by Jeremy M. Ben-David

What’s the distance between Boston and Washington, DC? According to good old Google, it’s about 440 miles, with a journey time of 7 hr 44 min. 

But what do they know? According to the INTA calendar, it’s just shy of three years, the time that has elapsed between the 141st annual INTA meeting and, well, the 2022 annual meeting. Maybe it’s a sign of the times that this year’s meeting is being identified not by serial number (would that make it the 142nd or 144th?) but by year. In view of what’s been happening in the world recently, it’s probably safer.

So what has changed? No, I mean with regard to the INTA experience. As unlikely as it sounds (at least to me), if you measure seniority by INTA years, I’m probably closer to being one of the veteran old timers than a freshman. My first meeting was at the tail end of the 20th century, back in 1998 in the city of Boston. There’s a rumor that that was 24 years ago.

So back in 1998, when Jiang Zemin was the President of China, Bill Clinton was at the American helm and Boris Yeltsin led Russia, an INTA meeting was the usual assortment of receptions, meetings (I don’t think that the term “hospitality area” was being used yet), lectures, roundtable discussions… oh yes, and parties galore! Many at special venues. 

My main memories of that 1998 meeting were that it pays to stay close to the conference center – otherwise you have to wait for the shuttle or, worse, risk getting drenched in the pouring rain(!) The weather was so bad that year that it took until the third day for the rain to clear so as to reveal a very pretty Bostonian park.

Another key memory is that of advice that we received at the reception  for new attendees, to the effect that standing at the top of an escalator and giving out your business card like a flyer was very bad form and was frowned upon. It’s not something that would have occurred to me (i.e. to hand  out my card like that) but I did notice a few people doing it. I’m curious how that worked for them.

So, the years rolled on and INTA meetings came and went. If anyone would have asked where we would have expected to be today, most would have expected ‘business as usual.’ Even 9-11 and other disasters, whether natural or man-made, did nothing to knock the world too much out of its stride, neither that of society at large nor that of the purveyors of fine IP. 

Our intercommunicating not-yet touch screened soon-to-be data streaming world was forging ahead; even in the world of travel which was progressing in leaps and bounds, the Concorde supersonic airliner was still going strong. It was retired in 2003 but surely to be replaced by something better(!) We were surely progressing in the right direction.

Returning to the world of international trade and commerce and IP, the headline grabber was undoubtedly China, and for all of the right reasons. The GATT TRIPS agreement of 1994 was the foundation on which China was soon innovating, not just industrially, but more significantly, in terms of its intellectual property system. In 2009, when some of the western economies were in trouble, and international patent filings shrank as a result, Chinese government subsidies ensured that PCT applications filed by Chinese companies nearly doubled! And so China continued to advance, innovating with an unparalleled system of IP courts at the tail end of 2014.

In the meantime, we INTA regulars were continuing to party. For me, a particularly enjoyable “big bang” (last night event) was at SeaWorld in San Diego in 2005. I still remember the amusing spectacle of seeing be-suited attorneys getting soaked, apparently being too busy reminding their clients to read the small print, while not paying attention to the large warning SPLASH ZONE signs(!)

And fast forwarding to the penultimate (pre-Covid) meeting held at Barcelona. What an amazing location! And the last night bash at the Barceloneta Beach was perfect! Following the return to Boston in 2019, the entire world was caught unprepared.

We were convinced of certain immovable constants in our lives: China could not stop manufacturing and shipping to the rest of the world. International travel had become  almost a basic right, as much as the right to walk down the street, get on and off a bus, and go to a favorite restaurant, sporting event, park or museum.

Then things changed and the world fell silent in the spring of 2020. Dumbstruck. The planet as we knew it, ceased to spin. The sun rose and set daily, but we were all confined to quarters, some more, others less, but this was a worldwide phenomenon not seen in a century, if ever.

This new reality also affected our own IP world, with national IP offices around the world offering flexibility on meeting deadlines due to the pandemic and with entire organizations working remotely; little by little, we adjusted, as did our clients. If anything, with necessity being the mother of invention, the limitations and social distancing imposed by Covid regulations seemed to spur development of anything and everything digital – especially digital medicine. It seemed as though after an initial pause in almost all activity in the early days of the virus, activity soon accelerated as rapidly as a tightly coiled spring being suddenly released!

So now, in 2022, after two years of no INTA, of being limited almost completely to meetings courtesy of Zoom®, Teams® and the like, we are finally about to meet in person, once again. It will be a smaller affair than we have known for many years. If I used to affectionately refer to this meeting as ‘an opportunity to spend some quality time with 11,000 of my closest friends’, I don’t know if there will even be half of that number this year. I have heard from so many colleagues that they will not be attending, whether due to being in lockdown, subject to travel and quarantine restrictions, or out of sheer worry.

The gathering will clearly be smaller and quieter than usual, but the fact that it is taking place at all, when the world has changed so much and so quickly, is a good thing. I, for one, am looking forward both to seeing some old friends, and to making some new ones. And if you don’t make it this time…. There’s always next year. 

Right?

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