Intellectual Property should be integrated in the business strategy

Zeeger Vink, INTA President, Intellectual Property Director at MF BRANDS GROUP

A few days before the 2022 Annual Meeting (the first in-person meeting after almost 3 years), we sat down with Zeeger Vink to discuss about INTA’s 2022-2025 Strategic Plan, his priorities as the Association’s 2022 President and the value of Intellectual Property as an intangible asset for businesses.

  • Tell us a bit about yourself and your professional course.

I am this year’s INTA President, and I have been with the Association for quite some time, through my work as an IP lawyer. After graduating from university, I started working for a law firm in my home country, the Netherlands, and after a couple of years I moved in-house, thereby benefitting from both experiences. The fact that I have been switching countries a couple of times also adds an international view on IP law, which has also proven beneficial in terms of working with global brands that have IP issues in more than one country.

Comparing the in-house with the law firm environment, I would say that, in terms of content, it is almost identical. However, in the in-house context, you have more interactions with different types of groups, from operational, to marketing and distribution. Part of the reflexes you need to have as in-house counsel is the ability to speak different “languages”, otherwise people in different departments will not understand you and the message will not come across.

  • What are the three (3) strategic directions in INTA’s 2022-2025 Strategic Plan?

The first strategic direction is to Promote and Reinforce the Value of Brands. Under this objective we have the harmonization of laws, the simplification and accessibility of legal systems, and the improvement of the registration and enforcement systems globally. We also look at the value of trademarks from a financial perspective, as well as the added value of IP departments to the company in general. We have been looking at the financial aspect in the last few years, but we wanted to streamline that with the broader aspects of brands, including accounting, valuation, and taxation.

Our second strategic objective is to Build a Better Society Through Brands. This objective includes diversity, equity and inclusion, consumer trust and transparency in the market, as well as corporate social responsibility. As an organization we believe that we must both take a lead on these issues and accompany our members in this field, providing them with the necessary tools to ensure that they are compliant with the relevant policies and what consumers demand from brands.

Through the third strategic direction, we will Support the Development of IP Professionals. This is more about the personal development of all professionals working in IP, including lawyers and paralegals. We want to help them improve professionally and develop both their substantive and dynamic skills. We also aim at improving the experience of being an INTA member.

  • Has the second strategic direction been affected by the global pandemic and the growing demand for transparency, diversity, and inclusion?

I would say that it has only reinforced our conviction that these are very important issues for brands and society.

As an international association, we represent people from all over the world and, therefore, need to be open for differences, diverse in our approach and, in terms of our own organization, we must make sure that we give every person a fair chance.

  • Which of the strategic directions do you find more challenging and why?

They are all very complimentary and it is difficult to compare. I think that the second strategic direction, – Building a Better Society Through Brands – might be a bit more challenging for us, as it is an area where we have more to study and more experience to gain. It could be considered as being out of our “comfort zone”, historically, since it is not a technical IP issue, but more about the purpose of the organization and our work.

We do not want to operate in a vacuum and, although we continue to focus on IP issues, we believe that such topics require our attention and action, and they complete our organization. As a matter of fact, last year there was a Presidential Task Force on diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, this is something that has been on our radar already for quite some time.

Corporate social responsibility is part of the companies’ daily work and strategic priorities There is also strong link with INTA’s anticounterfeiting efforts as counterfeiting undermines consumer trust and the brand promise which, today, includes its CSR initiatives.

  • As the Annual Meeting is approaching, what do you expect from the first in-person meeting after almost 3 years?

I think that there is tremendous enthusiasm to be back to in-person meetings in general, not just in IP. We already had a few regional in-person meetings last year and finally this year we are getting back to normal, with over 6,000 registrants, including representatives from hundreds of companies and more than 200 government officials. We very much look forward to seeing all these people that we have known for a very long time, and very often the people we work with.

Contrary to the 2020 Annual Meeting which was purely virtual and the 2021 Meeting which was Virtual+, this year’s meeting is Live+, which means that the main part of the event is in-person, but there is still an option for registrants to attend virtually.

The question of whether a human being needs physical contact might seem a bit philosophical and goes beyond our organization, however we do feel that this is what people really want, especially after two years of absence. We are first-and-foremost a community; our people have known each other for a long time, and I think that we are very fortunate to have extremely positive attitudes and culture within the IP community, even between competitors. This is something that we very much intend to preserve.

That said, I think that the virtual element is here to stay and there will always be people who, for whatever reason, are not able to travel or would prefer not o travel, and and it’s great to have a way to include them. We have done a lot of work, during the past two years, in creating an effective virtual experience and we would like to keep offering that option to our members.

  • How has the global pandemic altered IP enforcement for brands and INTA’s advocacy work in this area

Unfortunately, we have seen that, despite the supply chain disruptions and the reduced economic activity, counterfeiting has not only not diminished but has grown significantly. So, this is also a point of interest for INTA, we have been focusing on that issue for a very long time and we will definitely continue to do so in the future.

However, the pandemic has had positive aspects as well. With the widespread use of digital communications and video conferencing, we have seen an increase in the number of interactions that we have with the public authorities around the world. This new reality has also enabled us to have delegations to certain countries, talking about their trademark systems and enforcement at the border customs.

  • Let us talk a bit about your latest publication, “The Great Catapult: How Integrated IP Management Will Shoot Your Brand to Success”. What are the key takeaways regarding the value of IP rights and the importance of IP management to ensure a brand’s prosperity and impact on consumers and the society? 

I think we should not treat IP as a purely legal issue, but as a broader management issue, and this is one of the core messages in my book, which is not directed at IP lawyers but managers in general, irrespective of the company size, be it an SME, start-up, or an individual entrepreneur.

In the same vein, IP should not be regarded as a legal formality. It should be integrated in the business strategy, which means that all divisions or functions in a company, whether it is operations, marketing, communications, or HR, should optimize IP. One of the conditions for that is good IP reporting, whether it is done internally, or by external IP advisors, law firms or IP agents.

Taking the time and the effort to summarize what is being done, why it is important, what are the effects of the choices made and what are the financial aspects of IP, its value and how we measure it, would significantly contribute to the company’s prosperity.

This is one of the topics I am pushing within INTA this year, by launching a Presidential Task Force on IP reporting for brands, with the purpose of developing a framework and a set of recommendations and best practices on how to enhance IP reporting, at a time when IP as an intangible asset tends to assume a bigger role in the functioning of companies. We therefore need to make sure that we provide our members with the tools to address the growing importance of IP within the businesses.