It’s that time of the year again, when thousands of trademark professionals from around the globe converge to share legal developments and best practices, develop professional relationships, and enjoy the sights and sounds of a new city. This year’s International Trademark Association (INTA) Annual Meeting is in sunny Orlando, Florida, and it’s quickly approaching.
While there are many trademark-focused bar and industry organizations that offer periodic meetings around the globe, certainly nothing approaches the INTA Annual Meeting in terms of sheer size and scope. With recent Annual Meetings approaching or exceeding 10,000 attendees, planning and preparation can be intimidating for newcomers and veterans alike. Accordingly, and as I approach a decade of INTA Annual Meeting attendance, I thought it might be helpful to impart some wisdom that may help you, dear readers, make the most of your time in Orlando.
1. Network efficiently. This is tip number 1 for reason, as you’re probably here primarily to establish and develop your professional relationships.
If you’re a relative newcomer to the Annual Meeting, you’ve probably lined up at least a dozen meetings each day with various clients, outside counsel, vendors, local agents, and so forth. For most of us, this is of course the core value proposition of the Annual Meeting investment. But with some many demands on our limited time, it’s important to network smartly. For me, this means meeting with (a) clients, (b) foreign agents with whom I have or am cultivating a reciprocal relationship, (c) foreign agents where reciprocity is unlikely but where I’m seeking to fulfill a need or learn more about a particular area of law in a given jurisdiction, (d) vendors providing a service that I’m actively evaluating or thinking about, and of course (e) friends and colleagues with whom I enjoy spending time.
During my first couple of annual meetings as a starry-eyed, neophyte trademark attorney, I’d meet with pretty much everyone that asked for my dance card, which made for a packed lineup of questionable value. Experience has taught me that INTA scheduling requires a certain amount of ruthlessness. Take a look at your schedule. If you have networking meetings lined up that don’t fall into these five categories (or, if you’re in-house or a vendor, your own similarly high-value categories), think about whether your time might be better spent doing something else!
2. Leave some breathing room between meetings. If you can help it, don’t schedule meetings directly adjacent to each other; you’re going to want time to catch your breath, use the restroom, grab a bite to eat, and of course travel to your next meeting destination. I try to leave at least a 15-minute window between meetings, but a half-hour is preferable if you can swing it (you probably can’t, but I’m trying to be optimistic).
3. Stay healthy. Even if you enjoy networking marathons, the INTA Annual Meeting tends to come with a constant undercurrent of low-level stress — especially if you’re juggling your Annual Meeting responsibilities with client demands. Get a good night’s sleep, eat well, and keep to your usual exercise routine if you’re into that sort of thing.
4. Don’t approach the gators. Supplement to “Stay healthy.” Orlando is pretty much a series of parking lots, shopping centers, and amusement parks built over ancient swamps and wetlands. You might see an alligator, especially if you take in a round of golf! Stay well away.
5. Look for unique networking opportunities. Some of the most valuable networking opportunities are those that throw you together with potential contacts in relatively small groups. For instance, you’ll find groups that embark on early-morning jogs or bike rides, excursions to local attractions, and golf outings. INTA itself arranges some of these opportunities, and others are offered by firms, vendors, or informal groups. A colleague of mine made an excellent contact during the Panama Canal tour at the INTA Leadership Meeting in Panama, which was by all accounts a hot, humid, buggy, miserable six-hour affair that nonetheless conferred a comrades-in-arms type mentality among the hapless participants. With luck, you can find something a similarly unique event a bit less likely to give you dengue fever.
6. Check out the Table Topics and CLE sessions. The breakfast and lunch Table Topics sessions provide an excellent combination of networking and education in a single package, with minimal time commitment, so they’re typically well worth your while if you can manage to reserve a seat at a topic that interests you. As for the CLE sessions, I attended three Annual Meetings before I had a chance to actually attend a session, but they are routinely engaging and informative. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given that the trademark world’s best and brightest from firms, companies, and the government convene for the Annual Meeting, but it’s a shame that our focus on networking often relegates the CLE to afterthought, I’ll-try-to-make-it-if-I-have-time status. So, seriously: try to make it to a few sessions if you have time, even if you don’t have to satisfy CLE requirements.
7. Have fun. I appreciate that the image of the Annual Meeting I’ve presented thus far is an exhausting social marathon, and I’m not going to lie: unless you’re an extroverted networking machine, the Annual Meeting is going to take its toll. So have some fun, too. Catch up with friends and colleagues. Float along the lazy river in an inner tube. Attend the many cool and creative events sponsored by law firms and vendors. Enjoy some excellent dining. Spend time with your family if they’ve come along. Go to the scotch tasting. Especially go to the scotch tasting.
8. But don’t have too much fun. Social drinking is very much a part of the INTA Annual Meeting culture, and alcohol will be a prominent fixture at just about every meeting or reception you attend after 4pm, if not earlier. Once evening hits, many receptions will outright focus on specific spirits — there are always one or two tequila or scotch-tasting after-parties which, let’s be honest, are great fun. However, it’s easy to lose track of time — and alcohol consumption — when you’re in full-on networking mode for 12 straight hours. Accordingly, if you make the decision to imbibe, some common-sense precautions are in order. Take it slow. Eat food regularly. And strongly consider heeding the “1-for-1” rule: one glass of water for each alcoholic beverage. I’ve, um, heard that it’s no fun waking up for an 8am breakfast meeting with a raging headache, your hotel room seemingly rocking back and forth like a cruise ship stateroom in choppy waters, and these tips will help you avoid that cruel, cruel fate.
9. Attend the Grand Finale. As most meetings and networking events are concentrated on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of the Annual Meeting, many attendees book their flights for Wednesday morning. But the Annual Meeting Grand Finale on Wednesday evening — where INTA often books a well-known local attraction for the festivities — typically lives up to its name, and the atmosphere tends to be casual and loose. So if you can stick around, it’s a worthwhile and relaxing denouement to the Annual Meeting. This year’s Grand Finale is at Universal Studios. Some Grand Finales are impressive spectacles to remember. Trust me: a thousand trademark professionals dancing to pulsing Top 40 pop hits, in the twilit courtyard of Sleeping Beauty Castle in Hong Kong Disneyland on Lantau Island, is pretty much exactly as surreal and horrifying memorable as it sounds.
10. Say hi to us in Orlando! All right, I appreciate that this final tip is a bit self-serving. Six Foley Hoag IP professionals will be attending the Annual Meeting in Orlando, including Julia Huston, Peter Sullivan, Catherine Muyl, Natasha Reed, Anthony Rufo, and myself (I’ll be the guy in the bow tie). We’re all trademark practitioners and Trademark & Copyright Law Blog authors, and would be delighted to meet you, or see you again! As a final word of advice, we are especially receptive to compliments about our blog.
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Thanks for reading. I hope to see you at the INTA Annual Meeting, and safe travels! If you have other tips, we would love to hear them in the comments below.
Friendly disclaimer: in case the sometimes irreverent nature of this blog post didn’t make it abundantly clear, this list is not endorsed, sponsored, or approved by, or otherwise affiliated with, the International Trademark Association. But INTA would probably agree that approaching the gators is a bad idea.