Beyond the Hammer: Thoughtful Approaches to Trademark Infringement

Obtaining a federal or state trademark is merely the first step in protecting your brand and reputation. If you don’t actively root out and address infringement, you could be abandoning your mark. Many people equate “policing” a trademark with sending stern cease and desist letters.

A knee-jerk cease and desist letter, however, can subject the brand owner to scorn, ridicule or can make a previously little-known criticism site go viral. Even the NFL is not immune from claims that it is overzealous in protecting its intellectual property rights.

A better and more balanced approach was used by Vibram USA, in trying to stamp out counterfeit “Five Fingers” running shoes, as documented in Inc. Magazine. To me, this approach uses common sense, a firm understanding of market niche, and engages its customers. A customized, thoughtful approach is better than a one-size-fits-all hammer approach.

Cease and desist letters are now posted online and the senders tagged as trademark bullies. It is more important than ever to coordinate a response to potential infringement with your marketing and legal teams.

Here’s a starting checklist of topics to consider before firing off that cease and desist letter:

  • How strong is my mark?

  • Am I clear that my use of the mark has priority?

  • What is the context (parody, competitor, social commentary)?

  • Who is the infringer (artist using my product, fan, customer, child, unrelated organization, non-competitive site using a wordplay on my name)?

  • Who has the most to lose and the biggest war chest?

  • Is there another way to protect my mark?

Please give us a call if you want to discuss how to protect your trademark.

Also, for some fun trademark disputes, be sure to click the links.

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