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What’s the Purpose of a Trademark? How is it Used?

What's the Purpose of a Trademark

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The following information is provided to be just general information, and therefore, should not be taken as specific legal advice that pertains to any particular situation.  The reader should not base any decisions on the information here to act or refrain from acting regarding a legal problem.  If you believe you have a legal problem please seek legal advice from a licensed attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.
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So it’s amazing how time flies when you have a lot of work to do.  I have been very grateful for these past couple of months for the clients that have come through my door (or via electronic means), but more work means less time for blogging and sharing information to all you interested soon-to-be or current business owners.

Anyway, as some people know I was fortunate last month to attend the American Bar Association’s Annual Conference in San Francisco.  I attended many Intellectual Property, Business Law, and a couple of Employment Law seminars.  When I can, I will update my blog or provide one-sheet resources on the information I obtained from these seminars to share with all of you.

So today’s post is about the use of trade and service marks.  A prior Draw the Law post covered the difference between a trade name and trademark and I have a one-sheet on What is Trademark?.

Purpose of Marks

Before we get to the using of a trademarks, let’s first consider that the purpose of a trademark.  The point of a trademark is to distinguish one company’s set of goods and/or services from another company’s.  Basically, it is meant to avoid confusion to consumers, so they can readily ascertain from the mark which company the goods and/or services are originating from.

So How are Marks Used in Commerce?

A mark can be used on goods (products), which would make it technically a “trademark”.  Specifically, this would mean the mark is applied, engraved, embroidered directly on the goods, POS displays, the use of labels or tags affixed to the good, or shipping labels when sending the goods through commerce.  It is not just merely advertising, but must have a Point of Sale component.

In the case of a mark used in connection with services, clearly there is no tangible part to a service.  Therefore, service marks are found on websites, brochures, advertising (but not printer’s proofs), on or at locations associated with the services, such as vehicles used with the service, or on the uniforms of employees while they perform the service.

How do I Properly Use my Trademark?

You can use ℠ for service marks, ™ for trademarks, and registered trademark symbol (the ‘R’ that has a circle around it) ONLY for registered marks (it is a violation of the law to use the registered symbol when your mark is NOT registered).  Further, the mark should be distinguished from regular text, through the use of quotation marks, larger print, all capital letters, or through colorization of the wording.  Also your grammar lessons are important for trademark usage.  A noun should ALWAYS follow a mark.  The mark should NEVER be used as a verb.  For example, it is a XEROX copier and NOT xeroxing. Or perfect for the web as another example, it is NOT you googled the answer, but it is rather you ran a GOOGLE search.  Finally, the correct spelling should be used and moreover, the mark should not be pluralized.

The point of all this proper usage is to avoid a loss in rights in the mark.  Many trademarks of famous brands have become generic, and generic terms are not entitled to trademark protection.  Consider that the word “escalator” used to be a registered trademark, but the Otis Elevator Company has lost that mark due to it becoming generic.  Therefore, you should be actively policing your trademark usage and avoid losing rights that you worked so hard to create with your brand.

That’s it for this time.  I hope to be back soon with more information to share.

Mahalo for stopping by!

-RKH

 

 

 

IP Licensing Lesson: Don’t Copy and Paste, Ask and Talk

So people who know me, know that I love video games. So I was excited when I saw Disney’s movie trailer for Wreck-it Ralph, an animated story about a villain who gets tired of being a villain.  In the trailer, one of the signature scenes is the main character attends an AA-style meeting with fellow video games. The amazing thing about this is the sheer amount of characters from different video game companies that appear in this film.
I know many of you reading this may be like, why is that a big deal? It is a big deal because generally the process to secure licensing rights to use copyrighted material or a trademark is expensive and can be extremely time-consuming. However, this article by IGN.com, a site that focuses on mostly video games and other entertainment, interviewed the creators of Wreck-it Ralph. Be aware that characters in video games, cartoons, comic books, etc . . . sometimes have been both registered trademarked and copyrighted, as a strategy to create multiple layers of intellectual property (IP) protection.

I think there is a valuable lesson for business owners who do advertising, graphic design and content creation, and social media marketing in this quote:

But as the film started taking shape, rights issues eventually became a factor. “We went out and met with people in person, which I think is the key,” said Spencer. “When people came in for E3, we would actually meet with all of the companies and talk about the movie. From the very beginning we said, ‘We want to be authentic to your character. What we would like to do is put in an approval process where you look at our animation and you say that we’re being true to the character.'” As the creators noted, most companies were all for it.

Now, later in the article the creators do note there were some arduous processes, like double-checking with Nintendo if it’s characters were being represented accurately, but the lesson is clear ASK and TALK to the IP owner about what you want to do. This is the art of the sale and business deal, and I think authenticity goes a long way.

I have noticed recently many people are flocking to Slideshare to put up their presentations. I wonder, as I look through these well put together presentations, whether or not the people got the IP owner’s permission to use their images, logos, etc . . . . Did you talk to them? I realize it is easier to COPY and PASTE, but I will let you in on a little secret it is also easy to COPY and PASTE a CEASE and DESIST letter with a demand for damages.

Draw the Law: Nondisclosure Agreements

Pardon the Delay and IP Law Talk this Week

Hey everyone, I am sorry that this Draw the Law was delayed by a week.  Like many things in the legal world situations develop that require an attorney’s attention and in my mind clients do come first, as much as I love doodling stick figures. Before I get into the post that I was supposed to do last week, please be reminded that I will be having an IP Law Talk tomorrow night, Wednesday, May 23rd.  I will be discussing intellectual property matters (copyright, trademark, and trade secrets) for small business and startup owners seeking to protect their content and brand in this increasingly connected hypercompetitive world.  So here is the information for that event:

  • When: Tomorrow, May 23rd  (Wednesday)
  • Where: The Greenhouse Innovation Hub (685 Auahi Street)
  • Time: 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
  • Price: $20.00 will get you in for the 45-min talk, discussion period, and the presentation and materials

Please consider coming to check it out if you are a marketer, small business owner, or someone who uses the web frequently to showcase your brand and identity. Click here for further info and reserve your spot.

Today’s Draw the Law: Nondisclosure Agreements

This subject is tied into tomorrow’s talk due to the fact it deals with NDAs and their usage to protect trade secrets.

What is a Nondisclosure Agreement?

Nondisclosure Agreements (NDAs) is a contract where the parties agree to protect a trade secret or confidential information.  Often the “Discloser” will give valuable information to the “Recipient” in order to achieve some business objective. They are frequently used in startups who have come up with a novel business method or possibly a patentable invention, by businesses that rely on consultants and independent contractors who see sensitive information, and for executives that sign have access to confidential business information.

What is a Trade Secret?

I just want to touch a little bit on what constitutes a trade secret.  It is information that has economic value by the virtue of it not being generally known AND is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy.

Without those four things, it is NOT a trade secret.  One of the most famous trade secrets is Coca-Cola’s recipe, which has generated a great amount of fascinating articles and discussion.  Here is a couple for you to read at your leisure:

When is a Mutual NDA Appropriate?

More often than not, there is generally one side disclosing information and the other’s expertise or ability to do something with that information is being sought.  So in that case the flow of information is one-sided.  However, in many joint ventures, one company has a piece of useful technology and the other side also has a useful piece of technology.  If the companies share these technologies (they will form a super-awesome robot! Sorry, little geek humor there) both stand to gain from the partnership.  In this case, a mutual NDA would be appropriate because they are sharing secrets together in their collaboration.

For my friends who are marketers, a mutual is also useful, let’s say you have a marketing method that is golden and your client company wants to give you sensitive information or access to their database that dovetails with your method to launch a great marketing campaign.  In this instance, both sides would use a mutual NDA.

What Can I do if the Recipient Violates my NDA?

Well, it depends. First you will probably want to review the contract. Often times, contract attorneys will put some form of damages.  In addition, typically the Discloser will probably ask a court to make the violator stop disclosing and possibly file a suit against the third-party who the Recipient tipped off to have them stop making use of the trade secret, and also possibly give up monies they made off of violating the trade secret.

Final Word: Drafting a NDA

Due to the sensitivity of trade secrets, you want to have an attorney work with you extensively to identify some aspects you want protected and to go over certain provisions. Consider the following:

  1. Define the confidential information that you are protecting (including what is not confidential information);
  2. Describe the duties and obligations of the Recipient; and
  3. Miscellaneous provisions, such as time, jurisdiction, and dispute resolution.

You businesspeople know that some of the information in your head can make you money, and sometimes copyright, trademark, and patent protection will only go so far.  Those are times that you may ask yourself who knows about your information, what can they do with it, and if the information is widespread do you lose your competitive edge? At that point consider a NDA.

See you next week!


*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.  Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Social Media and the Law, as well as other Fun Legal Info

Well, it’s amazing isn’t it? The month of January of 2012 is almost done and so much has already happened. Here are some interesting social media and the law news that I found, as well as some other fun pieces to carry you over for the day until tomorrow’s Draw the Law.

Google and Privacy Concerns (this well continue to be an issue for 2012 for all Social Media)

Have you noticed that Goolge is making some major pushes lately?  Well come March 1 the search engine plans on doing a turnabout and begin combining information it collects about the user from various sites/services into a single profile. Definitely a privacy issue brewing, especially when the privacy officer has to issue statements. Click: Google to merge user data across its services – CNN.com You can also read the lengthy notification, which you keep bypassing when you log onto your Google+ page.

GPS = 4th Amendment “Search” as Determined by SCOTUS

For all of you interested in criminal law, like Marcus Landsberg criminal lawyer extraordinaire, notice that the Supreme Court- GPS Tracking Is Illegal Without Warrant. Basically, SCOTUS feels that the use of a GPS Tracking device is a “search” for the purposes of the 4th Amendment, thus cops must get a warrant.

Mutant Toys or Mutant Dolls? Yes, it Matters

This was a great listen if you love comic books and would like to theorize that certain superheroes are not human. Basically, the point of this podcast: Mutant Rights – Radiolab, was showing the importance of the word “doll” versus “toy” – you may not think it means much, but if you are an IP attorney and have an import business getting a cheaper rate for your action figures is a must and it all boils down to if a mutant is a human or not.

Department of Homeland Security Following Facebook Posts

Earlier this month DHS released a document stating it is monitoring social media and news sites. They cited federal law that they have to “provide situational awareness” to federal, state, local and tribal governments. You can read more about this here: DHS watching social media, news sites | Greeley Gazette.

NLRB Finds Certain Arbitration Clauses Violate Labor Laws

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has determined that mandatory arbitration agreements that prevent employees from joining together to pursue employment-related legal claims in any forum, whether in arbitration or in court violate federal labor laws. Check that announcement here: Board finds that certain mandatory arbitration agreements violate federal labor law.

Local Startup and Social Media Infromation

For you startup lovers, don’t forget tomorrow night will be Startup Hawaii kickoff. For more information, check it out here: Startup America Comes to Hawaii | Aloha StartUps. It will be at Bar 35 downtown. Definitely come on down if you started or are going to start a business!

Also check back at Alohastartups.com as I will be writing some future posts talking about Hawaii’s new legal non-profit aimed at helping entrepreneurs and startups, Business Law Corp. (businesslawcorps.org). I hope to get some interviews with the founders soon!

Finally, clear sometime in February as I will be getting down with Social Media and the Law as I will be trying to schedule a talk at The Greenhouse Innovation Hub and will be a panelists at Social Media Club Hawaii’s Creating a social media policy for business – what, how and when? event at Amuse Wine Bar on Feb. 21st. Hope to see you there!

And the next topic at The Box Jelly is . . .

Thank you for everyone who participated in voting for the subject matter of the next talk. After Social Media and the Law it seems everyone is still craving to hear about Intellectual Property.
So the next talk at Hawaii’s first coworking space will be “Protecting Your Brand: An Overview of Intellectual Property Law.” Here is the rest of the important information:

  • Location: The Box Jelly, located at Fishcake Furniture Store – 307 Kamani St.
  • Date: Tuesday, October 18th,  2011
  • Time: starts at 6:30 p.m., talk begins 7:00 p.m. and ends at 8:00 p.m., Q&A to follow
  • Description: The price of this talk will be $10 for members of The Box Jelly and $15 for non-members. A brief overview of intellectual property laws from the perspective of small business. Basics of trade/servicemark, tradename, trade secrets, copyright and patent laws will be discussed and the steps a business can take when navigating IP situations. Materials included.

In addition, I will be doing the Social Media and the Law talk, again on the following week on Monday, October 24, 2011 for all of those you that expressed an interest, but could not make it. The talk will follow the same format as the one just mentioned. Same starting/ending time, location, and price.

Also lookout next week on the Aloha Startups website, as I will be contributing a special post about the IP topic.

Crafting a Social Media Policy: The Outside World


Last post was about creating a Social Media Policy with respect to the employer-employee relationship.  The idea is to minimize potential suits between the employee and employer.  Issues like prohibiting certain behaviors, such as posting negative comments or former employees taking company information should be the concern with an internal policy.

However, many businesses are coming to realize the potential power of blogs, Twitter, and Facebook and readily use social media as a marketing and advertising tool.  And why not?  It is free, relatively easy to set-up, and allows you a good amount of control over content.  However, just like internal disputes you can quickly wind up with external disputes with other companies, commenters, and the like over issues of intellectual property infringement and defamation.

Advertising Statements: Puffing Yourself Up and Tearing Down the Competition

FTC and Endorsements: Disclose Your Relationship

Generally, marketing, advertising, and public relations specialists are comfortable with using mere words of puffery.  They also know that it has been the law that if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer or if that endorse has been give something of value in exchange for praise of the marketer’s product or service the ad must disclose the connection.  The point is that knowing about the connection helps the reader or watcher evaluate the quality of the endorsement.

This attitude comes into play when using social media as well.  Specifically, the FTC has issued guidelines about how bloggers, and social media specialists talk about a company’s product or services.  This includes your employees, as well as any marketer, advertiser, or in generally someone speaking on your behalf and you give them something expecting endorsements.

Say you have a new delicious musubi (rice ball) that you want people in Honolulu to know about.  One of your employees is a well-known food blogger.  You give her a sample of the product with the intention that she is to eat it and then rave about it on her blog.  If she does not state that she is your an employee you would be violating the FTC guidelines.

Defamation: Don’t Start Ugly Rumors

On the flip side is going after the competition.  If you or your employees typically engage in discussions via Twitter, Facebook, or comments on your company’s blog you may sometimes start joking with one another.  It is easy to see that this leads to making fun of the competition’s products and services.  However, going too far may mean making false statements that damages their reputation.  In this situation, you may be slapped with a defamation suit.

The general better policy in a situation like this is to remind people to be positive in their postings rather than taking the low road.  Above all do not engage in the rumor mill thinking that the amount of information going out there will protect you.  Once something gets sent out onto the Internet it is almost impossible to take back.  Just look at some of our politicians and celebrities to realize the truth of that fact.

Intellectual Property: Using Other Works

Many people love to share images or quotes on their Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, or blogs.  Generally, they search the web for a cute image and slap it on their post and think they are done.  While, they think that is ok, what they are unaware is that they are infringing on the person who took or made that image’s intellectual property (IP) rights.  When it comes to business the stakes are higher because the owner believes you are using their working to make a profit.

Copyright and Trademark Infringement

In general, when using images and phrases the best policy is to create your own or license it out.  Do not take images and words from another’s website and slap it on your own trying to claim it as your own.  For a prime example of this you can look at my own blog.  Many of the images I use are stock photos,  if I were to go to another law firm’s website and start taking their images and pdf files and posting them here, and claiming them as my own those would be violations of the firm’s intellectual property rights.  While, there may be a  “fair use” exemption it is less likely you will get to use it for your money-making company blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

Best policies are to create or license the images you want to use, be sure to use attribution links and short quotes from another site.  The last thing in the social mediaverse is you want to be known as a thief of people’s IP.  Always clear use of photos, music, works, etc . . . if you don’t know where they come from.

By the way, remember that people do have publicity rights this includes their image, likeness, and name much like a company controls their trademarks and copyrights, celebrities and people control their image.

Last Words

Next week, I will wrap-up this section with some general tips of crafting a policy and what to think about and some other miscellany.  In general, if you are concerned or feel that your company and employees need a re-training or updating on social media and the laws talk to an expert and have an attorney review and draft your policies.

Don’t forget if you enjoy this series or any of the other series on my blawg feel free to subscribe in the right-hand corner of this page to receive e-mail updates on posts.  If you are on Facebook be sure to “Like” “Ryan K. Hew” to get updates there as well.

See you next time!

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*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.