©2016. Published in Landslide, Vol. 9, No. 1, September/October 2016, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.
Jessica Lewis has been with The Coca-Cola Company since 2012 in her role as trademark counsel supporting the North America and global business functions. Prior to joining The Coca-Cola Company, Ms. Lewis was a senior associate in the trademarks and copyright group at Alston & Bird LLP. Ms. Lewis received a B.S. in microbiology from The University of Washington, and a J.D. from The George Washington University School of Law.
You moved to Coca-Cola from private practice. What are the differences, in your view, in your previous role as outside counsel and now your role in protecting the Coca-Cola brand in-house?
I spent seven years in private practice at Alston & Bird, most of that time working on intellectual property matters. The biggest difference I’ve experienced is the proximity to the business. In private practice, most of my clients were in-house lawyers who were primarily focused on resolving legal issues. My clients now are business people—marketers, customer teams, designers—with a wide-range of concerns and varying levels of experience regarding intellectual property issues. Rather than passing advice through an in-house lawyer to their business team, I am now part of a cross-functional team and advise them directly, which allows me to hear all of the competing concerns when our work encounters legal questions. The business looks to me for creative solutions and it is a dynamic and interactive relationship.
Could you give us a sense of the scope of the global IP assets that Coca-Cola owns in terms of trademarks?
Coca-Cola has an immense global trademark portfolio. Our products1 include sparkling beverages, waters, juice, sports drinks, tea, coffee and dairy beverages, and are offered in more than 200 countries. We have a product portfolio of more than 3,500 beverages, 20 of which are billion-dollar brands. Protecting these brands and the associated intellectual property is an enormous undertaking. In the United States alone, we have hundreds of active trademark applications or registrations with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Globally, the number is very large, with thousands of active trademarks.
The Coca-Cola brand has been ranked as a top global brand for over 125 years. What are some of the actions that Coca-Cola has done to maintain its brand positioning over the years?
Coca-Cola’s most successful strategy is that we produce great products that consumers find refreshing and enjoyable. From a legal perspective, we take great care to ensure that our valuable intellectual property assets are always featured in a way that promotes the strength of our trademarks. You’ll notice that if you buy a Coca-Cola® beverage in South Africa, it will have the same look and feel as the Coca-Cola® beverage that you buy from the grocery store right here in Atlanta. The company strives to produce a unified brand voice, as evidenced by our Taste The Feeling™ campaign2 which recently launched globally. You’ll see the campaign all over the world in different languages, but with the same themes and similar artwork.
What is a day in your life like at work?
Busy! Very busy! In all seriousness, every day is different. I rarely know what will greet me in the office each day. There is a significant amount of work involved with maintaining our trademark portfolio, but I also coordinate with brand teams on new campaigns and clear trademarks that will be used, handle enforcement matters before the trademark office or in the social media/domain name space, and offer general trademark and copyright legal support to our diverse business clients. The company generates an enormous amount of marketing material in a wide variety of media ranging from television commercials, point of sale, social media, packaging, and that material must be reviewed by legal before it is released.
Are there other duties that you perform outside your normal busy schedule?
In addition to my regular work load, the company encourages all of its associates to invest in the company above and beyond our day-to-day jobs. I sit on our legal department’s diversity council which promotes diversity within our department and in the outside firms we engage for legal matters. The legal department also has a very robust pro bono program, and we are encouraged to participate in the many pro bono and community opportunities the legal division supports.
How do Coca-Cola’s trademarks factor into the IP and business strategy of the company?
Since its inception, Coca-Cola has recognized and valued brand protection as a part of its business strategy, and that is best evidenced in the famous Coca-Cola script. This year marked the 130th anniversary of Coca-Cola, and if you look back at the history3 of the presentation of the Coca-Cola trademark script, you see consistent presentation with only very minor variations to the globally recognized script. This level of consistency is uncommon in a brand, but I think it has helped Coca-Cola become one of the most widely recognized trademarks in the world. On a more day to day level, our trademark lawyers play an integral role in the cross-functional teams developing new ideas and campaigns. Our success in the brand protection space is, at least in part, due to the close relationships between our trademark team and its business clients, as we are engaged early on in the planning process – IP protection is without question a part of the company’s business strategy.
How does Coca-Cola continue to innovate in the trademark space, and generally, in the IP space?
Coca-Cola has incredibly creative people that are always developing clever products and marketing campaigns which inevitably leads to exploring new ways to protect the company’s intellectual property. We are always looking for new and unique ways to protect the intellectual property connected to the impressive campaigns our business teams develop.
As our brand teams create new ways to speak to consumers, we are seeing requests to include language other than our trademarks on our packaging. For example, our hugely successful Share a Coke® campaign, featured names and nicknames on packaging, and our current Share a Song4 and Obey Your Verse®5 campaigns feature popular song lyrics on packaging. Finding creative ways to protect our trademarks, and solutions that ensure our trademarks are still front and center in these campaigns, is just one of the ways Coca-Cola is innovating in the trademark space.
What is your favorite part of your job at Coca-Cola?
The exposure to a diverse group6 of people, laws and cultures is one of the greatest things Coca-Cola offers. Coca-Cola is truly a global company. I deal with issues all over the world on a daily basis, coordinating with international colleagues to maintain a unified, consistent trademark strategy. Working on the Global Trademark Team and leveraging the diversity of the team’s talent and ideas keeps my job exciting and interesting and is one of the reasons I love coming to work every day. That, and all the free cherry coke I can drink!
What are some challenges in the trademark space, and how do you overcome them?
Many of Coca-Cola’s campaigns are global and launch worldwide very quickly. Ensuring a robust global protection program for our campaigns that may have a number of trademarks and taglines, while balancing the cost associated with a worldwide filing initiative, is a typical challenge.
Another practical challenge in this role is time. Because we are a global legal function, problems and questions may arise at any time of day or night. Coordinating meetings to fit individual schedules while also ensuring a timely response that meets deadlines can be difficult, but is also part of the excitement of working on global matters.
Can you give us a sense of the use of social media and trademarks at Coca-Cola?
Coca-Cola understands the value and importance of communication and collaboration with our consumers of every generation. As we all know, social media now plays a larger role in how we communicate, and Coca-Cola’s brand teams have incorporated this changing landscape into their approach. Most of our brand teams maintain social media pages on a variety of platforms, and utilize these outlets to connect with consumers. Almost all of our campaigns now include a hashtag reference encouraging consumer engagement—this is something I don’t think we saw as widely even three years ago.
Have any issues arisen often with respect to social media (e.g., retweeting photographs or posting third party content)? How do you handle these?
As a company that values and protects intellectual property rights, Coca-Cola respects the intellectual property rights of third-parties in all mediums, including social media. Trademark infringement is trademark infringement whether it happens on a television commercial, in a magazine ad, or on Facebook or Twitter.
What are three lessons you’ve learned as a trademark counsel in the beverage and food industry?
- This is a huge industry. People associate Coca-Cola with soft drinks, but the breadth of the industry is impressive. The variety of products—not just soft drinks, but waters, coffees, teas, juices, milks—the number of competitors and the innovation within the industry make for a dynamic environment.
- The reach of our products. Like many consumer goods companies, our products are widely offered. The implications of having trademarks which launch globally and can be found almost instantly around the world make for a very interesting trademark practice.
- The pace. Coca-Cola has been a part of consumer celebrations since its inception and has succeeded because of its ability to connect with the consumer. Our business teams are constantly generating new programs for holidays, our sports properties, and other events, and the material comes through for review at a rapid pace.
Do you have any tips IP practitioners reading this might take away to become better IP attorneys?
- Relationships, relationships, relationships. You need to develop a bond with your clients so they come to you with questions and trust your judgment as a partner who wants to protect their ideas, and do not see you as an obstacle to their innovations.
- Be a good lawyer. Understand your clients’ business and their needs, and give practical, timely advice.
- Love what you do—your work will reflect it and will make for a happy and successful life.
This article was revised from the print version which contained manuscript printing errors. We are, of course, sensitive to all errata and regret that these occurred.
1. The Coca-Cola Company, Brands, http://www.coca-colacompany.com/brands/the-coca-cola-company.
2. Jay Moye, ‘One Brand’ Strategy, New Global Campaign Unite Coca-Cola Trademark (Jan. 19, 2016), http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/taste-the-feeling-launch.
3. The Coca-Cola Company, Coke Lore: Trademark Chronology (Jan. 1, 2012), http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/coke-lore-trademark-chronology.
4. Jay Moye, Share a Coke® and a Song: Summer Campaign to Feature Lyrics on Packaging (Mar. 31, 2016) http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/share-a-coke-and-a-song-summer-campaign-to-feature-music-lyrics-on-packaging.
5. Avia Meadows, #OBEYYOURVERSE: Sprite Cans Sport Lyrics from Hip-Hop Legends (Jun 11, 2015), http://www.coca-colacompany.com/coca-cola-unbottled/obeyyourverse-sprite-cans-sport-lyrics-from-hip-hop-legends.
6. The Coca-Cola Company, Global Diversity Mission, http://www.coca-colacompany.com/our-company/diversity/global-diversity-mission.