Trademark practice is set to be transformed over the next decade. A combination of technology, harmonisation, new business models and changing client needs will place new demands on trademark practitioners and test established client-adviser relationships. New entrants will challenge existing providers of trademark legal services, many of them offering basic services at far lower rates based on the use of automation and data.
Trademark practitioners in law firms need to start responding to these threats now, or they face losing their livelihoods. Some will be able to adapt, either by making use of emerging tools and offering them as part of the package they present to clients, or by developing their own innovative services. Others will be forced to relinquish some of the work that has been their diet for the past 50 years – such as prosecution, portfolio management and renewals – and instead focus on more commercial, strategic advice, including anti-counterfeiting, dispute resolution and licensing. Others will decide to expand their expertise to related areas of law, such as data protection, unfair competition and advertising.
To flourish, trademark practitioners will also need to seek out new opportunities. For example, brand owners will start expanding into Africa, Asia and Latin America, so will need advice on navigating these markets. They will also continue to explore new ways to distribute and promote their products, often making use of cutting-edge technology, and these will raise diverse legal issues. And, with the growing pace of innovation, there will be plenty of new brands emerging that require protection and management, many of which come from emerging markets. Many of these developments present challenges that trademark practitioners are not yet equipped to face.
In short, trademark practitioners need to become more agile, more comfortable with using technology and different types of communications, and more creative in how they work with clients. But they will have to achieve all of this while continuing to meet the expectations and targets set by their firms, and that may become increasingly difficult, particularly in large corporate practices. As a result, more may explore different arrangements for providing services and billing.
Many lawyers and trademark attorneys already talk about becoming brand specialists, rather than trademark law specialists. In 10 years’ time they will have to deliver on that promise and transform both the advice they offer and how they provide it. Those that can do so will flourish. Those that cannot will be pushed to the margins.