May 242009

I suppose I have Jeremy Phillips, aka @ipkat, to blame. One of the legal folks I met in England earlier this year, it was he who first suggested I attend the annual INTA conference this year. INTA is an international trademark organization, and thus I might not have thought to attend given that I’ve typically focused more on copyright than trademark in my cyberlaw work. But cyberlaw is rife with trademark issues, and, like, copyright, trademark law deals with regulating expression — which is what fascinates me about these areas of law generally. So perhaps it would be worth attending?

Of course, once I realized how many people from around the world I knew who would be there, there was no question.

The social aspect was nothing to sneeze at. The average attendee’s social calendar was jam-packed with breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and receptions, and happily mine was no exception. Highlights were the Meet the Bloggers reception, where we finally got to put faces to names previously known only from their Internet postings, and the closing reception at the Museum of Flight. (I will forever retain the memory of sharing a flight simulator with an Argentinean lawyer I’d just met, and the hijinks that ensued…) Meeting lawyers from all over the world was indeed a privilege, and extremely helpful for a career focused on law that necessarily transcends national boundaries.

I particularly enjoyed a presentation on the state of African trademark enforcement, which covered a great deal of information and geography in an efficient and illuminating way. While it mostly focused on counterfeit goods, a topic I’ve not heretofore thought much about because I’m more concerned with the verbal aspects of IP, Africa is an interesting crucible for all sorts of IP issues. In Africa those issues are not academic; as a continent full of developing nations it constantly raises the question of how strict a local IP regimen must be to stimulate investment, and how relaxed it also must be so as not to overburden an impoverished populace.

On the other hand, given that the convention was convened in Seattle, and given that so many attendees were American, it was sometimes hard to guard against American provincialism in the conference’s presentations. I personally found the panel on trademark law as it related to blogs helpful given that such information directly pertains to my practice. Plus I think important the advice it conveyed to trademark practitioners generally: that when it comes to litigating trademark issues on the Internet it needs to be done with an eye toward traditional media law, which provides defenses that may not typically be available for off-line trademark infringements.

However, because the session focused entirely on US law it was therefore not particularly relevant to the many other attendees from around the world. Which is a pity. While this area of law is complicated enough in the US and could justify hours and hours of sessions on it, each international jurisdiction has its own way of grappling with it. Since the reach of the Internet is global it is helpful for lawyers to have some sense of how these issues will be dealt with in places other than their home turf. Local counsel may still need to be engaged should trouble arise abroad, but even US lawyers should at least know how to spot it.

 Posted by at 11:42 am

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