I have been attending INTA for some years now. This year the conference clashed with Shavuot (Pentecost), and so I would have been unavailable on Sunday and Seattle has never been a city of major historical or cultural importance. I was therefore pleased to be invited to attend ECTA, the European Community Trademark Association Conference in Athens which is a city I had never previously visited.
The ECTA conference had some 800 registered participants which made it only about a tenth the size of INTA. However, there is a limit to the amount of people one can shake paws with and collect business cards from in a three-day period anyway, and 800 participants seemed more manageable.
I did not know what to expect, and arrived at 10 am Wednesday morning for a scheduled meeting with a Korean attorney who had reached out to me, and didn’t realize that for non-committee members, there was absolutely nothing to do other than to collect one’s name tag and conference tote.
On reflection, I should have toured the Acropolis with my wife, but instead, with the taxis on strike, I explored the neighborhood and park across the road from the Intercontinental, which was the conference hotel. There were loads of people just sitting at cafes and on benches in the streets and parks. I saw two men playing dominos and a further seven watching. Dominoes has never struck me as a spectator sport. This indicated that Athens was still deep in recession with high unemployment. Nevertheless, even now, after 5 years of negative growth, it ranks among the top countries in the world in terms of GDP. Earnings are low for the EU, but still above those of all the ex-Eastern bloc countries and far ahead of the developing countries of Africa and Asia. Over the three days of the conference there was a taxi strike and then a metro and tram strike. However, the World Cup football probably did its bit to prevent demonstrations.
The Acropolis dominates the city, and there are many impressive neoclassical buildings from the late 19th century to the early part of the 20th century. However, despite the glorious past, the present is seedy. Pavements are uneven. There are many closed shops, graffiti covered hoardings and walls, piles of rubbish on main pedestrian precincts, and no one seems bothered.
I found Athens a little confusing at first. The signs were a nightmare of algebra, and totally incomprehensible. The language sounded nice, but I didn’t understand a word. One can’t help thinking that a little more effort could be made to cater for tourists.
The weather on Wednesday was humid, but despite the dress-code being described as casual on the programme, I was giving my jacket and tie their annual outing. Once I realized that others were dressed down, I gratefully left these in the hotel and wore trousers and a button down shirt as I do in Israel. In fact, the climate, body language, smell of olive oil and pace were very similar to Israel and I felt comfortable walking around Athens.
The conference was very well-organized. People were friendly. Thought had gone into the sessions to try to be a little different. The first session open to the plebs was a workshop titled “Plain Packaging in the Industry”. The issue was legislation targeting cigarette manufacturers and forcing them to use plain boxes, sometimes with graphic images of diseased lungs, babies on respirators and the like. The premise was that trademarks were a form of property and property was a constitutional right. I suspect that those that expressed strong opinions represented the large and lucrative portfolios of Marlboro, British American Tobacco and other cigarette manufacturers. In my experience, intellectual property practitioners are largely intellectual prostitutes, i.e. professionals, willing to work for whoever is willing to pay. I have a friend that used to work for the Welcome Trust who was very opinionated regarding ethical drugs, and anti the generic players. Then she got a job with a generic drug manufacturer and her politics changed completely. Intellectual property is indeed a kind of property, but less so than, say real estate. One cannot do what one likes with one’s house or shop, and there are zoning requirements and planning permission. If the government wants to build a highway through one’s property, it will. Trademark Law prevents registration of marks that are against the public order. I recently explained to a client that he could register a mark for vodka in the relatively liberal Palestinian Authority of the West Bank, but not in Gaza since class 35 does not exist there. The issue seems to be a classical libertarian versus nanny state argument. True, legislation is creeping in to have salt and fat levels marked on food packaging and it is possible that cannabis will be legalized but there may be packaging rules and limitations on who can buy and in what quantity. Still the discussion was interesting, contemporary and different.
After a coffee break there was a second workshop on best practices for small and family law firms. The panel consisted of various senior partners in small businesses, who discussed the problems of having some partners that were members of the family and some that weren’t, the problems with employing and disciplining family members and whether it was a good idea for the next generation to get some experience in a different practice before joining the family firm. I met up with Udi Gavrieli, who was a partner in Seligsohn Gavrieli and Co. where I had qualified as a patent attorney and after starting a law degree, was informed by his late father that I should not have aspirations to becoming a partner. At that time, Udi was qualifying and when he got his license, his father wanted him to be made partner immediately. Then partner of the firm, and Israel’s most successful patent litigator, Adi Levit, became a named partner of Seligsohn Gavrieli Levit which lasted a very short period, before he branched out on his own.
Before joining Seligsohn Gavrieli, I worked for Luzzatto et Luzzatto, a fourth generation IP firm with Italian roots and various intergenerational issues. I later set up my own firm and actively used it to help various family members and old friends who were in professional ruts. I merged my practice with Jeremy M Ben-David & Co., a father and son team, so have experienced family practices from different sides. What the session missed, perhaps, was an academic overview of family businesses, since many of the issues are not particularly related to IP. Instead of anecdote, I would have preferred a more rigorous approach. Still the issue was clearly of relevance to a lot of conference attendees and is something that I have never seen tackled by an IP conference.
The third session was an overview of trademark search tools available from EUIPO and WIPO. The session was practical and comprehensive, if uninspiring. For illustrative purposes, LG’s famous logo was searched for in a graphic trademark database, before and after semantic tweaking. It is clear that artificial intelligence and search engines are getting more sophisticated, but still have where to go.
Participants were then bussed to the Zappeion Hall, a neoclassical cocktail venue built for the 1896 Olympics. A dozen local female students dressed in Greek tunics with long pencil skirts and tight bodices, holding torches greeted us on the stairs and added a certain ambiance. The food seemed varied and plentiful. There was pre-packaged Kosher food for the 3 or 4 of us who’d requested it that included a spinach in pastry boureki (μπουρέκι) and a Feta cheese in olive oil salad that helped one enter the spirit of things. The main food offering seemed to be a Greek style buffet.
I was staying at the Jason Inn, a hotel in Thissio opposite the two active Greek Synagogues. As it was a New Moon, I went to the morning service which started at 8.30 am and finished at about 10.00 am. The small congregation was mostly pensioners. As in North African style services, the psalms were chanted aloud, but the intonation was very Greek.
I missed the Annual General Meeting of ECTA, but suspect I would have found it less interesting. I am very pleased however, that Christ(os) Sozos Theodoulou from Cyprus has been appointed the new president. (When I congratulated him he noted it was condolence for losing the Eurovision. I am, of course, pleased that Israel won, but would be happier if the song was less embarrassingly awful. That said, appealing to the largely ignored but enormous poultry demographic was a brilliant tactic. It was essentially a repeat of Dana International’s 1998 win, where the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic/BDS anti-vote was split between various member states but Israel capitalized on the largely united LGBQTx vote).
There was a two-part session devoted to the latest IP news and trends and then a session on the status of implementation of the trademark directive (EU) No. 2015/2436 which regulates the interaction of European and local law with respect to trademarks. Attendance of the sessions was high. The subject matter was relevant and contemporary.
The large number of participants were split up into different restaurants and dining halls in the hotel, each named after a different Greek god. A generous buffet was provided, and once again, Kosher food was provided. This time it was chicken with olives – again a Greek inspired choice. Olive oil was provided to pour over the salad.
The afternoon session consisted of a Brexit update presented by Tania Clark of D Young and Co. It is still not clear whether European trademarks will simply be converted into UK marks or whether mark holders will have to pay for the privilege. This seems true about the various other IP issues related to Brexit. Deadlines for various decisions and dates when they would come into effect were presented. One simply does not know for certain what will happen until decisions are made and laws are enacted. Still, the UK market is a significant part of Europe and the issues were clearly relevant to all present.
We were whisked off to Ble Azure, a sort of archipelago by Piraeus that provided outdoor dining on a long lawn with the Adriatic sea on both sides. The buffet was very Greek. Vegetarians were taken care of with plentiful salads, a massive cauldron of mushroom risotto and various pasta. A Greek singer performed.
Parallel sessions were arranged, with a trademark track on how pharmaceutical marks are selected and cleared in different countries, followed by a look at where the profession might be in ten years from now going on in one hall, and a session on industrial design and one on copyright in the adjacent room.
After lunch (similar to Thursday, but a different Kosher meal) there was a mock trial on online infringement, an award presentation for various essays, one winner obviously too pregnant to attend, but linked up by video. The final session was an EU Case-Law update.
I did not stay for the Gala Dinner, but returned to my hotel.
I did pick up a pair of ear-buds for one of the kids and some lokum –not known as Turkish Delight in Greece as Cyprus is still a contentious issue. However, there was little swag at the conference, just mounds of trademark journals that I suspect are hardly read.
There was a lot of good, cheap fresh fruit available, but in general Greek shopping prices are not much lower than Israel. I did see some attractively priced sports shoes and Louis Vuton handbags, but suspect these were not the genuine article, and as an IP professional, I try to avoid fake branded goods. That said, I did see a certain poetic license in cheap rip off Nike trainers being available for the locals. One must remember that Nike was a Greek goddess who personifies victory, and the American clothing company sort of ripped off this Greek cultural name.
Friday night in the synagogue was again a little different. In fact, the synagogue could best be described as Greek Orthodox, with the cantor wearing a black floor length gown with red silk lined bat-wing sleeves and a black pill-box shaped hat. The first part of the service included well-known verses from the psalms, but was different from the standard rites. It was very pleasant and different. Kabbalat Shabbat, which developed in the 16th Century in Safed, Palestine, then part of the Turkish Empire, had evidently reached this Greek corner of the Turkish Empire, but the tunes were different. The various tourists and holiday makers made their way to the Chabad Restaurant, now providing Shabbat Hospitality. The rabbi was not present as he’d gone to the Rebbe’s tent, which conjured up a picture of a camping holiday. This was not the intention. It was apparently the Yarzheit, death anniversary of the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe and he’d gone to the grave. I was pleased to see that the wife left behind manning the fort, and presumably the absent Rabbi-emissary, were both aware and not confused that the Rebbe had indeed passed away – something not admitted in all Chabad circles.
There is a small core of religiously observant Jewish IP practitioners from Israel and elsewhere that tend to meet up in these places, but this time, my Kosher colleagues seem to have flown back to Israel. The food was someone familiar by now, as the restaurant had been providing the Kosher food for the conference, but there was a Shabbat twist to it. Guests were treated to Ouzo, instead of the more familiar whiskey, vodka or Benedictine (which was a favorite tipple of the Rebbe).
The Torah Scroll used in the Shabbat morning service was mounted on rollers, but seemed to have a cloth interleaving rolled around the spools, perhaps to protect the parchment. The scroll was lifted and showed to the congregation before being read, as is common in Hassidic communities.
The service was notable for the Haftarah – reading from the Prophets, being conducted in Greek to a traditional cantillation. The reading in the vernacular is discussed in the sources, but was not something I’d seen before. There was a lot of memorial prayers for relatives and it was clear that 90% of the Greek community was killed in the Holocaust and the community was still traumatized.
I spent Sunday through Tuesday touring Athens. On Sunday I visited the Acropolis and was delighted to spot a large brownish falcon, probably a lanner, on the cliff below the remains.
On Monday we visited Aegina and sampled the pistachios. We took a bus trip across the island to the marina, and it all looked vaguely familiar, but wasn’t sure from where. One of the tourist shops which was playing old favorites played an ABBA hit, and it hit me. The film Mama Mia was set in a hotel-tavern on a Greek island, and could have been filmed there (it wasn’t). The Aegean Sea was an incredible blue. I heard a clicking sound coming from a thicket of trees and instantly recognized a pair of Sardinian Warblers, not uncommon in Israel, but clearly very much at home in the Greek Islands.
On Tuesday we visited the Jewish Museum and the Greek Archeological Museum. This was a little overwhelming. There was just so much of it. Clearly the collection is one of the most important in the world. There were exhibits of presented sculpture, pottery and bronze weapons by place of origin, arranged chronologically and thematically by material type.
I look at conferencing as a holiday from the family. If successful, I manage to recharge my batteries so I can cope with a holiday with the kids over the summer. Athens is a great venue for a week’s holiday and conference.