Take Control. Restrict, Protect and Grow! Whether a manufacturer brand wants its products to be offered on Amazon or not, their products will most likely end up being listed on the platform by third-party (3P) sellers. The reality is that anyone that has access to product inventory can create a listing on Amazon and start selling. These independent 3P sellers, many of which are unauthorized, cause real problems for manufacturers.

This is especially true for MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) based brands. Amazon is a price driven marketplace where the seller with the lowest price wins. In order to compete on Amazon, many 3P sellers violate MAP policies to win the buy box and get the sale. Unauthorized 3P sellers are also typically creating listings with no input or approval from you, the brand, when it comes to imagery, messaging, warranty or claims made about the product. In addition, If you are a brand that allows select authorized 3P partners to sell your products on Amazon, sales for these MAP-abiding sellers are negatively impacted by these unauthorized MAP-violators.

Ultimately, your brand on Amazon suffers from price erosion, consumer confidence issues, product quality concerns and diminished sales, not to mention the significant channel conflict it causes with your other authorized online and brick and mortar partners.

What is the solution? Aggressively RESTRICT your sellers on Amazon, even to the point of a single authorized 3P seller. In this webinar replay, we discuss why this is so critical, the many benefits, and the process to achieve and measure the success of this strategy.

In this webinar replay, you’ll learn:

  1. Steps to cleaning up your Amazon seller landscape;
  2. Resources and tools needed for success; and
  3. Benefits of an exclusive 3P professional Amazon seller strategy.

What is a trademark?
A trademark is a word, symbol, or phrase, used to identify a particular manufacturer or seller’s products and distinguish them from the products of another. 15 U.S.C. 1127. For example, the trademark “Nike,” along with the Nike “swoosh,” identify the shoes made by Nike and distinguish them from shoes made by other companies (e.g. Reebok or Adidas). Similarly, the trademark “Coca-Cola” distinguishes the brown-colored soda water of one particular manufacturer from the brown-colored soda of another (e.g. Pepsi). When such marks are used to identify services (e.g. “Jiffy Lube”) rather than products, they are called service marks, although they are generally treated just the same as trademarks.

Under some circumstances, trademark protection can extend beyond words, symbols, and phrases to include other aspects of a product, such as its color or its packaging. For example, the pink color of Owens-Corning fiberglass insulation or the unique shape of a Coca-Cola bottle might serve as identifying features. Such features fall generally under the term “trade dress,” and may be protected if consumers associate that feature with a particular manufacturer rather than the product in general. However, such features will not be protected if they confer any sort of functional or competitive advantage. So, for example, a manufacturer cannot lock up the use of a particular unique bottle shape if that shape confers some sort of functional advantage (e.g. is easier to stack or easier to grip). Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., Inc., 115 S. Ct. 1300 (1995).

Trademarks make it easier for consumers to quickly identify the source of a given good. Instead of reading the fine print on a can of cola, consumers can look for the Coca-Cola trademark. Instead of asking a store clerk who made a certain athletic shoe, consumers can look for particular identifying symbols, such as a swoosh or a unique pattern of stripes. By making goods easier to identify, trademarks also give manufacturers an incentive to invest in the quality of their goods. After all, if a consumer tries a can of Coca-Cola and finds the quality lacking, it will be easy for the consumer to avoid Coca-Cola in the future and instead buy another brand. Trademark law furthers these goals by regulating the proper use of trademarks.

What sources of law govern trademarks?
Trademarks are governed by both state and federal law. Originally, state common law provided the main source of protection for trademarks. However, in the late 1800s, the U.S. Congress enacted the first federal trademark law. Since then, federal trademark law has consistently expanded, taking over much of the ground initially covered by state common law. The main federal statute is the Lanham Act, which was enacted in 1946 and most recently amended in 1996. 15 U.S.C. 1051, et seq.. Today, federal law provides the main, and by and large the most extensive, source of trademark protection, although state common law actions are still available. Most of the discussion in this summary focuses on federal law.

What prerequisites must a mark satisfy in order to serve as a trademark?
In order to serve as a trademark, a mark must be distinctive — that is, it must be capable of identifying the source of a particular good. In determining whether a mark is distinctive, the courts group marks into four categories, based on the relationship between the mark and the underlying product: (1) arbitrary or fanciful, (2) suggestive, (3) descriptive, or (4) generic. Because the marks in each of these categories vary with respect to their distinctiveness, the requirements for, and degree of, legal protection afforded a particular trademark will depend upon which category it falls within.

An arbitrary or fanciful mark is a mark that bears no logical relationship to the underlying product. For example, the words “Exxon,” “Kodak,” and “Apple” bear no inherent relationship to their underlying products (respectively, gasoline, cameras, or computers). Similarly, the Nike “swoosh” bears no inherent relationship to athletic shoes. Arbitrary or fanciful marks are inherently distinctive — i.e. capable of identifying an underlying product — and are given a high degree of protection.

A suggestive mark is a mark that evokes or suggests a characteristic of the underlying good. For example, the word “Coppertone” is suggestive of sun-tan lotion but does not specifically describe the underlying product. Some exercise of imagination is needed to associate the word with the underlying product. At the same time, however, the word is not totally unrelated to the underlying product. Like arbitrary or fanciful marks, suggestive marks are inherently distinctive and are given a high degree of protection.

A descriptive mark is a mark that directly describes, rather than suggests, a characteristic or quality of the underlying product (e.g. its color, odor, function, dimensions, or ingredients). For example, “Holiday Inn,” “All Bran,” and “Vision Center” all describe some aspect of the underlying product or service (respectively, hotel rooms, breakfast cereal, optical services). They tell us something about the product. Unlike arbitrary or suggestive marks, descriptive marks are not inherently distinctive and are protected only if they have acquired “secondary meaning.” Descriptive marks must clear this additional hurdle because they are terms that are useful for describing the underlying product and giving a particular manufacturer the exclusive right to use the term could confer an unfair advantage.

A descriptive mark acquires secondary meaning when the consuming public primarily associates that mark with a particular producer, rather than the underlying product. Thus, for example, the term “Holiday Inn” has acquired secondary meaning because the consuming public associates that term with a particular provider of hotel services, and not with hotel services in general. The public need not be able to identify the specific producer; only that the product or service comes from a single producer. When trying to determine whether a given term has acquired secondary meaning, courts will often look to the following factors: (1) the amount and manner of advertising; (2) the volume of sales; (3) the length and manner of the term’s use; (4) results of consumer surveys. Zatarain’s, Inc. v. Oak Grove Smokehouse, Inc., 698 F.2d 786 (5th Cir. 1983).

Finally, a generic mark is a mark that describes the general category to which the underlying product belongs. For example, the term “Computer” is a generic term for computer equipment. Generic marks are entitled to no protection under trademark law. Thus, a manufacturer selling “Computer” brand computers (or “Apple” brand apples, etc.) would have no exclusive right to use that term with respect to that product. Generic terms are not protected by trademark law because they are simply too useful for identifying a particular product. Giving a single manufacturer control over use of the term would give that manufacturer too great a competitive advantage. Under some circumstances, terms that are not originally generic can become generic over time (a process called “genericity”), and thus become unprotected.

How do you acquire rights in a trademark?
Assuming that a trademark qualifies for protection, rights to a trademark can be acquired in one of two ways: (1) by being the first to use the mark in commerce; or (2) by being the first to register the mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”). 15 U.S.C. 1127(a). Remember, however, that descriptive marks qualify for protection (and can be registered) only after they have acquired secondary meaning. Thus, for descriptive marks, there may be a period after the initial use of the mark in commerce and before it acquires secondary meaning, during which it is not entitled to trademark protection. Once it has achieved secondary meaning, trademark protection kicks in.

The use of a mark generally means the actual sale of a product to the public with the mark attached. Thus, if I am the first to sell “Lucky” brand bubble-gum to the public, I have acquired priority to use that mark in connection with the sale of bubble-gum (assuming that the mark otherwise qualifies for trademark protection). This priority is limited, however, to the geographic area in which I sell the bubble gum, along with any areas I would be expected to expand into or any areas where the reputation of the mark has been established. So, for example, if I sell pizza in Boston under the name “Broadway Pizza,” I will probably be able to prevent late-comers from opening up a “Broadway Pizza” within my geographic market. But I will not be able to prevent someone else from opening a “Broadway Pizza” in Los Angeles.

The other way to acquire priority is to register the mark with the PTO with a bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce. Unlike use of a mark in commerce, registration of a mark with the PTO gives a party the right to use the mark nationwide, even if actual sales are limited to only a limited area. This right is limited, however, to the extent that the mark is already being used by others within a specific geographic area. If that is the case, then the prior user of the mark retains the right to use that mark within that geographic area; the party registering the mark gets the right to use it everywhere else. So, for example, if I register the mark “Broadway” in connection with the sale of pizza, the existing “Broadway Pizza” in Boston retains the right to use the name in Boston, but I get the right to use it everywhere else.

What does it mean to register a trademark?
Although registration with the PTO is not required for a trademark to be protected, registration does confer a number of benefits to the registering party. 15 U.S.C. 1051. As described above, registration gives a party the right to use the mark nationwide, subject to the limitations noted above. 15 U.S.C. 1072. Registration constitutes nationwide constructive notice to others that the trademark is owned by the party. Registration enables a party to bring an infringement suit in federal court. 15 U.S.C. 1121. Registration allows a party to potentially recover treble damages, attorneys fees, and other remedies. Finally, registered trademarks can, after five years, become “incontestable,” at which point the exclusive right to use the mark is conclusively established. 15 U.S.C. 1065.

Applications for registration are subject to approval by the PTO. The PTO may reject a registration on any number of grounds. 15 U.S.C. 1052. For example, the PTO will refuse to register generic marks or descriptive marks that have not attained secondary meaning. The PTO can also reject “immoral or scandalous” marks, certain geographic marks, marks that are primarily surnames, and marks that are likely to cause confusion with existing marks. As noted above, rejection of the mark does not necessarily mean that it is not entitled to trademark protection; it means only that the mark is not entitled to the additional benefits listed above. 15 U.S.C. 1125.

Some states also have their own registration systems under state trademark law.

Can trademark rights be lost?
The rights to a trademark can be lost through abandonment, improper licensing or assignment, or genericity. A trademark is abandoned when its use is discontinued with an intent not to resume its use. Such intent can be inferred from the circumstances. Moreover, non-use for three consecutive years is prima facie evidence of abandonment. The basic idea is that trademark law only protects marks that are being used, and parties are not entitled to warehouse potentially useful marks. So, for example, a recent case held that the Los Angeles Dodgers had abandoned rights to the Brooklyn Dodgers trademark Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Sed Non Olet Denarius, Ltd., 817 F. Supp. 1103 (S.D.N.Y. 1993).

Trademark rights can also be lost through improper licensing or assignment. Where the use of a trademark is licensed (for example, to a franchisee) without adequate quality control or supervision by the trademark owner, that trademark will be canceled. Similarly, where the rights to a trademark are assigned to another party in gross, without the corresponding sale of any assets, the trademark will be canceled. The rationale for these rules is that, under these situations, the trademark no longer serves its purpose of identifying the goods of a particular provider. Dawn Donut Co., Inc. v. Hart’s Food Stores, Inc., 267 F.2d 358 (2d Cir. 1959).

Trademark rights can also be lost through genericity. Sometimes, trademarks that are originally distinctive can become generic over time, thereby losing its trademark protection Kellogg Co. v. National Biscuit Co., 305 U.S. 111 (1938). A word will be considered generic when, in the minds of a substantial majority of the public, the word denotes a broad genus or type of product and not a specific source or manufacturer. So, for example, the term “thermos” has become a generic term and is no longer entitled to trademark protection. Although it once denoted a specific manufacturer, the term now stands for the general type of product. Similarly, both “aspirin” and “cellophane” have been held to be generic. Bayer Co. v. United Drug Co., 272 F.505 (S.D.N.Y. 1921). In deciding whether a term is generic, courts will often look to dictionary definitions, the use of the term in newspapers and magazines, and any evidence of attempts by the trademark owner to police its mark.

What constitutes trademark infringement?
If a party owns the rights to a particular trademark, that party can sue subsequent parties for trademark infringement. 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125. The standard is “likelihood of confusion.” To be more specific, the use of a trademark in connection with the sale of a good constitutes infringement if it is likely to cause consumer confusion as to the source of those goods or as to the sponsorship or approval of such goods. In deciding whether consumers are likely to be confused, the courts will typically look to a number of factors, including: (1) the strength of the mark; (2) the proximity of the goods; (3) the similarity of the marks; (4) evidence of actual confusion; (5) the similarity of marketing channels used; (6) the degree of caution exercised by the typical purchaser; (7) the defendant’s intent. Polaroid Corp. v. Polarad Elect. Corp., 287 F.2d 492 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 820 (1961).

So, for example, the use of an identical mark on the same product would clearly constitute infringement. If I manufacture and sell computers using the mark “Apple,” my use of that mark will likely cause confusion among consumers, since they may be misled into thinking that the computers are made by Apple Computer, Inc. Using a very similar mark on the same product may also give rise to a claim of infringement, if the marks are close enough in sound, appearance, or meaning so as to cause confusion. So, for example, “Applet” computers may be off-limits; perhaps also “Apricot.” On the other end of the spectrum, using the same term on a completely unrelated product will not likely give rise to an infringement claim. Thus, Apple Computer and Apple Records can peacefully co-exist, since consumers are not likely to think that the computers are being made by the record company, or vice versa.

Between the two ends of the spectrum lie many close cases, in which the courts will apply the factors listed above. So, for example, where the marks are similar and the products are also similar, it will be difficult to determine whether consumer confusion is likely. In one case, the owners of the mark “Slickcraft” used the mark in connection with the sale of boats used for general family recreation. They brought an infringement action against a company that used the mark “Sleekcraft” in connection with the sale of high-speed performance boats. Because the two types of boats served substantially different markets, the court concluded that the products were related but not identical. However, after examining many of the factors listed above, the court concluded that the use of Sleekcraft was likely to cause confusion among consumers. AMF Inc. v. Sleekcraft Boats, 599 F.2d 341 (9th Cir. 1979).

What constitutes trademark dilution?
In addition to bringing an action for infringement, owners of trademarks can also bring an action for trademark dilution under either federal or state law. Under federal law, a dilution claim can be brought only if the mark is “famous.” In deciding whether a mark is famous, the courts will look to the following factors: (1) the degree of inherent or acquired distinctiveness; (2) the duration and extent of use; (3) the amount of advertising and publicity; (4) the geographic extent of the market; (5) the channels of trade; (6) the degree of recognition in trading areas; (7) any use of similar marks by third parties; (8) whether the mark is registered. 15 U.S.C. 1125(c). Kodak, Exxon, and Xerox are all examples of famous marks. Under state law, a mark need not be famous in order to give rise to a dilution claim. Instead, dilution is available if: (1) the mark has “selling power” or, in other words, a distinctive quality; and (2) the two marks are substantially similar. Mead Data Central, Inc. v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., 875 F.2d 1026 (2d Cir. 1989).

Once the prerequisites for a dilution claim are satisfied, the owner of a mark can bring an action against any use of that mark that dilutes the distinctive quality of that mark, either through “blurring” or “tarnishment” of that mark; unlike an infringement claim, likelihood of confusion is not necessary. Blurring occurs when the power of the mark is weakened through its identification with dissimilar goods. For example, Kodak brand bicycles or Xerox brand cigarettes. Although neither example is likely to cause confusion among consumers, each dilutes the distinctive quality of the mark. Tarnishment occurs when the mark is cast in an unflattering light, typically through its association with inferior or unseemly products or services. So, for example, in a recent case, ToysRUs successfully brought a tarnishment claim against adultsrus.com, a pornographic web-site. Toys “R” Us v. Akkaoui, 40 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1836 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 29, 1996).

What other potential causes of action are there?
Although likelihood of confusion and dilution are the two-main trademark-related causes of action, there exist a number of additional state-law causes of action under state unfair competition law: passing off, contributory passing off, reverse passing off, and misappropriation. Passing off occurs when the defendant tries to pass off its product as the plaintiff’s product. So, for example, manufacturing computers and claiming that they are made by Apple Computer, Inc. Contributory passing off occurs when the defendant assists or induces another (typically a retailer) to pass of its product as the plaintiff’s product. So, for example, inducing a computer store to represent that the computers are made by Apple, when in fact they are not. Reverse passing off occurs when the defendant tries to pass off the plaintiff’s product as its own. So, for example, taking a computer made by Apple, removing the label, and putting on a different label. Finally, misappropriation is a highly unstable, but potentially fruitful source of additional trademark-related claims.

What defenses are there to trademark infringement or dilution?
Defendants in a trademark infringement or dilution claim can assert basically two types of affirmative defense: fair use or parody. Fair use occurs when a descriptive mark is used in good faith for its primary, rather than secondary, meaning, and no consumer confusion is likely to result. So, for example, a cereal manufacturer may be able to describe its cereal as consisting of “all bran,” without infringing upon Kelloggs’ rights in the mark “All Bran.” Such a use is purely descriptive, and does not invoke the secondary meaning of the mark. Similarly, in one case, a court held that the defendant’s use of “fish fry” to describe a batter coating for fish was fair use and did not infringe upon the plaintiff’s mark “Fish-Fri.” Zatarain’s, Inc. v. Oak Grove Smokehouse, Inc., 698 F.2d 786 (5th Cir. 1983). Such uses are privileged because they use the terms only in their purely descriptive sense.

Some courts have recognized a somewhat different, but closely-related, fair-use defense, called nominative use. Nominative use occurs when use of a term is necessary for purposes of identifying another producer’s product, not the user’s own product. For example, in a recent case, the newspaper USA Today ran a telephone poll, asking its readers to vote for their favorite member of the music group New Kids on the Block. The New Kids on the Block sued USA Today for trademark infringement. The court held that the use of the trademark “New Kids on the Block” was a privileged nominative use because: (1) the group was not readily identifiable without using the mark; (2) USA Today used only so much of the mark as reasonably necessary to identify it; and (3) there was no suggestion of endorsement or sponsorship by the group. The basic idea is that use of a trademark is sometimes necessary to identify and talk about another party’s products and services. When the above conditions are met, such a use will be privileged. New Kids on the Block v. News America Publishing, Inc., 971 F.2d 302 (9th Cir. 1992).

Finally, certain parodies of trademarks may be permissible if they are not too directly tied to commercial use. The basic idea here is that artistic and editorial parodies of trademarks serve a valuable critical function, and that this critical function is entitled to some degree of First Amendment protection. The courts have adopted different ways of incorporating such First Amendment interests into the analysis. For example, some courts have applied the general “likelihood of confusion” analysis, using the First Amendment as a factor in the analysis. Other courts have expressly balanced First Amendment considerations against the degree of likely confusion. Still other courts have held that the First Amendment effectively trumps trademark law, under certain circumstances. In general, however, the courts appear to be more sympathetic to the extent that parodies are less commercial, and less sympathetic to the extent that parodies involve commercial use of the mark.

So, for example, a risqu parody of an L.L. Bean magazine advertisement was found not to constitute infringement. L.L. Bean, Inc. v. Drake Publishers, Inc., 811 F.2d 26, 28 (1st Cir. 1987). Similarly, the use of a pig-like character named “Spa’am” in a Muppet movie was found not to violate Hormel’s rights in the trademark “Spam.” Hormel Foods Corp. v. Jim Henson Prods., 73 F.3d 497 (2d Cir. 1996). On the other hand, “Gucchie Goo” diaper bags were found not to be protected under the parody defense Gucci Shops, Inc. v. R.H. Macy & Co., 446 F. Supp. 838 (S.D.N.Y. 1977). Similarly, posters bearing the logo “Enjoy Cocaine” were found to violate the rights of Coca-Cola in the slogan “Enjoy Coca-Cola Coca-Cola Co. v. Gemini Rising, Inc., 346 F. Supp. 1183 (E.D.N.Y. 1972). Thus, although the courts recognize a parody defense, the precise contours of such a defense are difficult to outline with any precision.

What remedies are there for trademark infringement and/or dilution?
Successful plaintiffs are entitled to a wide range of remedies under federal law. Such plaintiffs are routinely awarded injunctions against further infringing or diluting use of the trademark. 15 U.S.C. 1116(a). In trademark infringement suits, monetary relief may also be available, including: (1) defendant’s profits, (2) damages sustained by the plaintiff, and (3) the costs of the action. 15 U.S.C. 1117(a). Damages may be trebled upon showing of bad faith. In trademark dilution suits, however, damages are available only if the defendant willfully traded on the plaintiff’s goodwill in using the mark. Otherwise, plaintiffs in a dilution action are limited to injunctive relief. 15 U.S.C. 1125(c).

List of additional on-line sources

Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq. – U.S. Patent and Trademark Office page on trademarks – Cornell Law School list of trademark materials – International Trademark Association guide to trademark basics.

Online Brand Protection Basics

Let’s start a true “Brand Protection Basics” conversation this evening, something I have been eluding to the last few weeks.

To start the conversation, I always feel it’s my obligation to ask any a few simple questions before even starting any brand protection discussions;

  1. What are your overall goal(s) with your brand protection program?
  2. How will you determine a level of success in 12 to 24 months with your brand protection program?

As a brand, have you ever been asked those basic questions? We can ask many other questions when talking about a brand protection strategy but it is my experience that just those 2 questions can give one the information needed to start a detailed conversation. Setting the proper expectation around a brands goals and their level and time-frame of success is critical. I personally have seen many programs fail because of a simple lack of setting the proper expectations. “I want all unauthorized third-party sellers on a xyz marketplace removed in the next 6 months” Yeah, that isn’t realistic in any world we live in and for one to think it is might be a little off their rocker. However, what if 60% or even just 40% of those unauthorized third-party sellers are taken down in 12 months, is that a level of success? Usually, I hear “Absolutely, you would make me a hero.” There you go, set the right expectations and don’t be a “Yes Person”.

So, let’s try to answer the question, why is this happening to brands online? We can answer that with one word “Diversion” – Webster Definition – an instance of turning something aside from its natural course. In my experience, virtually every example of brand infringement online is some level of diversion. What type of diversion will depend on one of the 5 areas we will discuss? Basically, it all comes down to Money. From website traffic to online sales, it all comes down to someone diverting the consumer for generating revenue. We can as well dive into this in a separate discussion, as some of the examples I have seen can make someone think.

Before we dive into what I personally feel are the primary areas of Brand Protection. We need to think about the 3 core components (Pillars of Brand Protection) that should be part of any brand protection program. I have been speaking to this for close to 15 years now and it is even truer today with where Omni-Channels are exploding. (We will dive much deeper into all these areas in later posts)

  1. Monitoring – How one identifies possible infringements online
  2. Research – the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the infringement – Due Diligence
  3. Enforcement – Taking action – Steps 1 & 2 are useless if one doesn’t take any action to solve infringements.

* Omnichannel (also spelled omni–channel) is a multichannel approach to sales and information sharing that seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a bricks and mortar store.

I will go on record in saying “If you do not have these 3 components in your brand protection program, you will fail” Speaking from personal experience of course. Let’s think about this and break it down a little; Monitoring alone will not solve a problem, we cannot just see what is hurting our brand. Skipping research will not give you the information you need to properly enforce, so much is hidden online these days that we need to ensure we are enforcing properly. Lastly, if we exclude enforcement why are we bothering with monitoring and research, that would just be time and money spent in vain. I think one can see where I am coming from here.

Now let’s talk about the basic areas I have been eluding to;

I have always essentially broken down any type of global brand protection or intellectual property monitoring into 5 basic areas:

  1. Domain Name Monitoring
  2. Website Content
  3. Social Media
  4. Pay-Per-Click (or PPC and AdWords Advertising bidding)
  5. Grey Market/Counterfeit sales

Please keep in mind, I do understand one can think of many other areas or subcategories, however, I want to cover the basics this evening. I also understand you can break up Grey Market and Counterfeit sales, but for my discussions here, we can categorize them together.

I will try to briefly explain what each of these areas of brand monitoring is:

I define Domain Name Monitoring as watching all domain name registrations, both gtld, cctlds and now the New TLD’s globally, for correlation with your Trademarks, Brands products and so on. I have always stated that the zone report is critical, due to the structure of gtld’s zone files in some cases, shut down the registration before it even propagates to a live website.

CCTLD is Country Code Top Level Domain and refers to foreign domains such as .ru for Russia or co.uk for United Kingdom, and GTLD is Generic Top Level Domains or .com, .net, .org. New tld’s are .xyz or .travel

– Website Content is usually where the bulk of the infringing content is found. Searching the hidden and visible text of the website, beyond the basic content, and uncover such hidden text like meta descriptions, image titles or programming text with infringing content. This is a perfect example of how one shouldn’t stop at just infringing domains; go after all infringement.

– Social Media Monitoring: social media monitoring services now can monitor over 600+ global social media networks, essentially for trending, customer satisfaction, product reviews and public relations. Enforcement is traditionally more difficult in social media outlets due to 1st amendment protections, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Marketing or Sales departments can make excellent use of the unprecedented amount of data gathered. Needless to say, this has never been a favorite area of mine, but one can say a necessary evil. Given the nature of today’s Social Media and “opinions” lead to almost 1000 to 1 ratio of false positives, defiantly not in favor of actionable or relevant date once can use. This usually leads to diminishing returns on one investment of such a service. That being said, having the ability to filter social media results into sentiments such as Positive, Neutral and/or Negative can help narrow the data to a more reasonable level.

– Pay-Per-Click or PPC and AdWords Advertising bidding is a much more stealth violation of your brand by using your legally held keywords to divert your traffic and increase your digital marketing costs. This is perhaps the most overlooked violation and is arguably the most egregious. One can address this by monitoring search advertising networks like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, globally, and then fine sorting by Geography. One should catalog the results and to give the brand the ammunition to enforce against the violation.

*Keyword bidding is a situation where when you put your brand in a Google search bar, other advertisements appear, unrelated to your brand and unauthorized. Sponsored or shopping listings are among the most popular.

Similarly, for Grey Market & Counterfeit sales, one should strive to eliminate product dilution and price erosion by focusing on online Marketplaces. Grey Market sales seem to happen more on the Amazon or eBay’s of the world, where Counterfeit isn’t limited to but primarily on Asian Markets such as AliExpress, Alibaba, and TaoBao. Having success enforcing under IP Rights and taking down the infringing listings. This is an endurance contest and over time you will see the ceasing of infringement from the bulk of sellers. This last area can open a whole can of worms as it can be the most impactful.

*Grey market is a situation where sales are made outside company compliance rules and approved channels or markets, with real products, counterfeit, or third shift items. Third shift is where a foreign factory, using its own materials and labor, produce actual products for market, but none of the revenue is realized by the actual company.

A brands goal, in the end, will be to move one’s organization from a reactive brand monitoring or protection posture to a more proactive, enforcing stance. With aggressive monitoring, one can react much more quickly to accomplish this level of escalation online. I understand that given the nature of the internet, something must happen to be able to identify and take action, but if one can be proactive in identifying rather quickly when something happens against a brand or trademark that same person can act quickly to enforce to mitigate any possible damages.

There are many brand monitoring companies currently on the market, one should consider their ability to deliver accurate and actionable data in a very timely manner. A true brand protection company should always strive not to deliver false positives or non-actionable data, as that creates more work for you and your organization in the end. I also always encourage asking any brand protection company the hard questions. What are those hard questions, lets dive into that in the next conversation?

How a brand protection company can help you should be to focus on the two components that lead up to the enforcement actions such as: sending Cease and Desist or Demand Letters, take down Grey Market and Counterfeit Sales within online marketplaces, provide for full UDRP Services (Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy) and research and investigation services to uncover anonymous third-party marketplace sellers or Domain registrations under the Deficiency Check system employed by UDRP enforcement.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me – I look forward to answering questions and feedback regarding this topic and others soon to be posted. I will be covering all aspects of Brand Protection Basics – a FREE source of advice and discussions. I apologize for any lack of proper grammar.

Let’s start a true “Brand Protection Basics” conversation this morning, something I have been eluding to the last few weeks.

To start the conversation, I always feel it’s my obligation to ask any a few simple questions before even starting any brand protection discussions;

What are your overall goal(s) with your brand protection program?
How will you determine a level of success in 12 to 24 months with your brand protection program?

As a brand, have you ever been asked those basic questions? We can ask many other questions when talking about a brand protection strategy but it is my experience that just those 2 questions can give one the information needed to start a detailed conversation. Setting the proper expectation around a brands goals and their level and time-frame of success is critical. I personally have seen many programs fail because of a simple lack of setting the proper expectations. “I want all unauthorized third-party sellers on a xyz marketplace removed in the next 6 months” Yeah, that isn’t realistic in any world we live in and for one to think it is might be a little off their rocker. However, what if 60% or even just 40% of those unauthorized third-party sellers are taken down in 12 months, is that a level of success? Usually, I hear “Absolutely, you would make me a hero” There you go, set the right expectations and don’t be a “Yes Person”.

So let’s try to answer the question, why is this happening to brands online? We can answer that with one word “Diversion” – Webster Definition – an instance of turning something aside from its natural course. In my experience, virtually every example of brand infringement online is some level of diversion. What type of diversion will depend on one of the 5 areas we will discuss. Basically, it all comes down to Money. From website traffic to online sales, it all comes down to someone diverting the consumer for the purpose of generating revenue. We can as well dive into this in a separate discussion, as some of the examples I have seen can really make someone think.

Before we dive into what I personally feel are the primary areas of Brand Protection. We need to think about the 3 core components that should be part of any brand protection program. I have been speaking to this for close to 15 years now and it is even truer today with where Omni-Channels are exploding. (We will dive much deeper into all these areas in later posts)

Monitoring – How one identifies possible infringements online
Research – the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the infringement – Due Diligence Enforcement – Taking action – Steps 1 & 2 are useless if one doesn’t take any action to solve infringements.

* Omnichannel (also spelled omni-channel) is a multichannel approach to sales and information sharing that seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a bricks and mortar store.
I will go on record in saying “If you do not have these 3 components in your brand protection program, you will fail” Speaking from personal experience of course. Let’s think about this and break it down a little; Monitoring alone will not solve a problem, we cannot just see what is hurting our brand. Skipping research will not give you the information you need to properly enforce, so much is hidden online these days that we need to insure we are enforcing properly. Lastly if we exclude enforcement why are we bothering with monitoring and research, that would just be time and money spent in vain. I think one can see where I am coming from here.

Now let’s talk about the basic areas I have been eluding to;

I have always essentially broken down any type of global brand protection or intellectual property monitoring into 5 basic areas:

Domain Name Monitoring 2. Website Content 3. Social Media 4. Pay-Per-Click (or PPC and AdWord Advertising bidding) 5. Grey Market/Counterfeit sales
Please keep in mind, I do understand one can think of many other areas or subcategories, however I want to cover the basics this evening. I also understand you can break up Grey Market and Counterfeit sales, but for my discussions here, we can categorize them together.

I will try to briefly explain what each of these areas of brand monitoring is:

I define Domain Name Monitoring as watching all domain name registrations, both gtld, cctlds and now the New TLD’s globally, for correlation with your Trademarks, Brands products and so on. I have always stated that the zone report are critical, due to the structure of gtld’s zone files in some cases, shut down the registration before it even propagates to a live website.

CCTLD is Country Code Top Level Domain and refers to foreign domains such as .ru for Russia or co.uk for United Kingdom, and GTLD is Generic Top Level Domains or .com, .net, .org. New tld’s are .xyz or .travel
– Website Content is usually where the bulk of the infringing content is found. Searching the hidden and visible text of the website, beyond the basic content, and uncover such hidden text like meta descriptions, image titles or programming text with infringing content. This is a perfect example of how one shouldn’t stop at just infringing domains; go after all infringement.

– Social Media Monitoring: social media monitoring services now can monitor over 600+ global social media networks, essentially for trending, customer satisfaction, product reviews and public relations. Enforcement is traditionally more difficult in social media outlets due to 1st amendment protections, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Marketing or Sales departments can make excellent use of the unprecedented amount of data gathered. Needless to say this have never been a favorite area of mine, but one can say a necessary evil. Given the nature of todays Social Media and “opinions” lead to almost 1000 to 1 ratio of false positives, defiantly not in favor of actionable or relevant date once can use. This usually leads to diminishing returns on one investment of such a service. That being said, having the ability to filter social media results into sentiments such as Positive, Neutral and/or Negative can help narrow the data to a more reasonable level.

– Pay-Per-Click or PPC and AdWord Advertising bidding is a much more stealth violation of your brand by using your legally held keywords to divert your traffic and increase your digital marketing costs. This is perhaps the most overlooked violation and is arguably the most egregious. One can address this by monitoring search advertising networks like Google, Yahoo and Bing, globally, and then fine sorting by Geography. One should catalog the results and to give the brand the ammunition to enforce against the violation.

*Keyword bidding is a situation where when you put your brand in a Google search bar, other advertisements appear, unrelated to your brand and unauthorized. Sponsored or shopping listings are among the most popular.

Similarly, for Grey Market & Counterfeit sales, one should strive to eliminate product dilution and price erosion by focusing on online Marketplaces. Grey Market sales seem to happen more on the Amazon or EBay’s of the world, where Counterfeit isn’t limited to but primarily on Asian Markets such as AliExpress, Aliabba and TaoBao. Having success enforcing under IP Rights and taking down the infringing listings. This is an endurance contest and over time you will see the ceasing of infringement from the bulk of sellers. This last area can open a whole can of worms as it can be the most impactful.

*Grey market is a situation where sales are made outside company compliance rules and approved channels or markets, with real products, counterfeit, or third shift items. Third shift is where a foreign factory, using its own materials and labor, produce actual products for market, but none of the revenue is realized by the actual company.

A brands goal in the end will be to move one’s organization from a reactive brand monitoring or protection posture to a more proactive, enforcing stance. With aggressive monitoring one can react much more quickly to accomplish this level of escalation online. I understand that given the nature of the internet, something has to happen to be able to identify and take action, but if one can be proactive in identifying rather quickly when something happens against a brand or trademark that same person can act quickly to enforce to mitigate any possible damages.

There are many brand monitoring companies currently on the market, one should consider their ability to deliver accurate and actionable data in a very timely manner. A true brand protection company should always strive not to deliver false positives or non-actionable data, as that creates more work for you and your organization in the end. I also always encourage asking any brand protection company the hard questions. What are those hard questions, lets dive into that in the next conversation?

How a brand protection company can help you should be to focus on the two components that lead up to the enforcement actions such as: sending Cease and Desist or Demand Letters, take down Grey Market and Counterfeit Sales within online marketplaces, provide for full UDRP Services (Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy) and research and investigation services to uncover anonymous third party marketplace sellers or Domain registrations under the Deficiency Check system employed by UDRP enforcement.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me – I look forward to answering questions and feedback regarding this topic and others soon to be posted. I will be covering all aspects of Brand Protection Basics – a FREE source of advice and discussions

Trademark Protection, a Key Part of Any Success.

Developing a product, starting a business, getting the word to potential customers, all of this is work, hard work. Your life becomes part of your business. But, success brings attention, and attention brings imitators, knockoffs, people who would dilute the value of your brand. Trademark Protection is business protection.

Tory Burch LLC, designers of women’s clothing and accessories, was recently awarded $38.9 million in damages. In a case that took over two years, a U.S. District court judged that the “Isis Cross” design used in thousands of units sold in a showroom and at trade shows was a copyright violation, and awarded the plaintiff damages. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and success brings imitators running. This is a great example as Tory Burch does a great job in protecting their brand.

In Pocatello ID, T-Shirt Mafia has filed suit claiming that a company was copying their trademarked “American Built” line of T-Shirts. Particularly irksome to the Idaho company, whose shirts are wholly American in manufacture and printing, is the fact that the knockoffs are often produced in Honduras, or Nicaragua. In many ways, it is a classic David / Goliath case. T-Shirt Mafia is a small, privately owned company, peddling its wares mostly on their own website, while their nemesis is a huge company with deep pockets and vendor relations around the country. This case is still pending. I will update as I am watching how it unfolds.

Creativity, sweat, and toil, these are the requirements for success. Hard work should pay dividends, and the reward belongs to the innovative. I want to make sure it stays that way. I, as always, would like to help your company keep the rewards earned from all of the invested time and work.

For more information about intellectual property, contact me today. If you need guidance or assistance in this area, please let me know. For more information protecting all aspects of your brand, do not hesitate to reach out to me anytime. I am here to answer your questions and help you. As always, I look forward to answering questions and feedback regarding this topic and others posted or soon to be posted. I will be covering all aspects of Brand Protection Basics – a FREE source of advice and discussions.

Global Online Brand Protection Basics: “Brandjacking”

The term “Brandjacking” was originally coined by MarkMonitor in 2007. Brandjacking is as common to the web as identity theft is for those outside the web. Just like everyday consumers, corporate brands are prone to attackers who could use their reputations for financial gains or damage their reputation for other malicious reasons. A prime example of brandjacking occurred in 2010, during BP’s Deep-water oil spill disaster. A parody BP account was created on Twitter that was used to attack BP’s bad public relation skills and ultimately shining a negative light on the corporate brand. This is exactly why corporate brands MUST take steps to protect themselves from these said attackers and create a global online brand protection strategy.

Last night I posted the general basics of Brand Protection, now we are going to start to focus on more practical examples and how we can employ the best practices I am always recommending a brand does. We will also be hitting on some of the industry terms like “brandjacking”

When creating an online brand protection strategy, one of the first thing you should consider is prevention. Acting early and getting ahead of any brandjacker is important to your company’s brand protection. You can do this by getting registered trademarks and domain names protected. Registry lock your valuable domain names during domain registration to prevent domain hijackings and other more serious offenses. Buy similar domains like .com or .net to prevent phishing, cybersquatting, and typosquatters. Also, engage your company into a brand protection strategy that is skilled at combating the abuse of brands. I always say, proactive vs. reactive. We will be talking about Domain names in the coming weeks to really define this process and its best practices.

Another consideration you can do to protect your brand from brandjacking is to monitor your social media. We know from my previous posts that Social Media isn’t a favorite of mine, but I recognize the need. Although social media is a great way to reach out to current customers and expand to new customers, it can also be the prime target for impersonators looking to mislead your fans and followers. Monitoring your social media sites can help your company detect the brand infringement at its first occurrence and help resolve the situation quickly.

Next thing that you can do is monitor re-sellers and affiliate channels for brand compliance. Pricing can affect the public’s perception of a brand. When re-sellers and affiliates violate your minimum advertised price (or MAP) to gain commissions, Diversion if you will, that can have a negative effect on the brand. These affiliate violators can drive new traffic and customers away from the true brand and end up costing your corporate brand thousands of dollars. Always monitor your affiliates and re-sellers and make sure that they are under compliance with your company’s agreements. Ask yourself this question “Do I have a strong re-seller compliance agreement?” That is critical for any enforcement actions. After all these years I have seen some strong and weak agreements in these regards. I go as far to aggressively recommend outlining a strong IP Rights portion of your agreement, don’t allow a re-seller use your trademarks without explicit permissions. To that point, be very reserved when entering into a reseller agreement with an online marketplace, they usually have a clause where you are giving up your own rights to your IP. We will also discuss this in the very near future.

Lastly, you should do (if at all possible) is to enforce, take the legal action against brand offenders swiftly. But if you decide to take this route, be sure to be smart in how you pursue them. Do your Due Diligence and research to make sure you cover all your basis. Don’t always focus on the single offenders, targeting one offender at a time is too time-consuming, expensive and ultimately can be ineffective. Instead, try to focus on the large network operators who are often times operated by a single person. You can do this by working with your brand protecting manager to use tools that identify and track down these infringers.

That being said, crime is as old as time and no matter how much you try to protect yourself and your company from criminals and pranksters, they will always find a way. The most you can do as a company is to invest in a brand protection strategist that can minimize the costs and negative effects these pranksters and criminals have on your brand.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me – I look forward to answering questions and feedback regarding this topic and others soon to be posted. I will be covering all aspects of Brand Protection Basics – a source of advice and discussions.

Let’s start a true “Brand Protection Basics” conversation this evening, something I have been eluding to the last few weeks.

To start the conversation, I always feel it’s my obligation to ask any a few simple questions before even starting any brand protection discussions;

  1. What are your overall goal(s) with your brand protection program?
  2. How will you determine a level of success in 12 to 24 months with your brand protection program?

As a brand, have you ever been asked those basic questions? We can ask many other questions when talking about a brand protection strategy but it is my experience that just those 2 questions can give one the information needed to start a detailed conversation. Setting the proper expectation around a brands goals and their level and time-frame of success is critical. I personally have seen many programs fail because of a simple lack of setting the proper expectations. “I want all unauthorized third-party sellers on a xyz marketplace removed in the next 6 months” Yeah, that isn’t realistic in any world we live in and for one to think it is might be a little off their rocker. However, what if 60% or even just 40% of those unauthorized third-party sellers are taken down in 12 months, is that a level of success? Usually, I hear “Absolutely, you would make me a hero” There you go, set the right expectations and don’t be a “Yes Person”.

So let’s try to answer the question, why is this happening to brands online? We can answer that with one word “Diversion” – Webster Definition – an instance of turning something aside from its natural course. In my experience, virtually every example of brand infringement online is some level of diversion. What type of diversion will depend on one of the 5 areas we will discuss. Basically, it all comes down to Money. From website traffic to online sales, it all comes down to someone diverting the consumer for the purpose of generating revenue. We can as well dive into this in a separate discussion, as some of the examples I have seen can really make someone think.

Before we dive into what I personally feel are the primary areas of Brand Protection. We need to think about the 3 core components that should be part of any brand protection program. I have been speaking to this for close to 15 years now and it is even truer today with where Omni-Channels are exploding. (We will dive much deeper into all these areas in later posts)

  1. Monitoring – How one identifies possible infringements online
  2. Research – the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the infringement – Due Diligence
  3. Enforcement – Taking action – Steps 1 & 2 are useless if one doesn’t take any action to solve infringements.* Omnichannel (also spelled omni–channel) is a multichannel approach to sales and information sharing that seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a bricks and mortar store.

I will go on record in saying “If you do not have these 3 components in your brand protection program, you will fail” Speaking from personal experience of course. Let’s think about this and break it down a little; Monitoring alone will not solve a problem, we cannot just see what is hurting our brand. Skipping research will not give you the information you need to properly enforce, so much is hidden online these days that we need to ensure we are enforcing properly. Lastly, if we exclude enforcement why are we bothering with monitoring and research, that would just be time and money spent in vain. I think one can see where I am coming from here.

Now let’s talk about the basic areas I have been eluding to;

I have always essentially broken down any type of global brand protection or intellectual property monitoring into 5 basic areas:

  1. Domain Name Monitoring 2. Website Content 3. Social Media 4. Pay-Per-Click (or PPC and AdWord Advertising bidding) 5. Grey Market/Counterfeit sales

Please keep in mind, I do understand one can think of many other areas or subcategories, however, I want to cover the basics this evening. I also understand you can break up Grey Market and Counterfeit sales, but for my discussions here, we can categorize them together.

I will try to briefly explain what each of these areas of brand monitoring is:

I define Domain Name Monitoring as watching all domain name registrations, both gtld, cctlds and now the New TLD’s globally, for correlation with your Trademarks, Brands products and so on. I have always stated that the zone report are critical, due to the structure of gtld’s zone files in some cases, shut down the registration before it even propagates to a live website.

  • CCTLD is Country Code Top Level Domain and refers to foreign domains such as .ru for Russia or co.uk for United Kingdom, and GTLD is Generic Top Level Domains or .com, .net, .org. New tld’s are .xyz or .travel

– Website Content is usually where the bulk of the infringing content is found. Searching the hidden and visible text of the website, beyond the basic content, and uncover such hidden text like meta descriptions, image titles or programming text with infringing content. This is a perfect example of how one shouldn’t stop at just infringing domains; go after all infringement.

– Social Media Monitoring: social media monitoring services now can monitor over 600+ global social media networks, essentially for trending, customer satisfaction, product reviews and public relations. Enforcement is traditionally more difficult in social media outlets due to 1st amendment protections, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Marketing or Sales departments can make excellent use of the unprecedented amount of data gathered. Needless to say this have never been a favorite area of mine, but one can say a necessary evil. Given the nature of today’s Social Media and “opinions” lead to almost 1000 to 1 ratio of false positives, defiantly not in favor of actionable or relevant date once can use. This usually leads to diminishing returns on one investment of such a service. That being said, having the ability to filter social media results into sentiments such as Positive, Neutral and/or Negative can help narrow the data to a more reasonable level.

– Pay-Per-Click or PPC and AdWord Advertising bidding is a much more stealth violation of your brand by using your legally held keywords to divert your traffic and increase your digital marketing costs. This is perhaps the most overlooked violation and is arguably the most egregious. One can address this by monitoring search advertising networks like Google, Yahoo and Bing, globally, and then fine sorting by Geography. One should catalog the results and to give the brand the ammunition to enforce against the violation.

*Keyword bidding is a situation where when you put your brand in a Google search bar, other advertisements appear, unrelated to your brand and unauthorized. Sponsored or shopping listings are among the most popular.

Similarly, for Grey Market & Counterfeit sales, one should strive to eliminate product dilution and price erosion by focusing on online Marketplaces. Grey Market sales seem to happen more on the Amazon or eBay’s of the world, where Counterfeit isn’t limited to but primarily on Asian Markets such as AliExpress, Aliabba and TaoBao. Having success enforcing under IP Rights and taking down the infringing listings. This is an endurance contest and over time you will see the ceasing of infringement from the bulk of sellers. This last area can open a whole can of worms as it can be the most impactful.

*Grey market is a situation where sales are made outside company compliance rules and approved channels or markets, with real products, counterfeit, or third shift items. Third shift is where a foreign factory, using its own materials and labor, produce actual products for market, but none of the revenue is realized by the actual company.

A brands goal in the end will be to move one’s organization from a reactive brand monitoring or protection posture to a more proactive, enforcing stance. With aggressive monitoring one can react much more quickly to accomplish this level of escalation online. I understand that given the nature of the internet, something has to happen to be able to identify and take action, but if one can be proactive in identifying rather quickly when something happens against a brand or trademark that same person can act quickly to enforce to mitigate any possible damages.

There are many brand monitoring companies currently on the market, one should consider their ability to deliver accurate and actionable data in a very timely manner. A true brand protection company should always strive not to deliver false positives or non-actionable data, as that creates more work for you and your organization in the end. I also always encourage asking any brand protection company the hard questions. What are those hard questions, let’s dive into that in the next conversation?

How a brand protection company can help you should be to focus on the two components that lead up to the enforcement actions such as: sending Cease and Desist or Demand Letters, take down Grey Market and Counterfeit Sales within online marketplaces, provide for full UDRP Services (Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy) and research and investigation services to uncover anonymous third-party marketplace sellers or Domain registrations under the Deficiency Check system employed by UDRP enforcement.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me – I look forward to answering questions and feedback regarding this topic and others soon to be posted. I will be covering all aspects of Brand Protection Basics – a FREE source of advice and discussions. I apologize for any lack of proper grammar.

Howell and Associates
At Howell & Associates, we utilize a Holistic System of Brand Protection and eCommerce. From creation to completion, we teach brands how to build brand protection programs that lead to significant amounts of revenue saved each year.

6700 N. Linder Road Suite 156-171, Meridian ID 83646-6066

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info@dghassociates.com

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(208) 340-5866

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