On Thursday, April 25th, I attended a Sports Industry briefing and cocktail reception in honor of World IP day. The program was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) and International Trademark Association (INTA) and featured a panel of policymakers, including US Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Vishal Amin, and Congressional Trademark Caucus Co-Chairs, Senator Chris Coons and Senator Chuck Grassley.
Introduced by Debbie Cohn, Senior Director of Government Relations for INTA, Senator Coons, Co-Chair of the Congressional Trademark Caucus, (along with Senator Chuck Grassley), spoke briefly about his experience with counterfeiting. He told a story of when he worked as in-house counsel for the Gore-Tex Company.
I spent eight years as in-house counsel for the Gore-Tex company. They own lots of trademarks and an awful lot of their products were being counterfeited around the world. One of the most memorable moments for me was being in Beijing in an alley, where you can buy just about anything for just about anything with just about any brand, I’m being offered a Gore-Tex suit. And I mean Suit (tugs on his suit jacket) wear windproof, water proof, breathability, was a functionality I had never considered as being essential. And I asked what it was being made of and where the Gore-Tex was, and the guy said “What do you care, I’m just going to slap a label on it and then you’ll be cool.”
The Department of Commerce estimated trademarks brought over $6 trillion in value to our economy in 2014 and the trademark intensive jobs accounted for 24 million jobs of that year and on average IP intensive industries like the one that I work in are significantly higher paying, about 50% higher in weekly wages then in non-IP in intensive industries this is a great interest to those of us who are ip geeks and are of no interest to the general public. But it lays out why trademarks and IP protection matter. Because it allows us to have higher pay, more competitive higher quality jobs, and it makes us more competitive globally.
The senator also went on to tell of a teachable moment he recently had with his 18-year-old twins outside of a Philadelphia Eagles Game. They didn’t understand why they couldn’t pay much less for something outside of the stadium that was just as real as the overpriced items you could buy inside of the stadium. He explained to them that by doing so,
Instead of your money going to the team and the player that you admire and you respect and you cheer for, it’s going where? To a criminal enterprise. One that is probably moving something else. Not just jerseys or hats or watches or footwear or bags. But probably also in some way drugs, guns, people and money. Because the complex and organized globalized networks that counterfeit products also traffic in a lot of other things.
I was interested in trademarks and IP protection from my role with Gore-Tex. But as a senator, I’ve gotten more engaged in and aware of global networks that traffic people, wildlife products, drugs, money, and weapons. As I went along with the police on counterfeiting raids to find counterfeit Gore-Tex gloves and boots and hats. we always found other things. We found that the folks who were counterfeiting Gore-Tex products we’re also counterfeiting pharmaceuticals, Aircraft parts, automobile repair parts, and a whole series of other things that are not just desirable consumer Products. But products that are critical and potentially life-threatening. So if you think about it counterfeiting has serious consequences.
Senator Coons then shared some numbers on the huge value that sports brands have on the American Economy. He stated that the Dallas Cowboys Brand is worth $570 Million, the Yankees Brand is worth $600 Million and the Lakers Brand is worth $500 Million. These numbers do not include the athletes or their earnings. These numbers solely reflect the value of their brands and trademarks only.
Following Senator Coons, was a very distinguished panel of attorneys who represent the National Football League, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and IMG College Licensing. The panelists discussed the importance of intellectual property and the effects that counterfeiting trademarked professional and collegiate sports merchandise has on the industry as a whole. They also briefly touched on the results of a collaborative enforcement effort known as Operation Team Player, that has been working diligently over the years to try and put a stop to counterfeiting across all sports.
The panel included (from left to right) Lindsay Victor – Associate Counsel for IMG College Licensing, Ashley Page – Senior Vice President and Associate General Counsel for IMG College Licensing, Dolores DiBella – Vice President of Legal Affairs for the National Football League, Tanya Fickenscher – Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Major League Baseball, Tom Prochnow – Group Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs for NHL Enterprises, Sasha Tarrant – Associate Vice President of Digital Rights Strategy and Enforcement for the NBA, and was moderated by Sports Business Reporter and ESPN Contributor, Kristi Dosh (far right).
Following the panel, the program concluded with Senator Chuck Grassley, who is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Co-Chair of the Congressional Trademark Caucus, (along with Senator Chris Coons). Senator Grassley spoke for a very brief time during which he shared the experience and knowledge he has gained in his work with the Congressional Trademark Caucus, which has jurisdiction over the Nation’s Intellectual Property. He stated that he recognizes the value of trademarks and their impact on society and the economy as a whole and particularly in the sports industry and shared with us why his work with the Caucus has given him a far better understanding of the impact that counterfeiting has on our nation’s economy and job market.
We must do what we can to continue to fight the thousands of lost jobs, the millions of dollars in lost revenue that counterfeiting in the sports industry causes. Counterfeiting in the sports industry harms not only legitimate businesses but consumers and athletes as well. We must work with our allies at home and abroad to strengthen trademark protections in sports and provide law-enforcement the resources it needs to protect Sports trademarks which is so prone to this sort of piracy. Robust consumer education also plays an important role in trademark rights by denying counterfeiters a market for its illicit goods.
About 3 weeks ago I spent a week in China come in five different cities, visiting with American business people, Chinese business people and Chinese National Governmental leaders. And if there is one thing that we heard that was the most easily sabotaged, it would be the use of trademarks. I supposed I projected a little naivity before my trip as to what’s wrong with China and their trade and what they do to American businesses that want to go over there. But I can say this. When I came back I came to the conclusion that they will do anything legal or illegal ethical or in ethical moral or immoral to get ahead of and stay ahead of United States. I know that this really affects the sports industry but also American business as a whole and the value of trademarks are degraded and devalued when that happens.
Others Participants in the program included: