Guinness World Records GC: For the record

As Guinness World Records’ first full-time GC, Raymond Marshall faced his own departmental challenges – while judging weird and wonderful record attempts

in-house

There are few jobs in the legal profession that involve travelling to Tokyo to watch someone dive from a 36ft-high platform into a 30cm-deep pool, but that is what is required of Guinness World Records (GWR) general counsel Raymond Marshall. And while adjudicating on some of the strangest record attempts since taking the newly created role four years ago, Marshall has also overhauled the company’s legal function.

The record-breaking attempts are strange indeed: in India Marshall witnessed a woman pulling a truck by her hair – it was filled with her fellow villagers. “I had to weigh all those people on the truck,” he recalls fondly, “it will be my everlasting memory of GWR.”

In Krakow Marshall ensured a pizza was the required 1km in length to set another record and he also appeared live on Pakistani television after witnessing the signing of a contract at the country’s national football stadium.

It has been an interesting few years to say the least.

Everyone who works at GWR has the opportunity to adjudicate. “We undergo very strict adjudication and media training,” explains Marshall. “We also have a very well rehearsed crisis management procedure in case anything goes wrong.”

New direction

Marshall arrived at GWR in 2008 after working for BBC Worldwide and the Discovery Channel. In February that year the company had been acquired by Jim Pattison Entertainment, a Canadian business that held the global rights to develop and operate GWR museums and attractions. It was looking to protect the company’s IP rights by installing a full-time legal function.

“I’d like to think I’ve brought a degree of stability and organisation to the role,” says Marshall, who began by dealing with a backlog of IP matters and learning about the wider business. “I was the first full-time department head – prior to my arrival, GWR was under different ownership and there was no one dedicated solely to GWR.”

In a global market the greatest challenge for GWR is IP protection, particularly in India and China where IP is an alien concept in some areas. “Infringement is rife in -China, India and South America,” he says.

The threat of ‘genericide’ – where a brand becomes a common noun – is paramount and something that GWR would like to stamp out to prevent its brand losing its uniqueness. On the day we meet, Marshall has just learned of a Cypriot presidential candidate using the GWR logo on his campaign literature. He plans to get in touch as “we’re an impartial organisation, we don’t endorse political candidates”.

It is rare for such infringement to end up in a court battle; usually a cease and desist letter does the job.

Brand to rights

Marshall says one of the most notable changes at GWR in the past four years is the company’s increased awareness of its own brand rights. All staff have received training in IP matters, “so everyone knows how important our rights are,” says Marshall. “Mostly it’s someone in the office who alerts me to infringements.”

in-house

With just Marshall and another lawyer in-house, the position is varied in its daily routine, but he says that is just one of its many attractions. “Most people will know GWR for our annual records book but we have many other departments offering a range of record-related products and services – TV, licensing, digital, live events, PR and marketing,” he says.

“One minute I can be advising on the dangers of genericide of the GWR word mark in China, the next I can be drafting a contract for paper supply, the next I can be tweaking a press release about the resting of a contentious record category. It is the variety that keeps the role interesting,” Marshall enthuses.

While he strives to keep most work in-house, there are times when it is necessary to use external lawyers, particularly when the company is in expansion mode – it has opened new bases in Tokyo and Beijing in the past two years.

In China the company uses Beijing-headquartered Chang Tsi & Partners for local issues and Taylor Wessing for IP-related matters. GWR also uses Taylor Wessing in the UK for IP, while DWF advises the company on employment matters.

In a job like this, where sometimes it might feel like you are fighting a losing battle, it helps to be passionate about the brand. Marshall recognises that GWR consumers have an emotional connection with the product and says it is something he wants to protect. “I’ll fiercely protect the brand from abuse,” he declares.

Passion flowers

That passion goes beyond the legal department, however. Like many in-house lawyers Marshall is attracted by the idea of being in business rather than in a partnership.

“I have a genuine interest in the business and its strategy; to be a good legal practitioner, I think firstly you need to have a good sense of business – or certainly care about and understand the business that you work for,” he says. “I don’t want to be the guy who comes in at the end of a deal and simply executes the contract; I want to be involved from the beginning to fully understand why we’re doing something and the impact it might have on our audience and on our internal resources.”

Enough of all that legal work, back to the woman who can pull an entire village by her hair: how did that happen? “She just had incredibly strong hair,” says Marshall.

How she found out she could do it is another matter, though. “That’s when the job comes alive, when you get out and see our record breakers – sometimes you have to pinch yourself,” he laughs.

Nilema Bhakta-Jones

Nilema Bhakta-Jones, Group legal director, Top Right Group

Top Right Group is a multi-platform events, information services and publishing company that includes Emap, i2i Events and Lions Festivals.

With more than 250 brands in its portfolio, the intellectual property challenges are varied by nature and level of importance.

Central to the company’s brand protection strategy are training models. Nilema Bhakta-Jones says all staff must understand copyright so the in-house legal department has developed training programmes for this purpose.

“We’re preparing interactive training sessions for everyone in the business and will be rolling out bespoke training to every subsidiary using scenarios relevant to each business,” she explains. “The aim is to empower and the key messages will centre on brand protection, exploitation and integrity.”

These sessions, she adds, must be memorable so that they become the business culture.

In a global market, says Bhakta-Jones, the company has encountered IP challenges, such as trademark infringement, licensing issues and passing-off threats. The legal team is geared to take on these challenges. China has a ‘first to register’ rule, explains Bhakta-Jones, and there can be regional differences on law enforcement so it is important to understand the differences.

The company has an IP audit on the agenda, “which is a review of what we have, what we need to have in light of international expansion and what we might consider licensing out to create a revenue stream,” she explains. “On portfolio management we are looking at an online management service with our external provider.”