August 29, 2019
For European Trademark and Design Attorney Kristiina Kaislisto, client trust is a grain of gold that must be earned through interaction and professional competence. Ready-made attorneys do not pop up from schools; instead, they are raised to become professionals.
I got a summer job in Kolster’s trademarks and designs unit by accident in 1990. The then principal owner of the company, Björn Kolster, asked me to come by after I had finished my master’s thesis to see if there would be ‘anything for me’. He offered me a few different jobs, which I turned down. ‘Let’s try this attorney thing’, he finally said. He has not said when the trial will end. Now, a few decades later, we are still trying it out.
I have been a trademark attorney at Kolster since 1991. When I started, I knew nothing about the field as my major subjects at university as a Master of Arts had been Swedish and German. The language of correspondence of Kolster’s large German client companies, Bayer and Henkel, was German and Kolster needed people with good language skills.
I have never felt the need to change to another workplace. I appreciate the human values of the family business. Kolster has a great team and fantastic people. I can trust in their professional skill in any situation.
The fascinating thing about my work is that you must closely keep up with the times and always be on the ball regarding both the business of client companies and events in the IP industry as a whole. Continuous inquiry and learning are inspiring.
In our industry, it is too often thought that a certain level of expertise is self-evident. People are sometimes too shy in showing their professional skill, but that is exactly what you need to demonstrate! Professional skill is reflected, for example, in experience and confidence. A shaking attorney stumbling over his or her words is not convincing. You must also have the courage to put your personality on the line. No one wants to work with a monotonous robot, no matter how qualified that person is.
My work is based on trademark law and EU directives, but the most important thing is practice. You can absorb any information with the right attitude, but you cannot learn practical application of laws from books. Björn Kolster used to say that attorneys do not come from universities – they are raised. During a new attorney’s first two years on the job, you can see whether he or she is capable of managing the IP field and his or her own area of expertise sufficiently well, working at the client interface and managing large client accounts. Finding good attorneys is difficult because everything must fall into place. That is why attorneys with long-standing experience in the field are worth their weight in gold.
Digitalisation will take away routine work from this field as well in the future, but the contact between people cannot be replaced by any technology. Working with clients is one of the most important skills of a trademark attorney. In addition to interaction skills, it means broadmindedness as well as understanding the client’s business and helping its development. Clients often have IP needs that they themselves are not able to put into words.
My work is, in practice, communicating with clients about various trademark issues. IP companies are usually marked in the trademark register, so local offices handle all correspondence through us. For example, authorities will notify us about why a trademark does not meet the legal requirement for registration, and we will put them in the correct format for the client and give our recommendations on how to get the mark in the register. It is necessary to explain IP in plain words, that is, to present things in a way that is understandable to the client. For example, a new Finnish Trademarks Act came into force in the spring, so I tell my clients what it means for them and how they can benefit from it. I also prepare responses, new trademark applications, oppositions, preliminary searches and provide general consultation on IP issues.
To provide the client with the best service, the client relationship and the clients’s IP must be managed as a whole. When a client centralises all IP to us, we manage patent and trademark issues, domain names, design right issues and the legal matters associated with all of these smoothly and at minimum cost.
Client trust is a grain of gold that must be earned. They must be convinced that I am the right person to help them. They should not hesitate to contact me under any circumstances. Trust is reflected in that clients dare to ask anything – even at the risk that the issue may not ultimately relate to trademarks or IP. If I cannot help, I know a colleague who can.
This is definitely a team effort. There is no person who can handle all the clients’s IP needs alone. Instead, there are good teams, like we have at Kolster. It is great to work at a company where colleagues are specialists in their own area. My own expertise relates to trademarks, but I always know who is the best expert to help with, for example, legal or patent issues. Together we form a complete IP package.
Everything does not always go perfectly according to plan; surprising situations arise and even mistakes happen. That is why the client must be offered concrete options to choose from. An attorney must not end up in a situation with his or her back against the wall and no way out.
In 1991, the number of national trademark applications filed in Finland was considerably higher than at present. Today, they are international and EU applications. The spectrum is wider than before: it used to be that mainly big companies with the required resources wanted to go abroad. Now, ever smaller companies are seeking to go directly international. It is not unusual to get a call from a client about a trademark that they want to immediately register worldwide.
International ambition is a good thing because that is how Finland will grow and we get the GDP on the upswing. We are breaking free of unnecessary modesty, according to which thinking big is not even worth it as long as we just dabble around here in silence. Companies are also defending their own IP more and more, and considering and utilising it is now a prerequisite for success. For example, startups must have some sort of IP plan and trademark protection in place when applying for funding.
As IP awareness grows, clients’ demands also get tougher. Many expect us to adapt our technical systems to the systems or practices of their company. For example, several of our American client companies have their own invoicing systems. In order to invoice them, we need to adapt our own information systems to their systems. That requires a lot of resources and know-how from us as well.
I spend a lot of my free time at a cottage in eastern Uusimaa. My family’s old place is a never-ending worksite: when you get one part of it in order, another part is already collapsing. However, spending time at the cottage is just a summer hobby. In the winter, I relax by knitting wool socks. When the sock stashes of family and friends are already full in the early autumn, I start making wool socks for the office. At Kolster, quite a few people are strutting around in wool socks by Kristiina. Making my colleague Heikki’s big socks took a few weeks, but smaller socks can be finished in as little as two evenings. I am not a particularly good knitter, but I can rest my brain when my fingers are doing something else.
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