AWA Point Special: Interview with Anette Rasmussen, First Vice-President of the European Communities Trademark Association (ECTA)

In Interviews

27 November, 2018

Danish Anette Rasmussen balances her job as a Partner, Attorney at Law and Team Manager at AWA Law with a six-year commitment to ECTA. Starting out as Second Vice-Present two years ago, she is now the current First Vice-President of the association. In June 2020, she will become the president

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Anette Rasmussen: I am a lawyer admitted to the bar and I was just recently allowed to represent clients before the High Courts in Denmark. While I practice the same law as traditional lawyers within IP, I also have the ‘nerdy’ specialist trademark background. I started out my career working in the Norwegian Patent Office where I learned some real nitty-gritty trademark stuff and I’ve been working in the IP industry for more than 20 years now.

What do you do at AWA?

Since 2010, I am the team manager for the legal team in Copenhagen. We are eleven people in the team now, so I try to help develop them, our department, and the services we offer. About half of my working hours are spent on direct client contact. I have both larger and smaller, Danish and foreign clients. I really enjoy the variation of different tasks, people and how close you get to the client. I also like long-term relationships. I started working for IPB [Danish IP firm which was merged with AWA in 2009, Ed.] 18 years ago and acquired some clients that I still work with today. For me, it’s great to have this continuity. You get to know the client well which enables you to service them on a different level. I know competing IP firms are trying to woo them every other week, but they remain loyal to us because of our well-established relationship and the fact that we deliver each time on all parameters. I see that as a true success factor.

What I really like about working at AWA is that if you perform well and show interest in the company, you get the freedom to do additional things – like ECTA. While ECTA is in the interest of AWA, it also requires a real effort. You must want to do it.

Some of my colleagues at competing law firms are not allowed to be active in organisations like ECTA as it requires time and effort – even though it would benefit the company in the longer run. But when working at AWA, you can do it.

I also appreciate the fact that, while lawyers at many traditional law firms work 12 hour days, at AWA it is possible to maintain a personal life.

How did you get involved with ECTA? 

A close colleague of mine was a member of the law committee back in 2003, and I joined her for a conference in Salzburg, Austria. I found it quite interesting so when my colleague couldn’t attend the committee meetings a few years later, I went in her place and since 2005 have been an active committee member within ECTA.

What is the aim of ECTA?

ECTA is an organisation mainly consisting of attorneys within trademark, design, copyright, and internet related topics  as well as anti-counterfeiting. We work to improve and influence European legislation and practice.

We do so by having regular meetings with the European Commission and we meet several times a year with different sectors of the commission. It is our business to keep au fait with upcoming legislations. As they request our opinion on these matters, we produce opinion papers and try to influence the legislation that way.

We meet with authorities like EUIPO (European Intellectual Property Organisation) and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) to raise questions on the behalf of our members. ECTA has about 1500 members and many of them are active in committees, assisting or producing papers and attending meetings. We have about 300 committee members in total, and the council consists of about 70 members.

At ECTA, we meet twice a year for a larger annual meeting and a by-invitation-only autumn meeting. The latest autumn meeting was just held in Geneva, Switzerland. Beside these two meetings, the management of ECTA meets in person at least three times a year.

It’s quite a legal substance heavy organisation. Because we are lawyers used to represent both pros and cons, we know the importance of proper legislation. The authorities are very happy to talk to us as we comment on how the legislation is written and should be. We don’t have opinions on party political wishes to a certain legislation, though we generally aim at assisting businesses. In that aspect, we are not a political organisation.

For example, the [European] commission recently contacted us to help them with the IP situation regarding Brexit. I think it’s quite fun as it requires me to really be on top of what is going on. It’s inspirational and you get to share opinions with knowledgeable colleagues.

What has you work for ECTA entailed so far and what will you do going forward?

As the Second Vice-President, which I was for two years, I was coordinating all the committee activities. It means you are there to push the agendas and projects, so that the committees produce position papers and keep their deadlines. I was also pushing the position papers to the council, as they must approve them. You are very much on the substance of matters and must know things by detail.

Since June of this year, I am the First Vice-Present. This work entails being responsible for the annual conference programme. I have drafted the programme for next year’s conference which will be held in Edinburgh, Scotland. I have found speakers and I will coordinate things with them shortly. It is usually about 700-900 people attending the conference so it’s quite a big event.

In addition, the council agreed to introduce a new IT system last year and that is a task I am heading. I’ve been working for over a year to look at the back office functions in the ECTA secretariat and understand them properly, so we can streamline our processes and modernise the organisation. We are also working on a new website design and I have been preparing the structure for that as well as many small details connected with the operation of such a site. We want a platform where the committee members can work directly together in a document. This project has taken much of my time, but I aim to get it finished by the end of the year/January 2019.

In June 2020, the annual conference will be held here in Copenhagen and I will become President of ECTA at that conference. I look forward to that as I won’t have to travel for that conference at least! As President, you are very much involved in everything and you travel frequently to attend official meetings.

Being active in ECTA is a lot of work, but you get to know many interesting people. I find it very rewarding.

Is the job different from what you originally thought?

Even though I had been active in ECTA for several years and I knew what I was getting myself into, I must confess I was overwhelmed by the amount of work involved. I received huge amount of emails every day, which is also why I wanted to improve the IT situation.

You get a good view of your colleagues though; how they react, respond, and think on political and substance matters. A few can continue to push a matter even if the subject is long dead. You get a good overview over their competence, which is key for sussing out whether you want to send over a client to them in the future.

Being active at ECTA has helped my work at AWA. I know where to send work and I receive a lot work from the network. It’s a good opportunity to talk to people in an informal way and see how they handle the more difficult topics.

Do you have any goals set for your Vice Presidency?

It’s mainly for the Presidency you set your goals (which are announced publicly and you are held accountable for meeting them at the end of your term), but I can say I wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to join the ECTA Management if I didn’t believe I could put my footprint on some topics. I don’t do it for the titles, I do it for changing things and making an impact – for both ECTA and AWA.

When I was supervising the committees, I tried to push some of my political views on how the law should be and why. On some aspects I have been successful in doing this. E.g. I wrote parts that have been used for the implementing regulation on trademarks, i.e. how the text is. It is satisfactory to see how it has made a difference.

How is your work at ECTA and AWA entwined?

I gain so much knowledge from ECTA that I can implement in my work at AWA. I know where legislation will move on some points, which gives us [at AWA, Ed.] an advantage to amend the advice we give to clients.

I get input and feedback regarding existing and potential new partners from my colleagues at ECTA. It is very useful.

And as I mentioned, I get many new clients from the ECTA network.

What is ECTA currently working towards?

We are working to support a solution regarding Brexit. On internet issues, we have the new legislation on data protection. When you do a WHOIS search for the owner of a certain domain name, you cannot see the details. This means that infringers are difficult to find out. In some countries, you have to go through a court proceeding just to find out who the person is behind the domain name and before that proceeding is over, the domain will have changed to a new owner. The law is currently benefiting infringers and not trademark owners. We are actively trying to get a different rule set so that this information will be visible. But it is a struggle also with the reform of the .eu coming up. We have commented and assisted with various topics on copyright law and will aid with the upcoming reform of the design regulation. Our work is very much law oriented and, since it is law we use in our everyday work, it is very useful knowledge to possess.

What challenges is ECTA facing at the moment?

Brexit! ECTA is based in the UK but we are planning to transfer our formal seat to Brussels. Our organisation mirrors the European Parliament in numbers of members of the governing body, the Council. The big countries like the UK and Germany have four representatives in ECTA’s council, whereas Denmark and Sweden have two each. This means that after Brexit, we must decide how to deal with the UK members. They can continue being ordinary members of ECTA, but how about being Council members? This is one of the issues we are currently discussing.

Since we are such a big group of people from different countries and cultures in the ECTA Council, it can be hard to agree on things sometimes. We have really wild discussions on some topics. What you see on TV with the European Parliament is also real in smaller formats. So yes, it can be difficult to navigate, but it’s also interesting and good fun. You learn from the experience.

What advice would you give somebody interested in joining ECTA?

Show commitment. The more effort you put in, the more you get out. Join committees, attend meetings and be ready to invest time – some of your spare time as well. In 2019, it is election year for the committees and you can apply to join on ECTA’s website.

I would like to encourage IP professionals to be active within organisations and associations like ECTA. It is important to have a voice in how the law looks like – and use it.

In addition, clients appreciate that you listen to their concerns as companies and that you are active in the IP political field to try to change things for them. I get very positive feedback from my clients regarding this, so I think it’s brilliant that AWA is willing to take on the role as a big player in the IP field and allow us to do it.

ECTA (European Communities Trade Mark Association)

For more information on ECTA, please visit their website.

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