On October 20, 2015, Raquel Araúz, Esq., the head of Mossack Fonseca’s (MF) Intellectual Property Division, gave a highly informative interview to representatives of the MF Marketing Division.
Raquel, we would like our readers to get to know you; please tell us about yourself and your career prior to working at MF
My pleasure, I’m 38 years old, and for the past 10 years I have been working here at MF. I started out as a legal assistant for Attorney Sara Montenegro. I then began developing the Intellectual Property (IP) Division with the guidance of Attorney Joanna Soto. I have been the director of the IP division since its inception four years ago.
Prior to joining MF, I spent several years working as an IP executive assistant, specializing in managing and protecting trademark portfolios.
Please tell us about your legal and continuing education
I attended the Latina University (Universidad Latina) in Panama where I studied law and political science. I have been a member of the International Trademark Association and the Inter-American Association of Intellectual Property for the past six years. The International Trademark Association is a congress that brings together around 10,000 IP agents and lawyers. A group of our lawyers, along with the IP Division have been working really hard with these two associations.
Last year, for the first time, we attended the International Anti-counterfeiting Coalition meeting―they are an organization focused solely on combating product counterfeiting and piracy. We also regularly attend local seminars and congresses to continually update our knowledge base.
In May of this year, my colleague Attorney Li An Chong and I were invited by the Panamanian consulate in Venice to talk about our complete range of legal services, as well as IP matters. We discussed the benefits of trademark registration with the Venice Chamber of Commerce and the Verona Chamber of Commerce. In addition, Attorney Amauri Batista is a member of the International Offices Committee and the International Trademark Association.
Please tell us more about your team here at MF
I am fortunate to have a talented and highly committed team. I have an extremely able attorney, Jorge Gutierrez, who recently earned his master’s degree in litigation procedure. I also have a business administrator, Milena Pinilla, who is my IP analyst, and Eric Carvajal who is my legal assistant―he is in charge of monitoring our litigation process before the court. The team works directly with and is supported by a truly outstanding group of lawyers in our Legal and Trust Services Department.
What are the benefits of going to MF instead of another provider?
First and foremost, our dedication to quality service: MF is the only ISO 9001 certified law firm in Panama. We have over 500 staff members across every continent, and more than 35 years of experience. Our clients can register and protect their trademarks, patents, and copyrights not only in Panama, but in any country in the world, through our allied offices. We offer the highest commitment and most competitive costs and to our clients.
How would you define intellectual property?
It is the development of ideas, the creation of the mind, our inventions, dreams, art, and designs that should be protected―to make them unique. It is important to protect the rights over those designs, products or services―for many reasons―to avoid third parties taking advantage of your work. That’s the way I see it, I see it in a very passionate way. Keep in mind that intellectual property goes beyond simple trademark registration―it is everything that comes after that, and we work hard to ensure that no one else can take advantage of our client’s dream.
Please give us some specific examples of what constitutes intellectual property
Sure, we have been protecting trademark registration for all kinds of products and services―everything from cosmetics, fashion, sports, medical and pharmaceutical goods, education, entertainment, financial services, management, and many others.
Right now we are working with software developers. In fact, recently we have been working on protecting software developed by the Microsoft Corporation. We protect Giorgio Armani which is one of our strongest trademarks. We also provide trademark protection for Terpel, a company with over 2,000 gas stations in Central and South America.
Have you worked with artists?
Yes, I can give you a quick list off the top of my head of artists/celebrities that we are representing: Ingrid De Ycaza and Alfonso Bayza, both well-known singers; Ana Lucia Herrera, a local television producer; a well-known DJ, who goes by the stage name BK; Delian Arjona, a celebrity chef; Jossy Jimenez, a TV personality; Marita Art, an artist and painter; and the Mollar Group, who make hats and clothing with indigenous Panamanian designs.
What about authors of books or articles?
One example I can think of right away is Arriane Benedetti, who wrote the book “Más que Hermanos”. We made the copyright for her a month ago.
Have you worked with the pharmaceutical industry?
Sure, right now we represent the Megapharma Group, as well as Pharmavital, S.A., a company whose main products are anti-aging and life-lengthening medicines.
Have you worked with the food industry?
Oh, yes, absolutely. We are currently registering and protecting products such as bottled water (Aquacai), juices, hats, rice, condiments, dairy, and more. We also register and protect franchises (Chip a Cookie, Wendy´s) and well-known local restaurants (Athen´s Pizza, Brava) and, likewise, we are obtaining sanitary registrations before the Health Ministry―for all kind of foods, including: Ubuntu, maker of all-natural orange and pineapple juices.
That’s great. Let’s talk about trademarks, trade names, and designations of origin trademark registration. Can you give us a brief overview of this part of your work and give an example?
Sure. What we mostly do is trademark registration in Panama and abroad; 80% of our clients contact us because they want to centralize their trademark registration in Latin-America through our office. We are able, with our global reach, to provide that kind of service, from the availability search to obtaining the final trademark certificate. A good example is Mays Zona Libre, an import-export company located in the Colon Free Zone, with more than 25 trademarks in more than seven countries, including some in the Caribbean Islands.
We also provide comprehensive guidance and service to entrepreneurs.
And when you say global reach, do you have connections with law firms all over the world?
Yes, all over the world. We have a huge list of IP lawyers and agents for each country throughout the world. We have more than one allied office in each country and we have been developing these relations through the years―so right now we are covering the entire world.
For example, recently we started working with a client that creates software that is very similar to the Android Operating System―and they designed and manufactured a new smartphone. They developed their trademark in Honduras and we have been registering their trademark throughout all of Central and South America with enormous success.
What about the area of patents and industrial designs?
Right now, we have only 11 patents, but we are looking to greatly increase our market share in this area with a major marketing campaign scheduled to begin in January 2016. We are working on a brochure and a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Specifically, we are working on a campaign that should reach pharmaceutical labs like Pfizer and Genomalap―and we would like the labs that we are already representing for trademark registrations to also use us for their patent registrations.
How about copyrights and related rights. Can you give us a brief overview and an example?
We have been registering copyrights involving audio, media, books, software, and others. The software copyright is for Microsoft. Recently, we applied for the copyright of Aquacai―it involved the design of their water bottle―the bottle has a unique form that should be protected because in the bottom they have a mound from which the water is extracted. We protect that copyright for them not only in Panama but also in China and the USA.
What about litigation?
We have an experienced team of litigation lawyers at MF. Attorneys Sara Montenegro, Li An Chong, Amauri Batista, Alexandra Kourany, and Jorge Gutierrez, have all been defending the rights of our clients before the commercial courts, in the commercial area of civil matters. Sara Montenegro has a long history of winning cases.
I’ll give you an example. We had a client who was a professional athlete. She had a contract with a company that took advantage of her by claiming to have registered her alias. She wanted to use her alias to start her own clothing line. Unfortunately, the other company was already using her alias to sell clothing and other sports-related products. We soon found that she had never authorized the company to use her alias. At the end of the legal process we won the cancellation of the trademark.
As you know, Panama is a major logistical center for the transfer of goods through the Colon Free Zone. It is an ideal location to protect trademarks. Counterfeit goods are damaging in two ways: they drive down the prices of the legitimate product and, because they are typically of inferior quality, damage the brand as well. We work closely with the Customs Office to protect our clients’ interests, and do not hesitate to institute litigation whenever necessary.
Regarding the areas of sanitary or health and medical registration―we touched on it a little bit earlier, but would you expand on that area for us?
Yes, well, in addition to food and pharmaceutical registrations that we talked about earlier, we have been requesting registrations before the health ministry for cosmetics such as shampoos, conditioners, and personal hygiene products which are also regulated by the government.
MF offers a full-suite of legal and financial services―how does that help you in the IP Division?
It helps tremendously. MF is a one-stop shop where our clients can manage all of their legal and financial matters with one company. We offer our clients company formations, accounting services, asset management, immigration, trusts, foundations, and many other products and services. We also offer our secure, client portal whereby our clients can access their accounts 24/7 from anywhere in the world.
We are making a huge effort to promote not only IP services, but all that MF has to offer. It helps our clients to know that we have a multi-disciplinary team that is always prepared to give them the very best service in the industry.