Baaaah-lieve it! Lars Johnson of the Al Johnson Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, Wisconsin trademarked the grazing goats on their roof as a marketing tool to attract business 14 years ago. In fact visitors come from hundreds of miles away to dine and hang out with these hairy celebs of sorts. And he is not sheepish about having his law fire off a cease and desist letter no matter where you run your restaurant in the US. Got goats and grub and the two are helping you win customers? The goats got to go. Read the full story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal this week.
The argument around his Mr. Johnson’s rights stem from, if one registers a concept or activity with the US trademark department and some other business is imitating that concept in the same business category and customers are confused, case closed or prepare to spend a bunch arguing about it.
While this situation seems pretty straight forward, today large companies, with lots of lawyers looking for something to do, will send cease and desist letters to small startups when there is no clear confusion, however, if the little guy wants fight for his turf, he will spend a lot to prove there is no infringement, followed by confusion. Which can really suck. I’ve been there.
Moral to this branding story
- Do your home work on names, logos, brandable and protectable concepts (can be a sound, smell, tune, or grazing goats).
- Weigh out your risks, before you dive in.
- Do the math, a trademark fight can costs boat load of cash and be a time waster too.
- If you’ve got a name, logo or marketing element that will distinguish you and serve as a tool to market, trademark it!
Yes, you can register a trademark yourself, but often it’s very time consuming conducting the research and can get complex managing categories and monitoring offenders etc., Attorneys are can bring unique value, but can easily run up a hefty bill. If your situation is complicated, you should explore working with legal counsel. Need help hiring a lawyer? However, sometimes a non lawyer trademark consultant is sufficient and can cost less. I’ve worked with Carol Desmond with Trade Marks to Go on many projects and was very happy with her work.
Also check out: The 5th element to a successful marketing mix.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services produced or provided by one business or organizational enterprise from those of other enterprises. Any distinctive words, letters, numerals, drawings, pictures, shapes, colors logotypes, labels or combinations used to distinguish goods or services may be considered a trademark. In some countries, advertising slogans are also considered trademarks and may be registered as such at national trademark offices. An increasing number of countries also allow for the registration of less traditional forms of trademarks such as single colors, three-dimensional designs [shapes of products or packaging], audible signs [sounds] or of factory signs [smells]. However, may countries have set limits on what can be registered as a trademark, generally only allowing for signs that are visually perceptible or can be represented graphically.
1. Trademarks: Microsoft; Froot Loops; Ford
2. Service marks: Blockbuster; Mc Donalds; Kinkos
3. Logotypes: CBS eye ina circle; Apple Computer’s Apple; NIKE Swoosh
4. Color Marks: KODAK Yellow Packaging; Howard Johnson Orange Roof; Owens-Corning Pink Fiberglass Insulation
5. Trade Dress: COCA COLA Bottle Shape; Banana Republic Decorating Motif; Pillsbury Doughboy
6. Slogans: Microsoft’s “Where do you want to go today?”, IBM’S “Solutions for a small planet”, Clairol’s “Hair color so natural, only her hairdresser knows for sure”.
7. Sounds: MGM’S Lion Roar; Harley Davidson’s Motorcycle Exhaust Sound; NBC’S Chimes.
8. Collective Marks: ILGWU (International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union; Girls Scouts Of America; AAA (American Automobile Association).
9. Certification Marks: Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval; Harris Tweeds; Roquefort Cheese.
What are trademarks for?