Message from the President Keith Toms
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List of Officers and Board of Governors and Committees
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Job Listings
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Volume 53, Issue 1
Dear BPLA Members,
Welcome to the Winter 2022 BPLA Newsletter.
To start, I would like to thank Dan Young for his steady and capable leadership through a year that was complicated by COVID. Under his watch, the organization not only navigated the ever-shifting challenges brought on by the pandemic, it thrived by introducing a new signature event, the BPLA IP Symposium. The IP Symposium will become a new tradition for our Association. More details coming soon.
For the coming year, it is my goal to lead the Association in a conversation about whether our name — the Boston Patent Law Association — best serves our mission of “provid[ing] an organization capable of acting in concert in connection with matters relating to laws and practices in the fields of patents, trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property matters….” BPLA Bylaws, Article II.
We are an association of intellectual property practitioners. Our mandate is to serve all forms of intellectual property law. Our name, however, tells a different story. Evidence has been mounting that, because of our name, the world often gets the wrong impression about who we are and what we care about. For example, when the Registrar of Copyrights gave the keynote address for our 2020 Annual Meeting, she began by commenting on how surprised she was to have received an invitation from the BPLA. She had thought that a patent law association would be uninterested in Copyright Office policy.
This is not an isolated occurrence. On numerous occasions, I’ve had to overcome the misperception that the BPLA’s sole focus is patent law. Indeed, when introducing the BPLA to potential members, speakers, and contributors, I often find myself needing to give “the caveat”: namely, the assurance that despite only “patent” being in our name, we are not just a patent law association, but really do care about all forms of intellectual property.
There is a problem with “the caveat,” however. People hearing it are left to wonder, if we really are an intellectual property association, why haven’t we changed our name? Indeed, all other historically named “patent law associations,” such as the AIPLA and NYIPLA, have long since made the switch to inclusive branding.
Like many others who have served this fine organization, I have developed a certain fondness for the Boston Patent Law Association name and its links to our Association’s rich history. In an organization dedicated to innovation, however, history is only part of the discussion. It should not be the end of the conversation.
The misperception created by our name matters. First, it hurts our ability to attract members and contributions from the wider intellectual property community, which is thriving in the greater-Boston area. Many trademark, copyright, and trade secret practitioners may not think to join a “patent law association.” Even those who are aware of “the caveat” may understandably prefer not to invest their time in an organization that, on its face, does not appear to embrace their area of interest.
The misperception caused by our name also detracts from our influence on the development of IP law and policy. One of the BPLA’s most important task is to amplify our members’ voices through amicus briefs and public comment. When it comes to copyright, trademark, and trade secret issues, however, I fear that the instinctive response from decision makers will be to question why a patent law association is weighing in on non-patent matters. This makes it all too easy for those advocating for a different agenda to dismiss our arguments, no matter how thoughtful and considered.
Changing our name to signal inclusivity for the entire IP community would also be good for the Association, as it would dissolve the tension that is at the heart of “the caveat.” We have long been an intellectual property law association in everything but name. Changing our name to be more inclusive does not change who we are and what we care about. It can, however, change how we are perceived.
My personal belief is that it is time to adopt a name that is inclusive of all forms of IP. However, this is ultimately a decision for the membership as a whole. The first step in making that decision is to have a conversation, so we can come to a collective understanding about what our name means and what is best for our Association.
Thus, whatever your view, I want to hear from you. We will be having a virtual BPLA Town Hall at noon on March 23, 2022, for the membership to share its views on this issue. Alternatively, if you would prefer to discuss your views privately, my door is open.
Best regards,
Keith Toms President, Boston Patent Law Association
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