Big Brands Aren’t Exempt From Trademark Infringement and Neither Is Your Business

by Larae

Whether you’re familiar with how trademarks affect you as an entrepreneur, you’ve either heard of the term or have seen the ® logo everywhere on marketing materials for major brands. Have you sought to obtain one or talked yourself out of it because you thought the cost was just too expensive for your budget? You think to yourself, “I can just handle this later when I get the money.”

After many sleepless nights, your business finally gains some momentum; people are beginning to speak more often about your brand.  Your brand is no longer local but has reached across the nation and on the brink of going international.  Now that you’re ready to protect your creation, another company has beaten you to the punch.

You then painfully discover that another party has already applied for trademark ownership of your brand name, slogan, and logo that rightfully belongs to you.  In this case, rightfully but not legally. Let’s look at a few celebrity cases to see how detrimental of waiting could be to your business.

Walt Disney Pictures The Lion King (Image source: Walt Disney Studios YouTube)

In July 2019, Walt Disney Pictures will release a remake of its 25-year old movie, “The Lion King” with a star-studded cast, many who are of African descent. This release may be rubbing salt on old wounds with the use of an African dialect, specifically speaking of the Swahili dialect “Hakuna Matata” in the 1994 film and the new release coming July 2019.  Opponents of Disney call the use of the phrase meaning “no worries” is both culture appropriation and trademark infringement.

This story hasn’t received as much mainstream exposure as other trademark stories surrounded by well-known brands, but the argument has been circulating the internet for some time now. People voiced opinions via petitions, blogs, and social media about a company like Disney being granted trademark rights in the U.S.to a phrase which has existed in a language that has been around for centuries. So far, the argument has been silent since December 2018.

The Marathon Clothing Store (Image source:  www.themarathonclothing.com)

In recent news, there is a race for the slogan “The Marathon Continues” coined by the late Grammy-nominated rapper Nipsey Hussle who was tragically murdered in front of his The Marathon Clothing store in late March 2019. Due to the popularity of the said slogan, both his older brother, Samuel Asghedom also known as Blacc Sam, and the Crips are seeking to own the trademark.We’ll see how this plays out in court being that the slogan has widely used much of Nipsey Hussle’s marketing of his business ventures.

Jumpman Logo vs. Quiaodan Sports Logo (Image source: Hypebeast.com)

Now let’s take a short trip back in history. Okay, we’re only going three years back. Let’s talk about how sticky a trademark infringement case can get a little sticky when it goes international.

In late 2016, former NBA basketball player, Michael Jordan finally won a 4-year trademark battle with Quiaodan Sports based in China.  Quiaodan trademarked both his name and the names of his children in Chinese charactersto profit off of basketball sports apparel.  The company also used the number 23 from his jersey and the Jumpman logo. In trademark infringement cases in the U.S., the party who repetitively uses the “mark” in business is the one who receives favor in court as the rightful owner of the trademark rather the party who filed first.  In China trademark law, it’s the other way around. The party who filed for trademark ownership firstreceives ruling as the rightful owner.

Moral of the story–trademark infringement happens every day to anyone no matter who owns the company.  What you perceive to be a no namer now, can become famous and you’ll want to be on the front end of the game.

What’s stopping you from trademarking your brand?

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