Watch Out For Trademark Laws!

Ever heard of the trademark law? If you’re a public relations professional or studying to be, one of the most important aspects of the law to be aware of is the trademark law.

According to THINK Public Relations book, a trademark is a word, symbol, or slogan, used singly or in combination, that identifies a product’s origin.

It is difficult to find a trademark that is not already in use with millions of businesses and organizations.  It becomes increasingly difficult when trying to capitalize a company and anything that you come up with that looks remotely similar to theirs can ignite a lawsuit claiming trademark infringement.

Here are some examples of trademark infringement cases:

starbucks

Companies try to keep people from misusing a trademark word so that it doesn’t become generic.  Misusing a trademark word for example may be saying “Here’s a kleenex” when in reality the proper use of the term would be “Here’s a Kleenex tissue” The problem here was that the trademark word was used as a noun.

According to Chapter 9 of THINK Public Relations, trademark infringement also can result from the unauthorized use of public figures such as athletes and well-known entertainers.  Misappropriation of deceased celebrities are also a form of trademark infringement.

At first, just learning all the laws and regulations can make a career in Public Relations become increasingly intimidating.  This is a very crucial aspect of this field to learn because it’s not exactly black and white here. However, with that said, if you’re going into PR, fear not!

Here are some telltale signs of trademark infringement (from our book THINK Public Relations).  These are what courts use to determine if trademark infringement has occured.

In summary:

  • Defendant capitalizes on a reputation of another organization’s trademark
  • Defendant uses poor definition of relationship or hides separation of two entities, or implies connection between the two
  • Similarity of organizations
  • Is the company with the protected trademark using it with its products/services?
  • Is the trademark unique?

In class last week we watch a video of how we uncontiously pick up all types of messages and pictures and ideas that when asked to create a unique, original piece (music, art, ad, campaign, etc) , it may not be as original as we think.  That’s why it is important that though we may not copy things verbatim or copy and ad with minor changes, we may be uncontiously using other organizations or people’s ideas that could be legitimately infringement.

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