French IP Industry Experts Discuss IP Portfolios, Trademarks Online

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PARIS – Intellectual property assets and how they influence corporate value, plus trademarks in the digital world were discussed last week by intellectual property professionals gathered in Paris.

The 7th international conference on IP was held from 15-16 March, and organised by the French Institute of Patent & Trademark Attorneys, and Premier Cercle, a think tank based in Paris and Brussels.

The IP portfolio is a crucial aspect for companies, in particular for start-up companies, and is increasingly entering into contract negotiations along with financial discussions, participants said.

According to Jean-Marc Brunel, director of intellectual property for the Snecma-Safran Group, a French global manufacturer of aircraft and rocket engines, the IP portfolio of a firm contributes to its reputation, shows the technicality of its products, its innovation capacity, its technical command, the execution of an IP strategy, its long term vision and its sustainable growth. IP also protects market shares and margins, represents a major obstacle on competitors’ advances, and limits the arrival of new actors, he said.

For Patrick Legland, director of global research for the Société Générale, a French bank with global reach, intellectual property is the most important element for a company but also the most complex to put to work.

The oil industry needs more investment, and IP plays a role that goes beyond the financial analysis, said Fabirama Niang, director of intellectual property for Total. The era of “cheap oil is over” he said. The industry now needs key technologies to reach oil from deeper deposits, such as under the oceans. The financial challenges are more and more significant, he said, and states around the world are making sure that companies have the technical capabilities to manage large projects and to meet contractual obligations. A relatively new factor is the importance of intellectual property as a display of capabilities, to show those states that companies can do the job, he said, and the intellectual property portfolio now enters into negotiations, he said.

There is an opposition between internal and external analysis, Niang said. When Total invests in a startup company, he said, Total has to make an external analysis and in doing so looks at the startup patent portfolio, their legal strength and technical input. Total then checks all the contracts and licences that the startup might have negotiated to make sure of the freedom of exploitation is not hampered by a number of factors.

Legland said that the company belongs to its shareholders, who look for indicators of quality. Intellectual property is crucial, he said, adding that companies that do not pay dividends to their shareholders have a tendency to rise on the stock market because a shareholder actually wants that the company reinvests. Reinvestment is very beneficial to share-holders because it strengthen the value of the share, he said.

French Minister of Industry Says Strong IP Vital

Eric Besson, the French Minister of Industry, paid a short visit to the meeting and said innovation was vital. He went through several measures taken in France over the last few years in favour of innovation, in particular in the area of financial support to public and private research and higher education.

Innovation needs to be correctly protected, Besson said, adding that France was establishing strong actions against counterfeiting, such as devoting resources to customs, and improving cooperation between right holders and internet service providers. Besson also said that France supports the European Union patent, which after years of procedure is in good status with the last remaining question on the administration headquarters.

Trademarks on the Internet New Opportunities, Need Surveillance

Trademark holders have to take advantage of new opportunities offered by fast-moving digital technological advances, said Gianni Pulli, who is “industry leader, fast moving consumer goods, cosmetics, luxury and health” for Google France.

There are four means to valorise brands in the digital world, said Pulli. The first concept is the “zero moment of truth”. The moment the consumer decides to buy a product versus another product was first conceptualised by Procter and Gamble, who named that moment the “first moment of truth “, according to Pulli. Now, the valorisation of a mark must happen in a preceding period, characterised as the “zero moment of truth,” said Pulli which happens when consumers look for information on products on the internet.

The second concept is convergence. Trademark owners have to take advantage of new means of information such as online videos, he said. In about three years, when the TV is connected to internet, the digital landscape will be completely different for a trademark owner and will open whole new perspectives, he said.

The third concept is the interaction between a trademark and the consumer, Pulli said, asserting that winning marks of tomorrow are the marks that will be able to engage with consumers. Interaction is also built through the social dimension of a mark, he said. Social networks give an opportunity to have a finer knowledge of the consumer, who is eager to know what his network thinks about the page or the information he/she is consulting online. For example, on YouTube, “I watch what my network is watching,” he said.

The fourth and last concept is the “shopper”. With geolocalisation tools, and mobile phones always within reach of the consumer, it is possible to locate the shopper and work between the “offline world and the online world,” Pulli said. With new tools like Quick Response Codes, people using their phone can get immediate information on products, and special offers will be available to the consumer according to his proximity to a given shop. The “mass model” becomes the “pertinence model,” he said, sending the right information at the right moment and to the right person.

For Sandra Strittmatter, intellectual property counsel for Pernod Ricard, which holds some 30,000 trademarks in the world, the protection of those trademarks requires constant surveillance.

According to Patrick Hauss, business development director for INDOM-Netnames, securing the entry point of an internet site is crucial and domain names are capital elements in the internet access strategy. There is a lot of attention devoted to patents, and domain names are kind of the “adopted child” of IP, he said.

At the moment, there are 225 million domain names in the world, with 20 general extensions (generic top-level domains – gTLDs, such .com) and 250 country name extensions (ccTLDs, such .fr for France), he said. This already creates a number of conflicts, with 2,700 complaints made to the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2011, Hauss said.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decision to open the internet to more extensions will lead to an “explosion” of new names, he said. At the beginning of 2013, new extensions such as .shop, .bank, .NYC, .music or .gay likely will be available, he said. That will lead to new types of conflicts, he argued. Some will be situated “to the right of the dot” in the case a third party applies for a trademark or a sign that is protected elsewhere.

Some will concern “the left of the dot,” he added, and to address those, a trademark clearinghouse will be very useful. This is a “central repository for information to be authenticated, stored, and disseminated, pertaining to the rights of trademark holders,” according to ICANN website.

The details of the trademark clearinghouse are available here.

Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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