April 21, 2009, Updated September 12, 2012

Israeli-American advocate and internet trademark specialist, Ellen Shankman. Ellen Shankman starts with a question. “Will new rules for the internet, protect the consumer, or make it more difficult for the consumer?” asks the Israeli-US advocate, a specialist in branding strategy and trademark protection, and a leading advocate of the need to protect brands and consumer confidence in the internet.

“The Internet has changed the landscape in ways that are impossible to overestimate,” she goes on. “E-commerce growth has fueled the rapid growth of counterfeit goods sales online. An estimated 50 percent of the drugs sold through the Internet are counterfeit.”

Another worrying trend, she tells ISRAEL21c, is the fact that “25 percent of teenagers say that their on-line friends are more important than their real friends.”

When Shankman says she’s worried, we should listen. As co-chair of last month’s International Trademark Association Trademark (INTA) Law and Internet Forum in San Francisco, and a board member of the prestigious organization, she is one of the most knowledgeable lawyers in the field.

She was INTA’s first recipient of the Volunteer Service Award for its advancement in the internet area, and as former chair of the prestigious INTA internet committee, she assisted the organization in dealing with online anti-counterfeiting issues, cyber squatting, phishing and brand protection in virtual (fantasy) worlds, and their impact on everyday business and the consumer, money flow in an online economy, and new rules for domain names.

Consumer vulnerability

Consumer protection issues have drawn Shankman from the moment she first started practicing law in the US. Her first job, after getting her law degree at Boston University, was at the Attorney General’s Office. From there she moved to the Legal Aid Bureau in Maryland, and then to the Department of Energy in Washington, DC.

“I became very aware of consumer vulnerability,” says Shankman, who grew up in Silver Springs, Maryland.

Shankman immigrated to Israel in 1986, and looked for an area “where English would be an asset, not a liability.” One of the first cases she was involved in, defending Boeing, dealt with trademark infringement. “It was precedent-setting,” she admits. “I really liked it.”

For several years, she was a partner at a large Israeli intellectual property (IP) firm, heading the company’s trademark department.

Six years ago, Shankman decided to establish her own consulting and legal practice. She now represents some of the top FORTUNE 50 companies, and her clients include major internet search companies, ISPs (internet service providers), luxury goods and high-tech companies.

An uphill struggle

Creating a boutique niche in trademark and IP law in Israel, Shankman had an uphill struggle to convince Israeli firms of the importance of branding and brand protection. Fortunately, two dynamics changed the local attitudes.

First, was the impact of the internet which underscored the importance of trademarks as a way of finding information. “A reputable trademark is a major source of reliability and trust,” explains Shankman. “And, when it is clever, like ICQ, (I seek You), the Israeli company that created instant messaging, it stayed a brand even when it was bought by AOL.”

The second boost to the value of a brand name for Israeli companies who often develop products embedded in other products was the brand and marketing revolution created by ‘Intel Inside’.

“Intel sold to the OEM’s, but marketed its chips to the end-user. Israeli companies wanted to be the next Intel Inside,” says Shankman, now a mother of four, and a talented artist, whose paintings decorate her Rehovot office.

So what’s next? “There are two hot issues firing up the world of the internet now,” says Shankman, who helped create the rules for allocation of domain names in Israel.

Unlimited numbers of Top Level Domains

ICANN, the non-profit organization that regulates the internet, is on the brink of rolling out unlimited numbers of new Top Level Domains (TLDs). This, Shankman explains, means that instead of the current controlled limited internet designations – .com, .org, .gov – there will be no limit to generic TLDs. Any private or public organization could register any string of letters as a TLD.

Alongside this, in addition to country domain names (ca, us, il), ICANN is testing out internationalized names -using non-Latin letter alphabets (such as Korean, Chinese, and Yiddish).

“It will create an enormous challenge to the stability of the Internet,” predicts Shankman. “Domain names (such as toys.com) represent big money. There are lots of competing interests that need to be balanced.”

Shankman, who served an elected term on ICANN’s three-member Intellectual Property Constituency (“I represented ‘the rest of the world’; the US, and Europe were the other two members.), thinks that any changes should be made more slowly, or it will open a Pandora’s Box of problems.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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