Performance in the European Trademark Community —An Interview with ECTA President F. Peter Müller
By Lu Yingyan, China IP
Updated: 2016-03-08

The European Communities Trade Mark Association (ECTA)'s 34th annual conference was held successfully on 10-13 June 2015 in Hamburg Germany, which attracted around 900 trademark practitioners worldwide.

China IP interviewed Mr. F. Peter Müller, ECTA President for 2014—2016. Friendly, charismatic and gentle, Mr. Müller has an inspiring story to share with us in the IP world.

Performance in the European Trademark Community —An Interview with ECTA President F. Peter Müller

Mr. F. Peter Müller, ECTA President for 2014—2016. Photo provided to China Daily.

IP Career

China IP:

Since you have an engineering background, how did you make the decision to choose IP attorney as your career?

Mr. Müller:

Having an engineering background is quite normal in Germany for a patent attorney. Our education is one of the longest in the world.

We have to have a master degree in engineering or other science disciplines. I did electrical engineering for four years, law for two years, industry practice for one year, and law firm internship for two years, which can be done in parallel to the law studies. Thereafter, there is an internship for one year at the German Patent- and Trademark Office, the German Federal Patent Court and one of the civil courts. I was trained by Prof. Meier-Beck, now the Presiding Judge of the Patent Senate of the German Supreme Court. So the whole professional training is at least eight years.

The reason to study engineering was because it was one of the most difficult studies and it would provide a good job opportunity as many people told me. I didn't like it so much, but just took it as a challenge. However I always knew about the profession as an IP attorney because my father was a patent attorney, and I worked as a student in the law firm. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to work as a business consultant or an IP lawyer at the beginning. After graduation, I began to work for Andersen Consulting (it is called Accenture Consulting now). After a while, I decided to choose IP attorney as my career.

Working Differences

China IP:

You work in your own law firm, and also in a non-profit organization (ECTA). What are the differences for working in different places?

Mr. Müller:

Big differences. Working in my own law firm, I am the boss, even though, of course, there is a team to lead I have to do what the clients say, earn money and pay my employees. Though I still have my own cases, more than 50 percent time I just make sure everything is in order including personnel and organization issues, etc.

With ECTA, it is more diplomatic work. We have an office in Brussels and our Secretary General takes care of the personnel and office issues. I am responsible for law perspective and have to persuade people to collaborate together. Having a delegate power from the Council for two years, I always say that I am the "highest servant" of ECTA.

President of ECTA

China IP: What makes you become the president of ECTA?

Mr. Müller:

Actually I was quite active in INTA. Since I used to be a Member of the Board of Directors in INTA, I travelled frequently and worked very hard in New York. ECTA realized this and they asked me whether I wanted to become a member of the management committee. Apart from that, I also chaired the professional affairs committee in ECTA. Obviously people thought I might be a good candidate. Then ECTA council elected me to become president, after two years of Second Vice and two years of First Vice Presidency.

Charm of ECTA

China IP:

ECTA's Annual Conference in 2015 was a great success. It had attracted a lot of trademark practitioners from all over the world and also from China. What attracted them?

Mr. Müller:

As European Communities Trade Mark Association, we have regular members and associate member. Those who are entitled to represent before The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market are regular members. Majority of them are from member states of the European Union. Those who come from the rest of the world including China are associate members.

ECTA is renowned for having excellent sessions in term of trademark law. Our survey shows that our regular members are very fond of our sessions. Academia, scientists and practitioners are interested in attending our annual conferences.

For Chinese Members

China IP:

ECTA member firms represent more than 50 percent of all EU trademarks . ECTA has about 1500 members from 85 countries, with 25 members from China. What are the benefits for the Chinese members?

Mr. Müller:

The main benefit for the Chinese member is the networking. There are much fewer Chinese members than those with INTA. Chinese lawyers can meet hundreds of European trademark lawyers and don't have many competitions. At ECTA's annual conferences, you are together for three days. Meeting on a regular basis, at the end of the three days, you really get to know each other personally. I guess that is a good business opportunity for Chinese members. A lot of Chinese members also combine their business trips to visit their clients in Europe.

ECTA with China

China IP:

Did ECTA cooperate with some Chinese IP or trademark related organizations? In what aspects?

Mr. Müller:

Trying to initiate a cooperation with Chinese Trademark Association (CTA), we are now planning a working meeting in order to discuss the possible cooperation activities. Next year we will also participate in the Chinese trademark festival. This is the first official approach.

ECTA doesn't necessarily lobby for industry interests, but for a good law. We want Chinese cooperation to invest and have a good law in Europe. Meanwhile European companies can have a good law and a good way of handling their IP in China. Though there are some problems on both sides, we are interested in having some connection with Chinese government, with Chinese trademark office and even with Chinese media in order to exchange more information and help each other to make our law better.

In Europe some people complain about the trademark application and enforcement procedure in China. But our system in Europe is not perfect either. I think we have some issues that can help each other and ECTA is open for cooperation.

Strategic Plan

China IP:

You have set the goals as key to the organization in 2015 in your presidency and ECTA released Strategic Plan 2020 in June, could you elaborate more on these aspects?

Mr. Müller:

Before I became the president, I realized that ECTA didn't really have a strategic direction. It was the president's task to set up certain topics every time. I thought it was better to create a strategic plan for ECTA like OHIM has, which makes the whole development of the association more independent from the president.

I have people to help me and also consult with our First Vice President, Ruta Olmane and our Second Vice President, Sozos-Christos Theodoulou to guarantee that we will follow the strategic plan once Ruta becomes the president; they can make their own amendments and can put certain weights on certain issues. Strategic plan is until 2020 and it makes sense to have a six years plan to guarantee the more continuing development of ETCA.

My presidency term is from 2014 till 2016. In the strategic plan, I want to achieve the following goals during my presidency: (1) Develop membership benefits (DMB); (2) Broaden ECTA's Expertise (BEE) including copyright issues and unfair competition; (3) Reinforce External Partnerships (REP). Maintain good relationship with OHIM and the EU commission and reinforce good relationship with WIPO; (4) Strengthen the Internal Organization (SIO). Improve communication to members and transparency of ECTA's internal work and decision-making. We have moved to a larger office; (5) Broaden Financial Basis (BFB). Sponsorship opportunities.

ECTA Events

China IP:

In your president report this year, in order to bring more benefits to members, ECTA will organize high level conferences, workshops and debates. Can you tell us with whom ECTA will cooperate to organize these events?

Mr. Müller:

We have our annual meeting, working meetings and council meeting. Cooperating with universities, OHIM, WIPO, or national patent and trademark offices, we usually organize workshops. We go to certain countries and cities to do the same workshop. For example, three years ago we had a workshop on international design application. Setting up this workshop with speakers and topics, etc., we started in Brussels and then toured around Europe, Hamburg, Madrid and London, etc. Members didn't have to travel, but just attended ECTA's event in their own town. Usually we have between 50 and 100 participants in each workshop. We now also engage in Webinars. In December 2015, for example, we had a workshop in Munich on the EU Trademark Reform and more than 500 people attended, either in person or online via a life web streaming.

Besides we usually have seminar at the OHIM link committee meeting when we meet OHIM in Alicante, We do the same with the new WIPO link committee while we meet WIPO in Geneva, for example in October this year in Geneva.

I realize that a lot of law firms and in-house lawyers don't want to spend too much money to travel to all these conferences. But the young lawyers need education. Therefore we are now also engaged in inviting experts to have some expert discussions, and then broadcasting over the web for our members for free. Next year in January we will start our new format EEE (ECTA Expert Exchange) on the topic of design/trademark protection for spare parts.

ECTA with EU

China IP: What is the ECTA's relationship with EU institutions in Brussels?

Mr. Müller:

We invite people from the commission and parliament to come to our conferences and webinars. Besides we visit them on a regular basis at least three times a year. When it comes (to) the EU trademark reform, the management committee regularly meets the Commission and we visited close to 20 countries' representatives in order to inform them about our attitude and opinions. We are lobbying in Brussels. ECTA combines industry attorneys, private practice attorneys and academia. So our interests are to have a good law not only for the trademark owners, but also for competitors and even for consumers. In my opinion, ECTA has a high reputation at the commission and at the EU parliament as we are trying to look for a balanced law, which is in favor of the citizens of the EU.

ECTA Challenges

China IP:

Are there any challenges during ECTA's development and how can you solve these kinds of problems?

Mr. Müller:

As an association, we have to rely on pro bono work. One of the main challenges is that lawyers are nowadays stressed and don't have time anymore to work for the association or their profession. For example, when the EU trademark reform was discussed, we sometimes received loads of papers with a deadline of six weeks time. Then we reached out to our committee to ask for help. That's the challenge for ECTA to encourage people to work pro bono, quickly and to make a change in their profession.

The other one is that there are a lot of associations and conferences. In my view, maybe we do some things double or triple. I am very much in favor of more cooperation. So the IP associations should work together because we are such a small part of the whole world and our influence on legislation is not strong. We should all work together to make a difference.

Advice on Trademark Career

China IP:

As a senior trademark practitioner, could you give some advice to the people who is now in or will go into the trademark industry?

Mr. Müller:

My first advice is "Good choice"! It is a very interesting job. I do both trademark and patent work. Patent is more structured and trademark is more developing science because you can never be sure whether trademarks are similar or not and how it will develop. The whole trademark world develops in the actual world. So if you want to become the trademark attorney, you have to know on the spot what is going on outside of your law firm. You really need to know how the products are sold and how the marketing techniques are. So you should be the persons who are interested in real life.

Trademark industry can be a lawyer, a marketing expert, or a journalist working for an IP magazine for trademark. Trademark is interesting because you see them on an everyday basis. The other advice is to travel. I think it is very important to go around the world and to go to other countries in order to understand different cultures and different trademark perceptions. For example, since everything is global, if clients coming now to ask you to file about 80 trademarks all the way down to Bangladesh, Laos and all these countries. I can see each country things are going different. If you don't adopt and understand different cultures, you would have a hard time as a trademark lawyer. So you should be open minded and have international experiences.

China IP: What do you do outside your work?

Mr. Müller:

ECTA takes up a lot of my time right now. Once at home, I spend most of my spare time on my two daughters, 7 and 10 years old. But if time allows, I like to fly my Cessna aircraft. Apart from that, I like motorcycling and snowboarding. I also climb a bit and do mountain biking with my wife on a regular basis. I am also engaged in the protestant church, e.g. in the church council.


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