/ Arturo Alessandri Besa is one of the five inductees to the IP Hall of Fame 202019 August, 2020
In 2020, five eminent IP figures were distinguished for their outstanding and sustained contributions to society.
Distinguished lawyer and politician Alessandri Besa served in the Chilean Chamber of Deputies and Senate and was a presidential candidate in the country’s 1993 election. Having joined the Chilean Bar Association in 1949, he played an important role in discussions leading up to the passing of the country’s Industrial Property Law in 1991. He served as vice president of the Inter-American Association of Industrial Property (ASIPI) between 1976 and 1979.
You are one of five inductees to the IP Hall of Fame this year. How does it feel to be recognised by your peers in this way?
It is very rewarding and a great honour to have been selected as an inductee to the IP Hall of Fame after a lifetime devoted to IP law. Due to our international portfolio of clients I have had a lot of exposure to foreign IP practitioners at international conferences and IP associations, where I have met many lawyers that know about me and my work.
After practising in IP matters for more than six decades, I feel privileged and humbled to have been selected by my peers as a sort of lifetime achievement for my modest contributions to the field of IP law.
What inspired you to pursue a career in intellectual property?
I started my career in IP law around 1945, even before I graduated from law school and obtained my title and licence to practise law in 1949. I used to work with my father at the Alessandri law firm founded in 1893 by my grandfather, Arturo Alessandri Palma; since he did not speak English, he asked me to answer letters sent to him in English, most of which referred to trademark and patent filing instructions. So I personally initiated the appropriate steps for filing applications and oppositions, among other things. This personal exposure to the administrative proceedings proved to be of paramount importance and formed the basis of the systems that I later developed to keep clients informed of the relevant steps in IP proceedings. In those early days I never imagined the importance of intellectual property today, nor the technological revolution that would develop as innovators have become increasingly anxious to protect their inventions and innovations via patents, utility models and industrial designs, among other things.
Given that your IP career has spanned several decades, what have been your proudest achievements in IP law?
My biggest achievement is the firm’s robust track record: from being the sole IP practitioner in the firm in the old days, I became the leader of one of the largest Chilean IP firms with a great professional team. Our good name and reputation is reflected in our large portfolio of international clients developed over time, among which we number some of the largest and best-known multinationals. We are known for vigorously defending our clients with a passion. I remember representing a famous Swiss chocolate company against a local company that was trying to mislead consumers with a similar name, label and design – we went all the way up to the Supreme Court, where we finally won the case.
I actively participated in what was then the US Trademark Association (which later became INTA) and collaborated with the greatest IP leaders in Latin America to give life to ASIPI. In addition to my professional achievements, I have dedicated many years to public service as a member of the Chilean Congress, first as a member of the Chamber of Deputies (1973) and later as a senator (1990 to 1998). I am proud of having participated in the discussion and enactment of the new Industrial Property Law, which came into effect in 1991 and included the patentability of chemical and pharmaceutical products. I also drafted a bill for the protection of plant varieties that became Law 19,342 simultaneously with the approval of the international treaty sponsored by WIPO, the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants I.
You have had a distinguished political career. What were some of the highlights and challenges of a life in politics?
My first political venture was short: I was elected a member of the House of Representatives, representing the then province of Antofagasta in northern Chile, home of the country’s largest copper mines, in March of 1973, but only lasted until September 1973, when the Chilean Congress was closed by the new military government. In 1989, when elections were called back, I ran and was elected senator for eight years representing the Antofagasta region. The period of 1990 to 1998, during which the military regime transitioned to a democratic government, was a fertile one in terms of political agreements and involved the passing of several reforms and the welcoming of foreign investments, all of which resulted in high economic growth and stability. But the highlight and major challenge in my political life was running for president of Chile in 1993. The centre-right coalition offered me the candidacy, albeit with a slim chance of winning. Among other reasons, I was independent and the political parties wanted to strengthen the coalition and take advantage of my family name since my grandfather had served as president twice from 1920 to 1925 and from 1932 to 1938, and my uncle, Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez, had served as president from 1958 to 1964. The campaign was short but intense, with much help from my family and a small group of friends and – as predicted – Senator Eduardo Frei, a good friend to this day, was elected as the new president. The effort was worthwhile, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed the campaign.
What is your advice to young or aspiring IP professionals?
It is important to have a good command of languages, especially English, and to organise your work in a tidy and proper way. IP work entails knowledge and strategy, but also processes and proceedings, so clients expect plenty of feedback and prompt responses. Ideally, try to get to know your clients better through personal contacts and, if possible, attend international and regional conferences. Be prepared to study and constantly keep up to date in this ever-changing world. But above all, be and act ethically; be transparent and let your clients know as soon as possible if you have or believe you have a conflict of interest and let them decide what to do. An ethical approach to your IP practice pays off over time and helps build your prestige based on trust, which is of the essence in a client-attorney relationship. That is my main advice to young practitioners and what I have taught our associates and new partners during my lifetime at the firm. So I am very proud to see how the organisation has grown, based on the same values and principles, that now inspire the fifth generation of attorneys in the leadership of Alessandri Attorneys at Law.
Who are your IP heroes and why?
Alberto Elzaburu, Allan Pilson, Ernesto Barreda, Ron Lehrman, Dan Bereskin and Peter Siemsen are my IP heroes. All of them were and are superb human beings and professionals of excellence. They were and are outstanding IP lawyers, highly respected in their own jurisdictions and internationally. I have had the privilege of being their friend and I have learned a lot from their respective IP practices and wisdom.