Friday 6 June 2014

The INTA Experience

Michael Factor has finally returned from the International Trademark Association (INTA) Meeting in Hong Kong, gathered his thoughts and committed them to posterity. This is what he writes:
For those of you have never tried it, and for those of you that have, I share my thoughts on the INTA Experience. INTA is billed as a trade mark conference. I suspect that approximately 2% of participants go to a lecture or a table topic. Everyone else goes to visit a new city and to… well … it seems that what people do is to collect business cards. Not wanting to be different, I had some cards printed, and I swapped with other conference participants.
In the past I've tried to obtain a business card from a country for every letter of the alphabet, and the following year I went on to collect a PCT set that I have had framed.  I have shoeboxes of the bloody things from previous trips. My wife made me promise not to bring any more cards home unless I throw the old ones out. 
To try to make some sense of things, I have decided to make a spreadsheet list of emails. I can then send out spam mail to all my new friends. Typing up emails is a mind-numbing experience. If I delegated to a paralegal or secretary I'd lose my support staff, so I have been doing it myself. I used to think it really clever when Excel finished off an email address I was typing in, and then I realized that this was a duplicate.

When you need a nudge from the spreadsheet program that you are entering your own details again, or if you note a run of blank cards and don't bother to check if they were printed on the back by mistake, it is a good time to stop and take a break. Another sign of excess business card syndrome is when you marvel at how fortunate those attorneys are who have managed to find email addresses that remind you of who they are and where they work.

Since I give them the pens, iPad cleaners, squeezy balls and other swag, my kids want to know why I go to international conferences. I explain that I go to give away my business cards and to collect other peoples'. My eleven year old asked if I didn't have enough? I explained that they are called business cards and swapping them is called doing business. He didn't look convinced.

I note that the French practise out of cupboards (closets for American readers) and the Italians, like Michelangelo and his ilk, seem to have studios. The Chinese all have impossible to pronounce names, or improbable ones that they've chosen from themselves from a list. The Americans, like royalty and Popes, have cards proclaiming that they are Walter Smith the 3rd

One of my associates from Marks and Spencer Clerk asked me why solo practitioners and small 
firms go to INTA. The question warrants a more serious answer than the one I gave him. An employee or associate of a big firm gets his paycheck for partying and drinking beer for a few days and gets to travel. For the solo practitioner, the cost of attending is considerable. The flights, hotel, membership and conference registration may easily cost the same as a family holiday and some may not be able to afford both. The real cost of attending INTA includes a week off work, with presumably a corresponding drop in billing for that week. If one includes jetlag, tabulating business cards, and thanking colleagues from the developing world for their kind wishes and price-lists, it perhaps eats up two weeks of working time.

It may take months to see incoming work from new associates that compensates for this investment, and it may never happen.

I think that I go for the same reason that they participate in the National Lottery. Maybe I'll strike up a chance conversation with someone who is dissatisfied with another Israel associate and will transfer a hundred files to me. Maybe I'll bump into an in-house counsel who will transfer a Fortune 500 brand to us, and then pay us to go after the infringers.

Thankfully I can manage both INTA and a family holiday. I don't think I could persuade my wife that I need to take an exotic holiday from her and from the kids. More than anything, INTA is a holiday from ones family and regular workload, cunningly disguised as a business trip.

Over time, one may see incoming work from INTA. In the meantime, it is good to have a nice easy way to measure success, and I've never collected as many cards!


  1. Hi Michael

    Great to have an honest appraisal of the INTA experience. Surely the parties and swag gathering must be under threat as more of the corporate members are compelled to implement anti-corruption compliance programmes.

    I hope INTA will work on the improvement of competence and the building of working relationships in the future

  2. Hi Barbara and Michael,
    I am an Argentine Patent and Trademak Agent as form 2000, and started my sole practice a few months ago, since I have worked for almost 20 years in a law firm. Considering I had responsibility on foreign area for many years, working on trademarks but mostly on patents and industrial designs, I got to be in contact with correspondants around the world. I am considering attending INTA this year as I think it may be good to maintain contact with some colleagues and to know new ones, though it represents a really high cost as I am just starting.
    I would be happy to meet you and/or to attend any meeting for solo practioners, ans also would appreciate your comments and sugestions. Thank you! Regards,

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I do hope you will attend the #inta2016 tweetup - see the link here

    3. Thank you! I have just joined the tweetup!