Part 1 in a two-part series
By Lucy Nichols, former CREATe.org IP Counsel
Last month more than 8,600 brand owners, government representatives, trademark attorneys and other intellectual property professionals gathered in Hong Kong for the 136th annual meeting of the International Trademark Association (INTA). INTA is a global non-profit association dedicated to supporting trademarks and related intellectual property in order to protect consumers and to promote fair and effective commerce.
This was a historic meeting for INTA as it was the organization’s first annual meeting to be held in Asia and not surprisingly it produced record breaking attendance of 2,462 attendees from Asia.
The five-day event opened with a key note address on “BRAND HONG KONG” from Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary, John C. Tsang and featured a week long program agenda that included a special Focus on Asia track – eight sessions focused on hot topics and legal updates in Asia.
The choice of Hong Kong as a meeting site was not surprising as it not only aligns with one of INTA’s strategic objectives of ‘international expansion’ but the selection also acknowledges the steady global expansion of Chinese brands over the past decade including Lenovo, ZTE, Haier, Tsingtao, Air China, Huawei, and Chery as well as the much publicized and anticipated U.S. initial public offering for the Hong Kong based Chinese online retailing company Alibaba Group.
However, INTA’s annual meeting demonstrated that China is not the only country in Asia where brands are becoming increasingly important. More companies in the region are setting corporate strategy on geographical expansion. The increased participation of Asian companies, IP professionals and government officials at the INTA Hong Kong annual meeting evidences the increasing awareness of the contribution and importance of the ‘brand’ to the overall success of companies that extends far beyond the borders of China.
As demonstrated by the high attendance of government representatives, it is becoming increasing evident that Asian companies will receive strong governmental support to move from manufacturing and local consumption to export of their respective “made in” brands by means of geographical expansion on a regional and even global basis.
Lessor known Asian brands that are eager to take advantage of this support and expand beyond local and national borders may have the opportunity with the expected advent of an integrated ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 resulting in a single regional common market comprised of the following countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Expectations are that with the advent of the AEC, the region will evolve into not only a single market but a highly competitive economic region that becomes fully integrated into the global economy. And while the AEC will obviously be an attractive marketplace for established Western and existing multinational Asian brands, the region is already experiencing a rapid pace of innovation from local and national companies that are poised to take advantage of the single market. Some of these companies may even use the region as a testing ground to build brands outside of national markets with anticipated expansion into global markets.
As companies incorporate geographical expansion into the overall corporate strategy, the importance of successfully managing IP assets becomes increasingly relevant. The importance of effectively managing the underlying intellectual property that fuels and supports an enterprise’s innovation and brand equity is increasing exponentially.
Asian companies seeking to successfully expand beyond national borders must understand that innovation doesn’t rely solely upon the development of ideas but requires protection and appropriate management of those ideas.
Companies are well advised to ensure there is an effective IP management system in place prior to expanding beyond local markets. This in turn will enable companies to better compete in new markets and take advantage of further opportunities for continued innovation and growth.
Part II will identify the top five steps a company should take before expanding beyond its national borders.