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Censorship at the INTA

From 2002-2010 my law firm was a member of the International Trademark Association (“INTA”).  I joined this organization at the behest of my mentor, Paul Reidl,  who was actively involved in INTA and even served as INTA President during 2006.  Paul was right; my INTA membership provided a rich community experience.  Unfortunately, INTA membership costs $950.00/year and during my 9 year membership, I received no financial return on investment.  Hence, I am not planning to renew my INTA membership this year.

At the same time I decided not to renew my membership, INTA decided to discontinue the most valuable service it offered: TM Topics.  The TM Topics list was co-founded by Michael Graham and Chris Palermo in 1996 with the following Mission:

[framed_box]To enable INTA members and non-members to share information and insight regarding trademark law and practice in the U.S. and worldwide.[/framed_box]

The TM Topics list primarily was used by practitioners to discuss legal or procedural issues, or to seek recommendations for foreign associates or other vendors.  Occasionally a pro per applicant seeking free legal advice or a vendor solicitation would find their way onto the list, but those occasions were rare (likely due to good moderation; thanks for that, INTA).  Sadly, INTA terminated TM Topics right before the holidays at the end of this year.

On December 10, 2010, INTA announced a new private network for its members — My Powerful Network.  Realizing that I soon would be a non-member unable to access INTA’s new platform, I sent several posts about the move to TM Topics.  Each of these posts was returned to me by the list manager with a notice that they were not approved by the moderator.  After another post of mine was approved (one not relating to the move of the list), I contacted the list manager directly.  I was told that my posts were not published because the response to all the queries about the move would be answered in one posting.

Here is that posting:


Dear Subscribers,

With the holidays fast-approaching, I wanted to take this opportunity to answer some frequently asked questions that we received about our new website and social networking site:

1.) How will INTA’s new website affect the TMtopics discussion list?  Starting January 6, the official TMtopics discussion group will be housed in INTA’s new social networking platform, My Powerful Network, which will be exclusive to employees of INTA member organizations.

2.) How will My Powerful network enhance the TMtopics experience?  The TMtopics Discussions group will allow users to continue to interact with like-minded professionals in a more user-friendly, secure environment.  The group will also give users access to great features (e.g. Email alerts & RSS feeds, uploading attachments and multimedia to posts & more), and will allow for interactions to take place in real time while the group continues to be closely monitored for inappropriate use.

3.) How will I know how/when to access this social network?  On January 6, the individuals within INTA’s membership can access My Powerful Network on our new website.

4.) What if I am not with an INTA member organization?  Will I have access to this?  My Powerful Network will only be available to employees of INTA member organizations.  If your organization is not an INTA member, we encourage you to look into the benefits of membership.  If you decide not to join the Association, you may find a group of more than 5,000 trademark professionals on our “International Trademark Association” group on LinkedIn.

5.) My company does not allow us to access other social networks.  Could this be a problem for me?  You should be okay with accessing My Powerful Network on your computer.  In order for your company to block our site, your site administrators will have to actively identify our IP address in the firewall system.

6.) I still have questions, who can I contact to find out more about the changes to TMTopics and the new website?  If you have any questions or concerns regarding the new website, particularly My Powerful Network, please do not hesitate to contact us by emailing network@xxxxxxxxx

We hope this answers a few of your questions.

On behalf of INTA, may you and your loved ones enjoy a wonderful holiday season.


This didn’t answer my questions, so I sent additional queries in posts to TM Topics.  Those too were returned unapproved.

I then bcc’d 50 of the current most frequent TM Topics contributors and representatives of INTA asking that we please have a public discussion about the move of the list on the list.  All but a handful of the colleagues whom I bcc’d responded to me and/or INTA — all but one in support of maintaining the current format.  The whole conversation was censored by INTA.

INTA pulled the plug on TM Topics right before the holidays.  Beforehand, it posted a total of TWO e-mails, both written by INTA, regarding the move of TM Topics.  The community discussion was never heard.  Many people never got to voice an opinion.  For an organization that’s focused on brands, this move by INTA sure seems detrimental to its brand.  Worse yet, for INTA members who are willing to logon to a private platform to use TM Topics, the Terms of Use for My Powerful Network include this provision:

[framed_box]You grant INTA a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, fully paid up and royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to copy, prepare derivative works of, edit, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, delete, archive, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future developed, any information you provide My Powerful Network, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation.[/framed_box]

Not only do you have to login to a website to access My Powerful Network (rather than simply opening your e-mail), but you have to sign your rights away to use it.  Brand Disastor if you ask me!

BrandGeek Takeaway:

No matter what you sell, your customers/clients/members want to be heard and feel appreciated.  Ignore them and they will no longer be your customers/clients/members.  Worse yet, they may become vocal detractors; just look at all the “sucks sites” on the internet.

Have hope TM Topics fans!!  Carl Oppedahl of Oppedahl Patent Law Firm (“OPLF”) graciously offered to expand his firm’s E-Trademarks List to replace TM Topics:

[framed_box]As the sponsor of the E-Trademarks-L listserv, we at OPLF are broadening the charter of the listserv to embrace the areas previously served by the TMTopics listserv.  Trademark practitioners, whether INTA members or not, are invited to post messages and to participate in this listserv.  If you know someone who used to belong to TMTopics, and who now cannot participate in the successor forum at INTA, feel free to invite them to join E-Trademarks-L.[/framed_box]

Please PASS THIS AROUND to anyone who used to be on TM Topics . . .

Here’s how to join the E-Trademarks list:

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Excellent post, Lara. I think INTA blew quite an opportunity here–they could have kept the old functionality while augmenting the community aspects for members, thus creating an additional incentive for people to join. Instead, they have alienated non-members, USPTO employees, and quite a few members as well.

    INTA would never agree to it, of course, but this whole episode would make a great case study of what happens when you give your customers what you think they want without bothering to get their input first.

  2. To their credit, INTA seems willing to tolerate a little public criticism in its own forums. Several posts questioning this decision have been allowed to remain up on INTA’s LinkedIn group and Facebook page, at least for now.

    Pam Chestek’s question on the INTA LinkedIn group is also about another cause for concern: in addition to signing over all of your rights in your posts on the new forum, you must agree not to “post any information that is . . . contrary to the goals or policies of INTA.” Read broadly, that could mean that criticism of INTA or its actions is prohibited.

  3. As much as I would get frustrated by the “reply to all” postings on TM Topics that read “I agree” or stuff like that, I found TM Topics to be very valuable. First, I liked the exchange of information. Second, several times I and others found answers to our problems by asking our colleagues. Third, I actually got business from both TM practitioners and lay persons who needed the kind of help that I can offer. Why INTA canned TM Topics makes no sense to me. It surely could not been because of cost because it simply cannot cost that much to run a list serve. I think it was a control issue and for that I am saddened. IMHO in the last 10 years INTA has lost touch with its members. It has become impersonalized and non-responsive.

    1. Thanks, Bob! INTA is going to send out a final TM Topics posting. If you want it to mention Carl’s e-Trademarks list, please e-mail Alan Drewsen at INTA and let him know!

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