You’d think Lance Armstrong would know something about the power of positive karma. As the survivor or testicular cancer and brain cancer (I can think of no two worse kinds), winner of seven grueling Tour de France races, and vindicated from doping accusations, it seems counterintuitive that his foundation (aka Livestrong) would be ranked the #2 biggest trademark bully by Trademarkia (unless you’ve read Steve’s post on Trademarkia’s “methodology”). The site reports his lawyers have racked up over $400,000 in legal fees trolling USPTO filings for (what seems to be) any mention at all of the words “live” and “strong”. And God help you if you happen to be in the fitness, medical, or charitable market spaces.
Alex Heard at the Daily Beast tells the poignant story of Sara Rufener and her brand Live the Beauty of Being Strong. She’s obviously small time in the business world, and was a bit shocked to get a letter from Lance’s shock troopers. Suffice to say, she didn’t appreciate being bullied, took her case to social media, and is trying to shame Livestrong into backing down. We shall see.
For my take, she was a bit silly to plunk down $10,000 in merchandise before the matter was resolved, especially given the fact that a reasonable person could probably make the leap between Livestrong and her brand. They can make the argument (and I would think rightly so) that she will get a boost from the implied association. But I digress. The details of what makes an infringement aren’t my area of expertise.
In fact, regardless of the outcome, she is likely now going to get much more of a boost than she would have otherwise. Frankly, I think she isn’t taking full advantage of her situation – she’s fighting fire with fire. And Lance has a bigger bonfire! With a bit of a different approach, she can teach us an anti-trademark bully strategy using a bit of corporate judo. Let’s see how we redirect a bully’s considerable advantage shall we?
Step 1: Goading him in. Recognize the bully for what he is immediately. Trademarkia will help, but almost any organization could qualify. At this point, you can choose to fight on the bully’s level or choose to use that energy to your advantage. Redirection is the ultimate judo counterattack. Let’s choose that.
Step 2: Patience, Grasshopper. The nasty letter is bound to come. You picked a fight with a bully, didn’t you? When it does, now is your chance to play the victim. Start on social media, but don’t let it stop there. Engage national media attention. It’s unlikely the bully’s PR department is as diligent as its legal department. You’ll have the upper hand for at least two news cycles. By then, the narrative is set.
Step 3: Drag it out. Let the outrage build a bit. The legal process is slow, and you can use the time to publish all of those nastygrams you get from opposing counsel. Remember, this is a David and Goliath narrative, you want it to seem hopeless. If opposing counsel engages, all the better. At this point, you want the attention that comes from a fight.
Step 4: Redirect. At the peak of your publicity and energy, introduce your new brand at a safe legal distance. You “fought the good fight” but you simply “can’t match the ‘bully’s’ resources”. This gives your new brand an initial boost and embedded fan base you likely wouldn’t have had otherwise.
So, what am I really saying? When you encounter a bully, it makes little sense to fight on his terms. Instead, use the negative energy as fuel for your new brand.
As for Lance? Time will tell. What goes around indeed comes around.