Tag Archives: Brands and Trademarks

Losing a trademark – Can Generic Names Be Protected By Trademark Laws?

Trade Mark InfringementTo trademark a name, it needs to be distinctive and not descrptive of the goods or services it represents. Interestingly, there are examples of brands that have been so successful that the names they use have become generic. Genericide is a term given to a name that has become so popular it becomes synonymous with a whole class of goods by the consuming public and commercial operators. Examples of trademarks which were once protected by law and have become generic are: Escalator, Aspirin, Thermos, Linoleum and Kerosene.

In recent news, Bloomberg Business wrote about Mylan and How Marketing Turned the EpiPen into a Billion Dollar Business and how successful marketing tactics turned a once mediocre product into one of the world’s top-selling branded drugs. According to an IPfinance blog post, Mylans epipen losing billion dollar business because of trademark choice and usage, the success of the EpiPen is largely attributable to its name which merges first three letters of the active ingredient, epinephrine, and the descriptive term for the product’s appearance.

The choice of name in business for products and services is instrumental in the success of its brand. Namely, its marketability is dependent on the name chosen and how well it is perceived by consumers and commercial operators. This is where brand equity and goodwill of a business is captured. However, and like the parable in Greek mythology of Icarus who ignored instructions to not fly too close to the sun, ignoring the implications of choice in names and controlling its widespread usage resulting from its name’s success, could mean that your trademark status may become redundant like the wax wings on Icarus’ back.

Trademark law will not protect generic names, and so it is important to bear this consideration in mind when embarking on the choice of a brand name, as well as how it will be used. For more tips about trademarks and choosing names, visit our blog post Naming your start-up: tips for lasting success.

Trademark Infringement

Trademark Infringement Dispute Over Search Results Won By Amazon

Trademark InfringementThe trademark infringement claim by watchmakers MultiTime Machine (MTM) has been dismissed following a ruling in favour of online retailer Amazon. In our previous blog Trademark Infringement Trial Of Amazon Over Search Results, we commented on the zero success rate of similar disputes and the ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court continues this pattern.

In short, the court held that Amazon does not violate the Lanham Act when, instead of notifying the consumer who is searching for “MTM Special Ops” that those products are not sold, it simply offers competing products sold under different brands.

As the National Law Review reports, the decision in this case weakens the “initial interest confusion” doctrine in the Ninth Circuit and will likely be perceived as a significant victory for online retailers.

MTM Special Ops remains visible within Amazon’s search box and nothing on the page indicates that Amazon does not actually sell the expensive military-style MTM products.

The case is MultiTime Machine, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc.

Read the full National Law Review Article here.

Protection Of Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property Infringement – How To Stop Alibaba From Selling Your (Fake) Products

Protection of Intellectual PropertyIntellectual property (IP) infringement is damaging for any business, and can be a particular problem for those that sell products online through platforms like Alibaba.

Chances are that if you have a business and your business has a website, you count as one of thousands of growing digital companies that export their IP to the world. This also exposes you to risks that you are probably unaware of. IP and copyright in particular, are complex areas of law. Alas, copyright infringement and counterfeits take a stronghold where others seek to exploit your commercial endeavours at your expense. One prime suspect is China, where e-commerce piracy is still very prevalent.

It only takes a moment to understand why it is important to police your brand against intellectual property infringement when you analyse the number of sales made on Chinese e-commerce platforms, such as Alibaba. According to an article on fortune.com, last year, Alibaba represented 86% of China’s online mobile shopping, with 367 million active users, which, on the average, each active buyer purchases 58 packages a year. It has over 10 million active sellers, which dwarves Amazon’s 2 million. In short, it is a marketplace like no other.

It is unfortunate and nonetheless very common, that brands suffer at the behest of counterfeit sellers in this megalith-type online marketplace where copying and counterfeit trading is rife.

How To Put An End To It

Despite the growing complaints against Alibaba, counterfeit and copyright infringement is still a big problem. Those who have filed a lawsuit against Alibaba Group Holding earlier in May include Kering SA who own Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent amongst others.

In order to stop Alibaba from selling your (fake) products, they need to be alerted that there is a seller who is selling unauthorized copies or fake versions of your product. To do this, you have to follow a procedure which deals with IP complaints on the Alibaba platform. This involves proving the ownership of your IP rights through a specially developed ‘AliProtect’ platform.

Through ‘AliProtect’, users are able to identify the infringer and demand that the infringement be brought to an end by removing the fake listing. It is not as easy as it sounds. Also, as a listing is removed, another appears. Further, proving ownership might be problematic. For example, in the UK you do not need to register copyright, whereas in the USA or China it is usual to do so. Consequently, playing a game of online “whack-a-mole” can be distracting and also disruptive to your business. If you ignore it, you risk putting your brand’s hard earned reputation, and takings, on the line.

Get Help With Intellectual Property Infringement

It’s difficult to make a complaint about intellectual property infringement when you are not sure how copyright or trademark ownership issues are decided on these platforms. It can be a time consuming exercise which will divert your attention and energy from what you ought to be doing.

Involving IP lawyers who understand counterfeits, and intellectual property infringement can save you time, energy and money in the long run by diverting sales back to authorized distributors and sellers.

Azrights has assisted clients with such problems. Identifying intellectual property, and advising on strategic, cost effective protection is an important component of such advice. Issuing take down notices to infringing parties, is essential, as is policing your brand in order to maintain its commercial allure. Get in touch to find out how we might be able to help you fight unauthorized sellers distributing fake copies of your products .

Brand and Trademark

Crocodile Wars – Lacoste’s Latest Victory On Brand And Trademark Over Polish Company’s Use Of Caiman Mark

Crocodile War - Logos

Brand and TrademarkBrand and trademark establishment is of central importance to any successful business. Maintaining a brand’s image is essential, and using trademark law to protect business reputation is an important component of that. One way of doing so is through opposition of trademark applications as demonstrated by a recent case between French retailer Lacoste and Polish clothing company ‘KAJMAN’.

The ruling of the EU General Court agreed with Lacoste’s view that there is a risk that the use of the caiman would cause confusion amongst consumers, resulting in a potential loss of prestige. The opposition against the Polish company’s application to register the sign for leather goods, clothing and footwear was therefore upheld.

Confusion can arise as a result of visual, phonetic and conceptual similarity. The Court agreed that from a conceptual perspective there was an average degree of similarity. However, visually, any such likeness was in fact very minor. Despite clear differences between the two logos, it was nevertheless necessary to appreciate the possibility of the public “recognizing and retaining a memory of the imperfect representation”. Considering that both ‘KAJMAN’ and Lacoste provide similar services the focus was on the risk that the two companies may in fact be perceived to be variants of one another.

Brand And Trademark Dispute

One of the arguments put forward by ‘KAJMAN’ was that allowing the Lacoste mark such extensive protection would result in an “unjustified monopoly” on all crocodile marks. However, the General Court was keen on recognizing the importance of being able to oppose a trademark registration specifically where there is concern over damage to a brand’s reputation.

It is interesting to note that this is not the first brand and trademark dispute in which the French company has attempted to seek exclusivity with regards to its use of the crocodile on the basis of potential confusion for its consumers. The longest lasting dispute involves Singapore based rival Crocodile International, with Lacoste attempting to assert trademark rights in China and, as of recently, in New Zealand.

In 2008, it further targeted a Gloucestershire dental practice on the basis that they registered the logo of a grinning reptile to be used on their welcome sign. Shortly after, clothing supplier Baker Street Clothing became another one of its targets after registering the mark ‘Alligator’. In both cases Lacoste was unsuccessful. The decisions were important in what seemed to be a move to limit the scope of the Lacoste trademark monopoly.

Judging from the recent victory over ‘KAJMAN’ however, it is clear that the French company remains undeterred and it seems that the Courts have begun to take on a more strict approach in what they deem to be potential trademark infringements.

For more details on the recent Lacoste victory see the article here.

Alibaba Counterfeit Goods

Alibaba Counterfeit Goods Lead To Trademark Infringement Disputes

Alibaba Counterfeit GoodsA recent dispute involving Alibaba counterfeit goods has risen between Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and a US apparel trade group over counterfeit products. Despite the attempts of the ecommerce giant Alibaba to fight selling of counterfeit goods on both Alibaba and Aliexpress, a US company is calling to put Alibaba’s Taobao site back on its list of “Notorious Markets” for counterfeit goods.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, Alibaba has had for a long time to deal with complaints from brand owners about counterfeit products ranging from luxury brands to sportswear sold on its Taobao platform. From our experience, many small businesses face such problems and find them very difficult to handle unless there is professional help on their side.

Alibaba And Its Counterfeit Approach

Generally, Alibaba has been criticized for being too soft towards counterfeit sellers. As a result, Alibaba has launched a new English version of its counterfeit reporting system called “TaoProtect”. Although AliBaba has another platform called “AliProtect” which covers its other websites, TaoProtect has been developed exclusively for dealing with a range of Intellectual Property (IP) complaints such as copyright, patent and trademark infringement and unfair use of those IP rights. This reveals the scale of the problem as well as the serious steps conglomerates such as Alibaba take to ensure IP rights are effectively protected.

Complaint To Alibaba – Is It Effective?

With the launch of the English version of TaoProtect, UK and other Western European companies would be able to access easily the counterfeit reporting system. Alibaba’s US-based senior IP protection manager commented that “because the success and integrity of our marketplaces depend on consumer trust, we have comprehensive policies and practices in place to fight IP infringement.”

The improvement in their system comes partly as a result of the lawsuit filed against Alibaba by companies like Gucci and Yves St. Laurent. The suit was filed by Kering (the fashion house which owns these brands) last May. A US District Judge in Manhattan granted some of them an immediate order barring sales of goods on Alibaba.

Lexology commented that, generally, brand owners that have secured trademark registrations in China, the US and wherever else your business operates is the safest route to tackle online infringement.

However, users of the Alibaba platforms have complained about “the slow, sluggish, and confusing systems Taobao uses to process takedown requests” for offending listings.

Do You Have The Same Problem?

Many small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) face counterfeit, trademark and copyright infringement issues. Therefore, if you need specific help, know that we have the experience of dealing with a variety of platforms in relation to trademark infringement and similar issues.

Brand Planning

Brand Planning – A Lesson Learned From A Golden Bear

Brand PlanningFor companies, brand planning is an important aspect in brand execution. As far as we know, the best brands are also the best planned brands including the legal side. In a recent turn of events Lindt, the Swiss chocolatier, has emerged victorious in a long-standing battle with Haribo, the German confectionary company that has been attempting to stop Lindt from selling gold chocolate bears since 2012.  According to an article published in the Guardian, Haribo had won the first round of the battle, when a German court banned future sales of the Lindt chocolate bears in December 2012. That ruling, however, has since been overturned on appeal, noting that there was no likelihood of confusion between the two products.

Interestingly, Lindt had lost its fight against German chocolatiers, Confiserie Riegelein, which was producing similar chocolate bunnies. One might say what-goes-around-comes-around when it comes to trademarks and confectionary sweet companies, however, Haribo is likely to be bitter about this ruling.

The point in case was that, according to Haribo, the chocolate bear wrapped in gold foil accompanied with a red ribbon was an appropriation of Haribo’s Goldbären brand and to that effect, the chocolate bear was consolidating a market position on the back of investment and brand awareness built by Haribo. Lindt, on the other hand, argued that the golden bear had been a variation of the golden eastern bunny chocolate and not an illegal imitation of the golden gummy bear or its corresponding logo.

Brands And Competition

Not long ago we wrote about Nestlé being blocked by rival competitor Cadbury’s in our post on: 3D Trademarks & Registered Designs – KitKat Loses Legal Fight for Four-Finger Chocolate bar.

What is easy to take from this is that where industries are particularly competitive, such as in confectionary food industry, it is a brand’s distinctiveness and the awareness surrounding that brand which allows it to survive on a global level. This is where brand planning comes in handy to assure that you know where your brand is heading, legally.

As a lawyer said “The cost of these cases is significant, but it’s about being seen to take action and ringfencing your brand and intellectual property rights as much as you can.”

This is important because trademarks are increasingly relevant in today’s digital economy, as the advent of the internet and development of internet based technologies has opened trade channels on a truly global level not seen before. Trademarks offer the most powerful forms of intellectual property (IP) protection for any brand logo or name and therefore, it is imperative that a certain amount of consideration is paid to trademarks as part of any business strategy.

Below are some trademark considerations from International Trade Mark Association (INTA) for you to bear in mind.

The Portfolio

Every business will have a trademark portfolio. This will comprise of everything from registered trademarks, marks or symbols which are in use but not yet registered, acquired trademarks through licenses, co-branding agreements with other companies and also domain names which include the trade name or trademark within it. Creating a family of trademarks and trade names will help create a stronger brand but can also strengthen the protection afforded that brand.

Brand Planning And Management

Securing rights as early as possible is always highly recommended. On that note, it is important to budget accordingly because registering a trademark in every country around the world can be both expensive and also impractical for a small-to-medium enterprises (SME) or early stage businesses. The strategy is to carefully consider which jurisdictions from a sales and marketing prospective are key to your business, conduct the necessary availability searches and register a trademark to perfect your brand in that territory as soon as it is practically possible.

An important note in managing your trademarks is also ensuring that they are used, or you risk them being revoked.


Keeping on top of a trademark portfolio does not mean just registering them. To increase and maximize the value in a trademark, a certain amount of maintenance is involved. This includes actively monitoring the use of your mark and actively policing your trademark with cease and desist and take down notices when you see that it is being used without authorization. A good way to police you trademark is to monitor competitor activities and trademark applications which are published in trademark journals. To do this, you may want to invest in a brand watch service which can help protect your trademarks in the most efficient way possible by bringing to attention any issues that arise as they come.

Given the online nature of most business, a good way to enforce your rights in your domain names is to make sure that you have a registered trademark and that name is contained in your domain name.

Azrights has helped many SMEs and ambitious entrepreneurs to help secure their rights, commercialize their brands and enforce their IP rights. Visit our trademark registration, trademark search, trademark disputes and brand protection services pages to see how we may help to implement an efficient and cost effective strategy for you. Alternatively, contact us and speak with one of our specialist team members to see how we can help in your brand planning.

Intellectual Property Costs

Intellectual Property Costs Deter Innovation

Intellectual Property CostsIntellectual property (IP) costs should be taken into account in the business plan. Few entrepreneurs know exactly which rights relate to their business and even fewer know how much it will cost to protect them. The cost of IP protection involves paying official fees, and legal fees.

Litigation is not a cost that all businesses need to spend money on, and therefore, need only be planned if there is an actual dispute involving the business. Indeed, protecting a company’s IP will often reduce the likelihood of litigation.

Costs involved in protecting your ideas

When compared to the costs involved in litigating to protect your ideas from being copied, the cost of protecting your rights through registration or contracts are insignificant.  As we wrote in our previous blog “SMEs And IP – FSB Reports They Struggle To Protect Their Intellectual Property”, that is the case especially with small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) which do not have the budget to protect their IP rights. They suffer losses as a consequence.

Think about the following interesting comparison made by the Financial Times. To fund the International Space Station over ten years’ costs about €100 billion. The patent war in the smartphone industry, on the other hand costs $20 billion over two years. That is a lot to spend even for giants like Apple, Samsung or Motorola who all battle to protect their IP. Such costs are unbearable for start-ups and SMEs. As the Financial Times interestingly states, “the costs of litigation are astronomical and the outcome, too uncertain”.

The Vicious Circle Of Intellectual Property Costs

This is why companies end up in a vicious circle. If a company cannot afford to protect its IP rights, it suffers losses as a result. If it invests in IP protection, and cannot afford to litigate its rights should that be necessary, it cannot protect what it owns.

The research of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) surveyed more than 1,000 of FSB’s 200,000 members. Only 32% had actually spent money to secure their IP rights within the last five years, 22% of whom invested more than £5,000. Furthermore, around 25% of the businesses surveyed responded that they have suffered some form of violation or misuse of their IP and a third of them took no action over the theft because of lack of resources and information as to the correct routes and costs involved.

Governmental Actions Needed

The reality, therefore, is that IP law must adapt to change because, as the Hargreaves Report warned, innovations are stifled by the current framework.

The onus is on the Government to better promote the IP services available and install effective instruments that will enable adequate protection. The Hargreaves Review suggested that “there are outstanding uses that need to be resolved”. Therefore, there is a need for a collective action to resolve this problem. However, given that the UK Government is planning to double the fee for issuing civil lawsuit, it will be another deterrent to small businesses to protect their intellectual property.

Nevertheless, businesses should make sure their IP rights are protected adequately and be on the safe side if they need to litigate them. Litigation is more unlikely if intellectual property is effectively protected. Therefore, IP protection should be top priority for any ambitious business.

3D Tradermarks

3D Trademarks & Registered Designs – KitKat Loses Legal Fight For Four-Finger Chocolate Bar

3D Trademark3D trademarks are notoriously difficult to register, as Nestlé found out last week just short of a few broken fingers. Earlier this summer we wrote about the Advocat-General’s (AG) opinion of the European court in our blog post 3D trademarks – No breaks for KitKat. It was reported that the AG’s opinion is normally followed by European judges and, unfortunately for Nestlé, the European court of justice has, according to the AG’s opinion, ruled that the four-finger chocolate bar lacks acquired distinctiveness for trademark registration.

Why Have 3D Trademark?

Trademarks are powerful intellectual property (IP) assets. They create scarcity where none exist, help drive away competition by protecting your trademark from same and similar marks and build brand associations which can be more valuable than the goods and services themselves.

3D trademarks can therefore be incredibly useful tools in your IP portfolio. This is because shapes can be more symbolic and also more powerful than words or logos. However, registering a 3D trademark has always been a tricky effort, especially for Nestlé whose KitKat shape was said not to comply with EU law. So why go to all that effort? For Nestlé, it may have simply been a question of one-upmanship in a tit for tat battle with Cadbury’s, one of its main competitors. Following a street survey which revealed that 90% of consumers recognized the chocolate bar (without its packaging) as a ‘KitKat’, you might understand why Nestlé went for the break.

Alternative Forms For Shape Protection?

One thing that should not be forgotten is that shapes can also be protected as a registered design which, in the UK, can last up to a maximum of 25 years. Protecting a shape as a registered design can therefore be seen as a viable alternative to a difficult to obtain 3D trademark. The two forms of protection are not mutually exclusive and there is nothing to prevent a trademark from also being a registered design. And, to this extent, the two IP regimes can offer complimentary forms of protection.

Why Apply For A Registered Design?

The main reason why you may decide to apply for design protection is that it is easier to obtain a registered design for a shape than it is obtaining a trademark. A trademark needs to be inherently distinctive, or have acquired distinctiveness through use, and must be capable of distinguishing the goods and services from one undertaking to those of another. A registered design on the other hand does not have such onerous requirements of distinctiveness, only that they are new (different from similar products on the market) and do not serve a technical function.

To give a modern example, take the iPod. It was reported in 2008 that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) had granted Apple the 3D trademark for the infamous iPod music play. The Wall Street Journal noted that Apple’s campaign involved a substantial marketing campaign, product development and legal strategy to ensure that the product design was unique. The multi-layering of IP strategies helped Apple to dominate the market, reportedly amounting onto 70% of the market share in 2005. Such is the efficacy leveraging one IP asset against another.

Are you thinking about protecting the shape of one of your products? If you have a design which you think is particularly unique, Azrights can help you determine what the best strategy is for your product or design. Contact us for more information or alternatively visit our trademark registration and registered design pages.

What's in a Name?

Trademark Infringement Ruled Following Costco’s Selling Of Counterfeit Tiffany Rings

Trademark Infringement: What's in a Name?Trademark Infringement by Costco – the largest US warehouse club chain, was ruled by a Manhattan federal judge recently. Costco has allegedly sold counterfeit diamond engagement rings using the luxury retailer Tiffany’s name on the ring’s case signs.

Recently, we wrote about another high profile trademark infringement disputes E-Commerce Giants Sued For Online Selling Of Counterfeit Goods. Costco was selling counterfeit goods as well, but just not online.

Trademark Infringement Case

The famous dispute ironically dates back to the Valentine’s Day of 2013 when Tiffany & Co filed a lawsuit against Costco, saying the chain’s customers have bought hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of engagement rings in the erroneous belief that they were authentic Tiffany products.

The recent ruling had Costco send a letter to customers who bought the rings offering a full refund if they were unsatisfied. It would be interesting to know how they were able to trace all their client’s personal details and communicate this effectively.

Likelihood Of Confusion

Costco tried to argue that Tiffany’s trademark was invalid because, as reported by the American Genius, it prevented anyone from describing the ring setting. Nevertheless, after roughly 30 months, the judge found that Costco’s actions violated Tiffany’s brand by wilfully infringing its trademarks. The federal court judge, Laure Taylor Swain explained that “Despite Costco’s arguments to the contrary, the court finds that, based on the record evidence, no rational finder of fact could conclude that Costco acted in good faith in adopting the Tiffany mark”.

Following this judgment, Tiffany can now take Costco before a jury to seek damages. These might include a recovery of the profits made following the sale of all engagement rings as well as punitive damages (i.e. deterring Costco from engaging in similar conduct again).

What’s In A Name?

Following Robert M. O’Connell’s interesting analysis, there are a few tips that everyone should bear in mind when it comes to choosing names for businesses and products.

1) Distinctive Names

Tiffany & Co was founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1837 and since then it has become the world’s best known jeweller. The general rule under US trademark law is that one cannot protect a surname as a trademark as this would be unfair to others and restrain them from using that name simply because their surnames coincide. However, a name acquires distinctiveness through long-term exclusive use and establishes itself as a brand. It is then easy for consumers to recognize this name and relate it to the goods or services in question. The name, which previously was simply a surname, is now equivalent to a particular brand and gains a secondary meaning as a mark which could be protected. This is also how Tiffany has got so many marks protected and why Costco was not able to claim that monopoly over a surname should be invalidated.

2) The Power Of A Name

How this lawsuit came to be is through a person shopping at one of Costco’s stores in California who complained to Tiffany that she was disappointed to see a warehouse club chain offering Tiffany diamond engagement rings for sale and promoting the offer with signs. In the information era, where nothing can be left hidden, one should be very careful how one labels products or promotes a business. Otherwise, the result could be paying a lot of damages and hefty legal fees. Costco tried to argue that the word Tiffany has already become the generic word for the ring setting in question and this is the meaning they used to promote and sell their product. Tiffany & Co., on the other hand, proved its success by introducing a survey where 9 out of 10 respondents submitted they recognize Tiffany not merely as a generic word, but as a brand. It is astonishing how powerful a name could be and from one moment onwards, it could start “working for you”.

The Tiffany and Costco case continues and another hearing is set for 30 October. The judge directed both sides to “make good faith efforts to settle the outstanding issues”. We will be following the development to find out how much Costco will have to pay for using this “generic word”.

The case is Tiffany & Co v Costco Wholesale Corp., case number 1:13-cv-01041, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Community Registered Designs and Patents

Design Registration – YSL Wins Over H&M

Community Registered Designs and Patents Design registraion is an important way in which to protect the unique shapes or surface designs that a company’s designers produce. Generally, there is no requirement to prove novelty in order to register a design. It is only when you want to rely on your design registration that it is relevant to prove novelty.So, the recent decision where Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) claimed victory over H&M because it indicates that it is not necessary for designers to come up with something radically different to what is on the market to qualify for design protection.

Overall Individual Character Wins

Last week the luxury fashion house YSL emerged victorious from a nine-year legal battle with the high-street retailer H&M over the validity of its two EU registered designs for its handbags.

H&M challenged the two registered designs, pointing to previous designs as evidence that the YSL designs lacked the required “individual character” to qualify for valid design protection. However, on the 10 September, the European General Court confirmed the previous decisions made by the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) that YSL’s handbag designs had key differences from what H&M had cited as evidence. In passing the judgment the court held: “it must be held that the differences between the designs at issue are significant and that similarities between them are insignificant in the overall impression which they produce”. For a full summary of the judgment, see the official press release by the General Court of the European Union here.

YSL’s design:

YSL’s design

H&M’s evidence of prior design: