Sleepless in Seattle: A Trademark Lawyer's Work Isn't All in the Office

Arnold Ceballos practices intellectual property law with Pain & Ceballos LLP in Vaughan, Ontario.  He obtained his LLM from Osgoode Hall Law School.

Like many intellectual property lawyers, I am back in my office recovering from the whirlwind that is the annual meeting of the International Trademark Association.  Held in Seattle from May 16 to 20, the meeting draws almost 8000 registered attendees from all over the world, plus a large number of other trademark professionals who do not bother registering, but just take advantage of the opportunity to meet with foreign colleagues and network at various firm receptions.

Many corporate lawyers do not understand intellectual property, let alone why IP lawyers need to attend conferences such as the INTA meeting.  Sure, they can involve travel to some great cities, but it is not as glamorous as it might seem.  Events go from as early as 8 a.m. to late into the night and the pace can be quite frenetic.  In addition to catching up with familiar faces, the conference provides an opportunity to meet people you would normally deal with only by e-mail, phone and fax.  For me, this included meetings with counsel from the United Kingdom, China, El Salvador, Chile, India, the United States, Mexico, and Ireland. 

The meeting is a good opportunity to get up to speed on the latest developments in trademark law, and sessions range from smaller breakfast and lunch “table topic” discussions, to large sessions that attract hundreds of people.  A particular highlight of this year’s conference, at least for many men, was the keynote speech given by supermodel Elle Macpherson, who spoke about her brand.  Sessions I attended ran the gamut from a lunch talk on taxation issues related to intellectual property, to an industry breakout session on parallel trade and gray market goods in the pharmaceutical industry.

Formal sessions and talks are then followed by a myriad of law firm receptions to attend.  Given the global nature of IP practice, these types of events are crucial for establishing new, or cementing existing, relationships with foreign professionals.  Since the conference lasts only four full days, it inevitably happens that there are a number of receptions held at the same time, so you often spend just a brief time at one, before making your way to the next one.  This year, these included parties put on by firms from Germany, South Africa, Japan, and the United States, among other places.  The venues ranged from large nightclubs to law firm offices.  This results in non-stop days that can go from early in the morning to late into the evening.  The pace is so draining that I was in bed shortly after 11 p.m. a couple of times.

As for Seattle, well I saw a lot of Starbucks coffee shops and the Space Needle a couple of times, but not much else.  Coming back to the office almost provides some relief from the pace.  And now I have to start sending my follow-up INTA e-mails to the people I met there…