Dateline: Around the Water Cooler at the Washington, DC Offices of Arent Fox, LLP

"Dear Mr. Speaker .... I am pleased to notify the Congress of my intention to enter into a free trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement."

 US President Barack Obama

November 5, 2015

Over the last twenty years, one of the biggest success stories on the North American trade front has been the cross-border agri-food industry. In fact, it now vies with the automotive industry for top place as North America’s most integrated manufacturing sector due in no small measure to the NAFTA. But food executives must always look beyond the next horizon to keep their businesses growing. As of November 5th, that new horizon is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP.

A stroll through any North American grocery aisle is a fascinating tour of the industry’s vibrancy and creativity – from snack foods to baby foods. But shelf availability can be fleeting. The modern consumer is savvier but also more harried. With a vast array of food choices before them, the bottom line for consumers is safety and reliability. A recognized and trusted brand trumps the allure of a cheaper or lesser known product.

The TPP will undoubtedly increase the volume of food choices within the twelve nation pact. The US Congress is well aware of this anticipated increase in competition and will work quickly to ensure that US border agencies have the resources to vigorously enforce regulations to guard against unsafe and counterfeit products arriving from within the TPP region.

In a few weeks, the twelve members of the TPP are expected to convene for a formal signing ceremony. That will trigger the ratification process that, especially here in Washington DC, will be noisy and messy. Most Washington insiders predict a late 2016 Congressional vote for a possible 2017 implementation period. That is not in the too-distant future to start planning for a post TPP world, including product expansion as well as product or brand protection. For C-Suite leaders, protecting the product brand means protecting hard fought market share.

One critical tool in their arsenal may be found in the TPP’s strong intellectual property protection provisions which cover trademarks, geographical indications, copyright, patents, trade secrets and data required for the approval of certain regulated products. Understanding these new rules is the key to identifying new or emerging risks and to remaining viable in these very turbulent times.

According to Ross Panko, our firm’s authority on these matters, “The IP Chapter in the TPP is largely built on U.S. intellectual property law, including the trademark provisions concerning registration requirements, geographical indications, and civil enforcement.” He should know. He has represented major American companies in a wide range of industries, including food, electronics, fashion and entertainment. Ross furthered that for companies within the TPP trading bloc understanding the practical implications of the TPP’s IP provisions and using them to protect and enforce their IP assets will mitigate a company’s risk exposure as well as protect a company’s US market share. And that means protecting their bottom line.

Ross makes perfect sense. The TPP – a game changer for companies who know how to take full advantage of the new rules. What’s the sports analogy? The best defense is a good offense.