One of the things about being a brand owner is that you have to play hard ball sometimes, or at least that’s what most prudent trademark lawyers would advise. But you can cross the line, especially when the enforcement action you are taking is aimed at the wrong target.
Straight out of the book of Tales of Trademark Bullies
is another case of a brand owner throwing its weight around and quashing all potential threats like Styrofoam cups (yes, Styrofoam is indeed a registered trademark
). FlipKart, an e-commerce company from India that operates an online megastore selling everything from baby bibs to barbeque grills, has made quite a name for itself since launching in 2007. It is peddling itself as an alternative to Amazon, at least outside the U.S. But Amazon is still king in India
Regardless, a company with a name like FlipKart is probably going to defend it pretty vigorously, and have a lot of success to boot. Not many everyday Joe’s are going to challenge a company’s claims when their attorneys come knocking. Much like SnapChat
, FlipKart is one of those stronger marks, you know, the ones that are distinctive
because they do not describe the goods or designate a category of products. From the beginning, the idea was to have a catchy name
suggestive of the features of the service with staying power in the minds of consumers. Of course, being able to register the name under the .com TLD was key, too!
Having a fiancé that is in love with handbags (what woman isn’t?), I often find myself in-tow through the leather goods section of fancy department stores or stand-alone stores where Coach and Michael Kors bags are put on display like, well, Tiffany diamonds. Besides looking at the price tags and shuddering feeling the American Express card in my back pocket becoming a hot coal, I often think about the lengths that these companies go to in protecting their brand. Often times in the luxury goods market where there are many competing firms, all of which offer pretty much the same basic type of goods at the same price point, there isn’t much to compete on other than the name. Yes, product design is often a point of competition as well, but I’m trying to keep this post simple by only focusing on brand names. If you are a business that is competing primarily based on brand name, you are going to be more than a little concerned about how your brand name is used in the marketplace. One of the greatest examples of how companies obsess over their brand is the franchisor/franchisee relationship in the hospitality business (whether food or hotels). The main flagship brand is often the subject of dozens of pages of restrictions on trademark usage, including everything from product/logo display to partnerships with local community groups to promote the brand.
The rationale for protecting a brand is no secret. If a brand name is the foundation of your business, losing it could mean losing millions of dollars in valuation and being forced to start over. Okay, those might be some extreme results (Thermos lost its brand to genericide but is still recognized as the market leader in insulated food/beverage containers, without which the world would be a much colder place
), but the result is looming out there like a hawker of goods in a flea market and no brand owner wants to be positioned for failure in a hyper-competitive marketplace.
And that brings us to the problem that many luxury brands are finding themselves in: tracking down and combating online counterfeiters.
Snapchat, still reeling from a hacker attack in 2013
where the contact information for 4.6 millions users was published, recently lost a bid
to prevent somebody else from using a domain name that contained the word “Snapchat” (which happens to be a trademark of Snapchat, naturally). The domain name, www.snapchatcheck.com, allows Snapchat users to determine whether their information was compromised in the 2013 hack. What gives? How can a third-party simply rip-off the name of a major company and build a website off a stolen identity? Does the fact that the name is used in the context of a domain name matter?
These are all issues that this post will attempt to tackle (and tie together with a nice pretty bow). But first, let’s take a little stroll down Internet 101 lane.
The Internet has become an invaluable tool that many lean on to share information, engage with others, and improve their daily lives. Pulsating data streams flowing out of I.P. addresses build resource and support networks, helping people literally improve their lives. These aren’t platitudes, trust me. I think we can all speak from experience on this one and arrive at the same conclusion: in a World where people actively seek explanations and validation, the worldwide web is our lifeblood. And how do we navigate this lifeblood and determine, from the great cacophony of noise, what is legitimate and what isn’t? Links, searches, “likes”, content shares (which are forms of linking), and hash tags; all are filtered and validated a la our own B.S. indicators which have been so finely sharpened by our years of experience navigating the Internet.