Catch 2020

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Walking a tightrope

As we wait for the fog of the pandemic to lift, it is time to roll up the sleeves and get back to making things work. Economists often talk of second-order effects – the idea that every action has consequences, and each of those consequences has subsequent consequences. Second-order effects are often a blind spot for decisionmakers and policy wonks.

2020 has been a year of second-order effects running wild – governments, people and businesses have all been left dealing with the fallout from other fallouts. There are no status quos, no business-as-usual days, and staying on top of the game this year is all about making tough decisions.

Catch 2020 In our cover story, To be or not to be, we profile a business leader who has had to make lemonade when given nothing but lemons this year. The Confucian ideal of turning crisis into opportunity is not as easy as it sounds, but some make it look easy, and Etienne Sanz de Acedo, CEO of the International Trademark Association (INTA), is one such person.

If you are an intellectual property (IP) attorney worth your salt, or associated with the IP legal and wider business community, and have not attended an INTA Annual Meeting – well, perhaps you should have. The diverse locations each year attract thousands of registrants in a who’s who of the IP community – thought leaders, policymakers, academics, in-house counsel, hundreds of firms, top-gun practitioners and up-and-coming associates all gather for a week of intellectual stimulation woven in with relaxed networking.

Sanz de Acedo talks to Asia Business Law Journal about the decision to postpone this year’s Annual Meeting in Singapore due to covid-19 and reinvent this 142-year-old flagship event with a bold move to the virtual sphere in November.

Staying on tough decisions, and on dealing with the fallout from the pandemic, we discuss an IP crisis of conscience – striking a balance between legitimate profit on intellectual property related to the fight against coronavirus, and the need to ensure universal affordable access to appropriate drugs and vaccines to combat the virus. Our feature, IP profit v human loss, analyses whether governments will use compulsory licensing regulation to tilt the scale towards affordability as the death toll escalates.

Compulsory licensing is one of the flexibilities in the field of patent protection that enables a government to allow a third party to produce a patented product without seeking the consent of the patent holder. Never before have IP rights been so starkly weighed up against such massive human loss.

In Straight talk, we interview Mary Shen O’Carroll, director of legal operations, technology and strategy at Google, about the emerging field of legal operations, trends in legal technology and the future of in-house legal teams. While Western businesses, most notably in the US, are embracing the idea of a specialist team to manage legal operations, leaving lawyers to focus on the legal nitty-gritty, it has yet to catch on in Asia.

However, as O’Carroll notes: “It is in times of constraint that I feel that GCs really are feeling that pressure, and look internally to wonder, is there a better way to do things [than] the way we do them right now, and [with] the operations teams, that’s the focus.”

Back off Black, our feature on the Cayman Islands, a popular offshore jurisdiction for Asian companies, evaluates the impact of the EU naming the British overseas territory a non-co-operative jurisdiction for tax purposes following a meeting of EU finance ministers in February this year and its removal from the list in October. While most contend that the impact of the blacklisting was minimal, “The EU’s [subsequent] recognition of the Cayman Islands as co-operative on both transparency and fair taxation is an important validation of Cayman’s commitment to a responsible policy of tax neutrality,” says Jude Scott, chief executive officer of Cayman Finance.

We head to the Channel Islands for our Legal Frontiers series, where we bring you insights into what Guernsey and Jersey jurisdictions have on offer for Asian companies.

This issue also features our Thailand A-list, an annual report on the top 100 lawyers in the country. And don’t forget to check out the Asia Business Law Directory of Indonesian law firms.

Best wishes,

Mithun Varkey
Editor, Asia Business Law Journal
Managing Editor, Vantage Asia