An INTA Hong Kong Debrief

by Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition

hk3After a week at the International Trademark Association Annual (INTA) Annual Meeting in Hong Kong, and another spent exploring the city and its surrounds, it’s nice to be heading back to the comparatively quaint major city we call home.  But as I fly through Siberian airspace, over the North Pole, and through Canada en route to Beantown, I have a few parting thoughts.

The Gateway to Everything

MallAs the Gateway to Asia, Hong Kong is an international center of industry and commerce – a fact reflected in the spotless windows of its record number of skyscrapers, which every night at 8 PM light up the city in a dazzling array of multicolor LEDs and lasers rivaled only by those of Tokyo.  Money flows in Hong Kong like wine in France, and the luxury brands of the world have retail shops strategically placed in every high-traffic area you can imagine.  Need to buy a $5,000 handbag in a subway stop, a Rolex on a mountain peak, or a pair of red-soled Louboutins adjacent to a Buddhist temple?  Hong Kong’s got you covered several times over, and multi-story malls can be found in the strangest of places.

As an appropriate counterpoint to the INTA proceedings, as with every major city, Hong Kong’s retail paradise has its seedy underbelly, such that it might also rightfully be called the Gateway to Counterfeiting.   While presumably most of the goods are mainland-sourced, Hong Kong has entire marketplaces dedicated to counterfeit goods, easy to find and open day and night.  On even the major streets of Kowloon, under the bright lights of official Louis Vuitton and Armani retail stores, locals will aggressively hawk their illicit jewelry, watches, shoes, and leather goods, ready and eager to lead you by the arm into dark alleys and back rooms where they can transact away from the prying eyes of the plainclothes officers patrolling the streets.  Unless you’re a tradeAn almost certainly unlicensed Joss paper Gilette razor -- because even your ancestors need The Best A Man Can Getmark lawyer who (naturally!) knows better, it’s tough to leave without a “souvenir” of your visit.

Apart from the straight-up counterfeits, other trademark issues abound in Hong Kong.  I roamed giant computer centers full of “gray” goods from other markets, found small hole-in-the-wall shops featuring names eerily close to well-known Western brands, and even Joss paper — to be burned as offerings to the dead — featuring ersatz representations of popular branded goods. Truly a trademark issue-spotting paradise.

The Annual Meeting

INTA puts on a good show, with equal opportunities for education and entertainment.  On Sunday, I attended an excellent lunch table topic session on trademark enforcement in China (always a hot issue!).  That evening, INTA officially kicked off the festivities with its Welcome Ceremony, featuring local art, music, and delicacies.  On Monday, my subcommittee, the USPTO Subcommittee of the Trademark Offices Practices Committee, met to discuss current and upcoming PTO development with PTO staff, including Commissioner for Trademark Deborah Cohn.  The rest of the meeting was peppered with the usual appointments with clients and contacts — it was great to reconnect with my colleagues abroad, and to make new acquaintances.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been an INTA Annual Meeting without some manner of over-the-top Grand Finale, and this year INTA didn’t disappoint, renting out half of Hong Kong Disneyland for a surreal evening of rides, Disney princesses, and several hundred dancing, inebriated trademark professionals.  It was a good time, but if I never hear “It’s a Small World After All” again, it will be far too soon.

Sights and Sounds

I was lucky enough to have several days in Hong Kong away from my INTA responsibilities, and managed to visit a few of the area’s attractions, including the Chi Lin Nunnery, Nan Lian Garden, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Victoria Peak, and the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island.  My favorite parts of Hong Kong, though, were probably the more mundane: the amazingly clean, inexpensive, and efficient MTR (subway); the varied and delicious foods, and the coexistence of the ancient and the ultra-modern that permeates Hong Kong society.  And let’s not forget getting caught out in a black rainstorm signal — I’m pretty sure my clothes still aren’t dry!

Thanks again to INTA for putting on a good show.  I’m already looking forward to the Annual Meeting in San Diego next year.  I’ll miss Hong Kong, but not this 16-hour flight!  Only 12 hours to go….


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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