Archive for the ‘trademarks’ Category

Thoughts on Trademarks in the 21st Century

Posted on May 21, 2011 by

I have been thinking a lot about trademarks recently, having just attended the INTA (International Trademark Association) annual meeting. As a small business entrepreneur myself, I’ve invested a lot in my own trademark and branding, and this issue is frequently on the minds of my clients. Now that I’m back, and with trademark law on the brain, I thought I’d share some of the highlights I learned about trademarks last week.

Lesson #1 – When enforcing your ownership of your trademark, find creative solutions that won’t accidentally alienate your customers and fans. When lawyers from BP tried to get a tweeter critiquing BP’s handling of the oil spill to stop using “BP” in the handle, it created a huge backlash and actually swelled the numbers of people following the tweeter. There wasn’t anything inappropriate about BP’s request – they have to be sure that the “BP” mark is well defended – but an angry cease and desist letter created a big PR nightmare.

Lesson #2 – Software and virtual world brand owners need to figure out their position on trademarks. I think if you’re a large cola company or a famous burger seller or a well known sneaker maker, you’re very accustomed to having to watch out for other people trying to sell goods under your name. But what if you sell virtual shoes in a virtual world, or create virtual restaurants so cool that avatars pay to hang out there? As these virtual good entrepreneurs build out their revenue-generating virtual businesses, they will begin to care about knock-offs, such as spam-generating, virus-laden virtual goods going out under their same product name. For those virtual good entrepreneurs: If sorting out your trademark policy isn’t already on your radar screen, it should be!

Lesson #3 – The Internet can actually be a trademark owner’s friend. When traditional trademark owners think of the Internet and social media, I suspect they think of the headaches – of new venues in which they have to police the use of their brands, of new ways people can generate knock-offs. But companies can benefit from embracing these technologies in developing their brands – their participation on fan pages and micro-blogging sites becomes a meaningful contribution to their brand image. There are plenty of good examples of ‘normal’, well-established companies embracing these technologies to really engage with their customers. We are moving to a world where regardless of industry, nearly every brand has an on-line presence and reputation. Reach out to social media/community management experts – and keep your trademark lawyer in the loop!

Trademark gurus (and I’m looking at you, @balmatlaw and @massiplaw!), I’d love to hear your thoughts on these and other trademark issues for brand managers. Please comment below or send us links to sites where we can learn more!