16 May 2009

INTA, Seattle: The Start

For the first time, I did INTA properly this year. It's taken me 15 years to learn how to take full advantage of this event: and I am sure that I could still do a great deal better. But I don't have large corporate clients to meet there, no presentations about their trade mark strategy to attend, just a lot of existing friends to meet up with and new friends to make - and as far as the last is concerned, the possibilities are considerable even if there were fewer than 5,000 delegates present this year (as rumour suggested). Certainly there seemed to be many fewer Chinese delegates (or "attendees", though I would have thought the correct word derived from "attend" would be "attenders") and the rumour mill suggested that, wary of being quarantined on their return, they had chosen to stay at home.

My Chinese associates were there, though. Well, perhaps it's a bit much to call them my associates, as I have passed on trade mark registration to them, but I suppose that's enough. That is more than enough to make them old INTA friends - in fact, a couple of minutes acquaintance (or so I say, partly in jest) amounts to a long-standing INTA friendship.

Having become a committee member last year, and therefore entitled to attend (at my own expense, of course) the annual leadership or half-yearly meeting, some of my INTA friendships have moved to a new level: and I have acquired new ones between annual meetings. This year, unlike previous ones, I find myself encountering friends everywhere, and introducing them to one another, which raises the experience to a new level. No more sitting around in the hospitality area hoping to meet someone of interest - I have been through that phase, and feel that I have arrived.

So I arrived in Seattle with a full schedule of meetings starting on the Saturday morning - although the conference proper did not start until Sunday evening. A couple of meetings on Friday, too, but they were almost extra-INTA ones - a Hong Kong lawyer in town for another reason altogether (cancelled when he had to fly back to China) and an old friend who, though in trade marks, has a place in my personal rather than my professional diary. Then dinner with an Indian friend, Santosh - we had met once only, at INTA two years ago, but there have been referrals of work in both directions since. Having met only once, there was a small problem of identifying one another, which required a very short phone call from my British mobile phone via a US carrier to an Indian, which sounds like a potentially expensive exercise. We ate pasta, as befits a pair of runners, preceded by an unnecessary plate of nachos - that alone could have satisfied both of us.

There are two themes to my schedule: a large proportion of my INTA friends are runners - the now-discontinued 5K race was always my primary area of friend-making activity - and a large proportion are female; some, naturally, are both. I took care to arrange meetings with as many of my female friends as possible, as well as organising a running group each morning except the Sunday when some of us had more serious running to do.

Saturday started with a run with Cristobel, which Santosh joined: and as I stretched outside the Aquarium where we had arranged to meet, Patrick and Dan showed up too. I am in two minds about sharing my INTA friends with other English solicitors - but I think it would go against my INTA ethos to be restrictive about it. Dan turned out to be from Sunderland, so we had a lot to talk about as we headed north up the waterside, followed the tracks through Myrtle Edwards Park and Eliot Bay Park, and returned to our starting point. Then, allowing my compatriots to head for their own breakfast engagement, the three of us raced up the 80-odd steps to Western Avenue - Cristobel beat me fairly easily.

We returned to our respective hotels, then gathered outside my Pensione to wait for John Kenny who eventually showed up wearing a very dapper hat and exuding bonhomie as only he can. We enjoyed breakfast together, then John and I headed for the Sheraton where he was to meet an associate from New Zealand and I was later to meet an old friend from Barcelona. Taking our seats in the coffee shop, I spotted Bruce at the next table, in town for the day only and deep in conversation with someone else. Being INTA, I was entitled to interrupt, which I did briefly, and did again when I left my antipodean friends to ask Bruce if could to introduce himself to them before he departed.

Sadly, that was the last time I saw John all week. I don't know where he got to: he was without email or mobile phone, but I suggested receptions at which we might meet later in the proceedings, even blagging him an invitation to one. He got to the Pensione twice, once with a selection of Aussie-themed gifts (a beach towel and a bar of soap among them, neither of which a Pom has much need of) and before he left town a handwritten note. I am so disappointed not to have seen more of him - but where, I wonder, did he get to?

I'd intended to register on the Saturday morning, but discovered that it didn't open until 1 o'clock, so my 12 o'clock with some people from Macao whom was doomed to failure: I must have met at least one of them before, but I had no idea who I was looking for and needed the clue that a delegate's badge would have given.

My carefully-prepared timetable had already gone awry, in fact at the first meeting of the trip when I had booked it in for an hour and a half later than the other party - and the time was her suggestion, so the fault was entirely mine. On Saturday lunchtime, I had also erred: I met Sindre at 1230, then waited for Gonzalo to join us, only discovering after waiting nearly half an hour that his email had said clearly that he would be there at one. But we had a very enjoyable lunch, cut short because I had to leave for a 2 o'clock - which also failed to come off but was promptly rearranged by phone for later in the afternoon. Then it was off to one of the conference hotels, first to have my ego thoroughly overhauled by my two Thai lady friends whose pleasure at seeing me last year at my old firm's reception caused such an impression on my colleagues, and then to see Barbara, a meeting with shom is also very good for the soul. I ended up with all three of them at once - in the lobby of the Paramount Hotel, I hasten to add: this was not some private assignation - which was the start of my four days of introducing people to one another.

I was deep in conversation with Nan and Christy when Barbara approached, unnoticed, and planted a kiss on my cheek - an unfamiliar experience, having women sneak up and do that, but not unpleasant: while it's not reason in itself to attend INTA, it is certainly an attraction. Barbara it was who last year extolled the virtues of running one's own practice, or at least of getting out of Big Law, and she observed this year that I had my smile back - though even at my most depressed I think her approach would have caused a smile.

Then it was back to the Convention Centre to catch my postponed 2 o'clock, with the two Michelines from Montréal; back again to the Paramount for half an hour with a nice lady from Malaysia; and then it was time for some male company and a beer with Michael Graham before Bob collected me to go to his home for the evening, along with Chad and Marco, and Mike Atkins. After eating too many of Grace's enchiladas and far too much refried beans on the side, I finally got back to the Pensione rather later than planned, given that I had to get up in time to leave at 5 in the morning ... so I set my alarm for 0530 ...

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