Well-Connected Counsel

Kate Spade’s Geri Lynn Elias on building a global network and leveraging it in defense of fashion’s biggest brands

Geri Lynn Elias is a relatively new name in a relatively old organization. The International Trademark Association (INTA) was established in 1878 by 17 businesspeople and merchants. Though it has existed for more than a century, it is increasingly relevant in a creative and interconnected world. Today, INTA’s membership consists of more than 6,500 organizations in 190 countries.

Elias joined INTA’s board of directors in 2014 with the promise to serve a three-year term. She attended her first INTA meeting in 2000 and knew the organization’s voice was one she wanted to amplify. She was drawn not only to its strong stance on global trademark policy, but to its ability to connect IP attorneys with one another around the world.

One of INTA’s greatest appeals, Elias says, is its network. Before she joined Kate Spade and Company in 2011, Elias was the vice president and general counsel of IP and licensing at Perry Ellis International for more than 11 years. While there, Elias learned that counterfeit merchandise was being sold in South America by a local licensee and contacted a fellow INTA member in the region, who worked with her to shut down the counterfeiter within a matter of days.

Elias established that relationship, and many others with counsel around the world, through meetings at INTA. “Putting a face with a name and building relationships through INTA promotes the ability to better serve your clients because people are more likely to help someone they know and have met personally,” she adds.

Elias has participated in several of INTA’s committees, including anticounterfeiting and in-house counsel. “My first year attending the annual conference, I was so enthusiastic,” she says. “I arranged meetings every half hour with foreign counsel from all over the world. The next day I could barely talk,” she admits with a laugh.

“I truly value the relationships I’ve built with my foreign counsel in each country around the world,” she says, “Not only would I consider many of my colleagues also my friends after all of these years, but these relationships help me serve my company to the best of my best ability.”

An Informal Meeting
When it came time for INTA’s 2013 annual meet-up, INTA staff asked Elias to help organize and lead an open meeting with fellow fashion industry professionals. Many had already been meeting informally in New York City, so Elias says formalizing those meetings through INTA seemed only natural. “We had a significant turnout of in-house counsel from different fashion companies,” she says. “We had an engaging conversation about current issues we all were facing and best practices across numerous aspects of matters that we all face as in-house counsel in the fashion industry.”

Elias adds that there was an understanding among the attendees that, though they were competitors in the industry, they could help their companies by building relationships with one another. This would benefit each of them because they were not only sharing and learning best practices, but also laying the groundwork for amicable resolution of matters that would otherwise pit them against one another.

At the end of the meeting, everyone told Elias it was very valuable, and they conferred about how they could form a group within INTA to continue having regular meetings. Elias asked the INTA staff at the meeting to communicate this to INTA’S CEO and president and requested that INTA form a new fashion industry committee or group.

Shortly after, Kathryn Badura, the INTA coordinator who had helped establish and facilitate the Dallas fashion industry group meeting, submitted a proposal to form the fashion industry group.

The proposal was approved in June 2013, and INTA asked Elias to chair the group. From there, Elias and Badura created guidelines and qualifications to become a member. In October 2013, INTA sent invitations to fashion industry members inviting them to apply for membership.

A group of approximately 20 qualifying members met shortly after at the INTA headquarters in New York City. “It is important to us to keep the group small so that we can have productive discussions and it can be more manageable and intimate,” Elias says. “We want members to bring their experience and knowledge to the table.”

The fashion industry group meets in-person or via conference call several times each year to discuss issues in intellectual property. The group is currently accepting in-house counsel with five years of experience practicing within the industry. “Ideally, everyone comes to the table already understanding industry best practices and relevant issues,” says Elias. “We are still working out the bumps, but my hope is that it will give the fashion industry a voice through INTA to further IP issues, policy, and laws as they relate to fashion.”

Next Steps
Though Elias dedicates a significant amount of time to INTA, it is not her full-time job. She chairs the fashion group, is on the planning and leadership development committees, and cochairs another industry-related group outside of INTA.

With all of this and her full-time job at Kate Spade, as well as caring for her family, Elias is considering bringing in a cochair to help her organize the group and create short- and long-term plans for the committee’s agenda.

Elias wants a member who works in a company outside of the United States to take on the position of cochair, so the group has representation domestically and internationally.

“It is important that all members feel that group is valuable and worth their time, since we are all extremely busy, and each one of us really wants to see this initiative thrive and be successful.” Not only will this assist members in their industry, she adds, but it will serve as an example for INTA to consider developing other industry breakout groups.