA’s In-House Practice of the Future Think Tank Report noted that legal teams are generally lagging in integrating technology solutions into their practices. How will the Innovation and the Future of IP track help legal teams close this gap and stay relevant in this fast-changing world?
We’re going to have a session on legal tech, including AI. We’re going to have sessions on blockchain, NFTs, and the metaverse.
It goes back to what I said earlier: lawyers are hesitant to change. There’s a lot that goes into adopting new technology. There must be a reason for us to get moving on that, and I think it comes back again to improving our client experience. It’s going to be something that makes us more efficient, so that we can either reduce our fees or improve turnaround time.
I’m particularly interested in AI and how it impacts legal professionals. Now we’re just scratching the surface, maybe not even the surface, but AI is really going to change the way the legal profession operates sooner rather than later.
What will be some of the main takeaways from the Innovation and the Future of IP track?
The first thing is that innovation is a broad term, applicable in many ways. When people think about innovation, maybe they think patents, but it doesn’t mean just patents; it applies across the entire spectrum of IP.
Next, developing a better understanding of new technology in relation to brands. For me, when I first hear about a new technology, such as, for example, 3D printing or NFTs, it’s not always obvious how that technology will impact brand owners, and why brand owners should care about its impact—what we need to counsel clients on. Let’s make an effort to be clear about what that impact may be. Sometimes it’s still unknown. Two years ago, we weren’t even talking about NFTs. In many industries it’s still to be determined, and I think brand owners are still figuring out how NFTs are going to drive brand value.
Lastly, for legal professionals, it could be gaining a better understanding of legal technology to the point that perhaps attendees will go speak with exhibitors [in the Brand Marketplace] to learn more about some of their technology and other services.
[When] I first hear about a new technology …, it’s not always obvious how that technology will impact brand owners, and why brand owners should care about its impact—what we need to counsel clients on.
What would you describe as “innovative” about the 2022 Annual Meeting Live+?
This is the first time INTA has done a mix of all-out live and virtual, so I’m very interested to see how that is carried out and how well that goes. Providing flexibility and choice to our colleagues is key.
Personally, I hope more people will come to the live event because that is just a better experience. But for those who can’t because of travel restrictions, or whatever other reason, it’s great that we’re giving them the virtual offering as well. That is what makes us innovative.
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.
© 2022 International Trademark Association
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