No, this isn’t about a 1956 sci-fi film that features aliens taking the form of their human captives. Although, it is about something that is just as “B-rated:” brand infringement (queue 1950’s style scream of horror).
Brand infringement refers to the use of a brands intellectual property including copyrighted material; trademarks and registered trademarks and patents in ways they were unintended to be used and without direct consent of the property owner. Each of these elements are central to the establishment and maintenance of a brands image and success whether online or off. Copyrights protect original textual works such as books, songs and screenplays. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, sound, smell, character, logo, color etc. A trademark may be registered in order to track who also is trying to use a trademark. Patents protect from others using a product or service idea already owned by a company.
Infringement of trademarks alone cost U.S. businesses between $200 and $250 billion in revenue annually. Factor in the losses from the rest of the intellectual property elements mentioned and the annual loss is unfathomable. Examples of each type of infringement follows.
Figure 1 shows a Dilbert comic strip. Actually there is no comic strip because using a Dilbert comic without written consent is “altering” and “redistributing” United Media’s copyrighted material unlawfully. Even placing copyrighted material in places the copyright holder doesn’t intend to have it is copyright infringement.
Avoiding digital copyright infringement can be done by following the suggestions found here.
Figure 2. Dodge Ram logo trademark infringement.
Figure 2 shows an example of trademark infringement of the Dodge Ram logo. A Florida high school used the logo and had been putting it on everything from t-shirts to their gym floor. Although the logo didn’t incorporate the outer “shield” component of the Chrysler owned logo, the automaker approached the school board and the logo has now been dropped completely. Just because the logo was modified a bit doesn’t mean it can be used without consent.
Avoiding trademark infringement can be done by following the suggestions found here.
Registered Trademark Infringement
Figure 3. "Brando" sofa.
Figure 3 shows Ashley Furniture’s “Brando” sofa; the cause of a registered trademark infringement lawsuit by actor Marlon Brando’s company Brando Enterprises. Ashley Furniture was previously summoned to court for their “Bogart” sofa as well. Just because the Brando or Bogart names weren’t used as a registered company name, doesn’t mean their use as a product name will be lawful.
Figure 4 shows the similarity between the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Apple iPad; the cause of a patent infringement lawsuit by Apple. Apple claims that Samsung infringed on their “utility” patents or how the device is used. The judge actually held up the 2 devices for the Samsung lawyers to examine simultaneously and when asked which is which the lawyers had a hard time doing so. Anytime a product or service does the same thing a patented product or service does, infringement occurs. Obviously whoever holds the patent wins and the copycat loses.
Avoiding patent infringement can be done by following the patent law found here.
It’s a great thing that the world wide web is still a place where freedom of speech reigns supreme but it’s important to note that intellectual property rights are still in force. A brand can still have a good amount of control over its identity and consumer perception. To extend this control it’s important to monitor the web for infringement. Yet, because of the vast amount of information posted online on a daily basis, doing so can be an insurmountable task requiring an entire department of workers scouring the web or the employment of a third party service. Either way, knowing the numerous ways that infringement can occur is a starting point to take control of your brand. If you don’t control it, the brand snatchers will; “absorbing the minds and memories” of your intended target audience just like the aliens did in 1956.