Predicting the rise or fall of trends in any industry is a tricky business. No one wants to be caught wearing last season’s hemlines, guiltily adding sugar (bad) to your coffee (apparently also bad) instead of sinking wheatgrass shots whilst perfecting your downward facing dog or any of a host of potential missteps. The trademark industry has its own trends and I think it’s safe to bet that we will be hearing more about these issues in 2019!
How we communicate in every aspect of life is critically important to successful relationships and business. The rise of social media led to a whole new type of human communications from behind the safety of a keyboard, not all of it positive. Online communications have gone through a rapid evolution. We have grown through the era of sharing pictures of everything we eat with everyone we know, passive aggressive status updates (you ok, hun?) and many, many millions of pictures of cats. Although I suspect that the latter is here to stay.
The anonymity afforded by the internet has also allowed a more malicious breed of communications - keyboard warriors and bullies have done real harm to many and tolerance for such is on the wane. This trend has forced many industries and sectors of society to re-examine how we communicate and the legal sector is no exception. Whilst I don’t always agree that the phrase ‘trademark bullying’ is apt in every circumstance, the general trend towards mediating disputes and better communications is a largely positive one that I think we can expect to see grow and develop in 2019.
2) Corporate Social Responsibility:
Possibly related to the drive for better communications, many businesses are looking towards creating a better world as part of their marketing campaigns. The more cynical amongst us have mixed feelings about such campaigns, seeing it as rather more of a case of exploitation. Maybe that is true in some cases but there is little doubt that a growing number of businesses have causes that they care passionately about.
From the public perspective, ‘big business’ is a self-interested vehicle which values profits over people and enterprise over ethics. We are all citizens of the world and steps that try to make it a better one for us all, regardless of original motivation, are surely better than the alternative?
3) Plain packaging:
Legislation surrounding products that are deemed unhealthy has led to the introduction of enforced plain packaging for tobacco products in many regions, with more investigating the possibilities. Despite objections regarding the loss of ability to use acquired trademark rights, the discussion has expanded to potentially include a range of other products. Developments in this area will be interesting to watch in 2019 for many business sectors.
4) Client (and public) education on the value of IP:
This is the ‘little black dress’ of industry trends and concerns. It’s a perennial favourite and re-appears year after year. However, with the increasing speed of globalisation, the staggering volume of counterfeits in every marketplace and country and a growing emphasis on self-employment and the ‘gig economy’, it has arguably never been more important. Innovative thinking is needed and hopefully 2019 will be the year that some real solutions are found.
5) Pro Bono Work:
With the support of the excellent work by the INTA Pro Bono Committee, critical pro bono work provided by trademark attorneys to charities, non-profits and other businesses who fulfil the qualification criteria is expanding all the time. The INTA Pro Bono Clearinghouse is running currently as a pilot program and you can read more or get involved at Pro Bono Clearinghouse.
6) Becoming a better business partner:
For in-house trademark attorneys providing support to marketing and branding teams in meeting their goals, being viewed as a ‘business partner’ that makes a strong contribution to the overall goals of the company is somewhat of a challenge. Much like the perennial issues around client education, this is a long standing issue on which few innovations have really developed.
However, as business demands grow, the pressure is on for legal departments of every practice area and responsibility, to ‘do more with less’. It might well be a cliche at this point however being a cliche doesn’t make it any less of a necessary problem to solve. I suspect that this issue will see a lot of discussion this year.
7) High speed language evolution:
It might just be my age but it seems as if the evolution of language is accelerating day to day. Attempting to communicate with teenagers in current vernacular, for example, is an increasingly futile endeavour.
It has a substantial impact on the trademark world too and further illustrates the need for public education in the area of trademarks. Today’s finger slip on Twitter is tomorrow’s attempted registration for a coffee shop brand. By the time the articles explaining why these are likely to be unsuccessful emerge, everyone has moved on to the next ‘bigly’ thing.
Stemming the rising tide of applications to register a trademark that are unlikely to experience success from the outset is a challenge for almost every IPO. The combination of language evolution, lack of knowledge around trademarks and the accessibility and indeed popularity of misinformation in this arena is a contributing factor and will likely be a continuing challenge into 2019 and beyond.
8) Greater availability and price ranges of dedicated tools and technology:
It sometimes seems as though the trademark world (and the world in general) has never had such a volume of diverse challenges. That may or may not be true but certainly we have never had so many opportunities and options with which to address them. The exponential growth in legal technology is taking much of the grind out of the practice of law with innovations supporting or removing various tedious and time consuming aspects. These innovations also lead to reduced costs and greater predictability around the costs that remain.
For trademark attorneys in particular, the past few years have included exciting AI based, intelligent tools to significantly reduce the workload. These often focus on minimising activities that do not always count towards billable hours and can be ‘loss-leading’ for the practice.
Even more excitingly, 2018 has brought an increased number of trademark specific, labour saving free tools. ExaMatch Basic launched by TrademarkNow in Fall 2018 gives trademark attorneys an unlimited number of name searches (by name or registration number) across the USPTO and EUIPO. Not only does this provide free instant preliminary trademark clearance with increased international scope, it is also a fascinating quick research tool.
So the next time a misspelled tweet or popular hashtag emerges that is certain to inspire a flood of applications to register a trademark, you can check the applications as they roll in by simply registering your details here!