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What Black Mamba, Make America Great Again, and Netflix Fast all have in common

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Fashion, Marketing, Patents, Trademarks, USPTO

– Jason Voiovich, Chief Customer Officer, Logic PD

It’s not a new reality show. Let’s take that off the table straight away. That said, one could be forgiven this year (of all years) for imagining a scenario in which retired basketball great Kobe Bryant teamed up with not-so-retired real estate sort-of great Donald Trump to launch original programming on a new Netflix platform. Heck, I’d watch it.

But alas, it is not meant to be.

Black Mamba, Make America Great Again, and Netflix Fast are all trademarks, recently (and not so recently) filed by their respective owners, staking a claim to a piece of intellectual real estate. But I’ll bet you figured that part out already. What may not be so obvious is when they were filed. It’s the when that gives us a tiny open window into the future plans of these organizations. In other words, these trademarks are an example of potential competitive intelligence. But only if we use them.

Let’s have a brief look at each one.

BLACK MAMBA

In April of this year, Kobe Bryant made important news.

Kobe Bryant’s final game with the LA Lakers saw him torch the Utah Jazz with 60 individual points. It was a fitting end to a dominant career that included five NBA Championships, two Olympic Gold Medals, 18 All Star Selections, one NBA MVP award and nearly 34,000 points scored.

That wasn’t the important news.

Bryant’s retirement was no surprise. Although he could be dominant at times, at 37, he could no longer put the LA Lakers in a position to contend for a playoff spot through sheer force of will.

The big news for Bryant was the registration of the “Black Mamba” trademark in May – a nickname he has used for several years, including in some Nike advertisements. But Black Mamba had never been trademarked. Barring opposition, Bryant will own a distinctive piece of intellectual real estate for use in a variety of applications including shoes and apparel. Effectively exploiting this trademark, much in the same way Michael Jordan does with Nike and the “Air Jordan” trademark, not only secures Bryant’s future, but also changes the fashion apparel landscape.

I wonder how many other apparel manufacturers were monitoring the US Patent and Trademark Office for new submissions and found this one? Could it give them advance notice on an intent to market goods and services? Might they try to oppose it? Might they counter Bryant’s now-obvious strategy with deals of their own to preempt him in the market?

Adidas/Reebok, Under Armour and the like are pretty sharp. I’m guessing they’re on top of it.

Here’s my question: Are you aware of your competitors next major brand campaign?

MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN

As if this political campaign weren’t interesting enough, The Donald has managed to show he’s crazy like a fox. Well before the trademark “Make America Great Again” made its appearance on baseball caps in this presidential election cycle, Donald Trump laid claim to the abandoned Reagan-era phrase.

How long before?

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Trump filed for registration on November 19, 2012, not two weeks after Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney, winning a second term in the White House. (Trump later updated the filing to include apparel and other uses in 2015).

Curious timing? I don’t think so. It seems very clear to me that Donald Trump had been planting the seeds of a political campaign well in advance of anyone actively paying attention. How different might the political landscape look today if the RNC had paid attention to Trump’s USPTO filings? Would the DNC have begun to assemble a counter-strategy? Could Trump have been blocked?

Perhaps not, but the reality is, they probably weren’t looking at all.

My question again: Have your competitors given you a glimpse into their future, and what are you doing about it?

NETFLIX FAST

There are lots of Internet Service Provider (ISP) speed test sites. (My personal favorite is Speedtest.net by Ookla. I use it when I want to more effectively complain about slow CenturyLink service at home.) On the surface, Netflix starting a speed test service of their own seems iterative and silly.

But it’s not.

You may not realize it, but Netflix (and streaming services like it, but especially Netflix) is one of the biggest bandwidth hogs on the internet. You had better believe the major ISPs realize it. The whole “net neutrality” argument last year was prompted, in part, on the disproportionate toll streaming video services take on connectivity infrastructure.

The fervor may have died down in the public sphere, but the filing of the Netflix Fast trademark is a signal that the company is planning a more active role in the creation of the public narrative. One of the key parts of that narrative is access to their own data on network choke points. They will be able to use that data to effectively partner with local providers to enhance service. Or they might be able to counter the narrative that Netflix is clogging the pipe. Or both.

Are the ISPs and Telcos watching this announcement? Are they thinking ahead? Are they coming up with their own list of possible scenarios? Perhaps.

My question again: Which one of your competitors has telegraphed their public affairs strategy with a trademark filing?

YOU SHOULD BE DOING THIS

I’m admittedly using some big name examples here, so it’s easy to make the case that competitors have the resources and scale to sense and detect these types of threats. But that shouldn’t let us off the hook. In my experience, even small to mid-sized companies can take advantage of low-cost and no-cost competitive intelligence techniques to dramatically improve their early warning systems. The same logic applies to patent scanning, although I find that innovation-driven organizations keep pretty good tabs on the weekly Official Gazette for Patents published by the USPTO.

But in some ways, I think trademark scanning is even more immediately valuable. First, trademarks can be put into the field much faster than patents in the form of marketing and advertising campaigns. That means you have a much shorter window of time to react and adapt. Second, while many organizations may file dozens of patents looking to cover their bases in a number of areas (and possibly monetize their portfolio at some later point), the same really isn’t true for trademarks. You get ‘em to use ‘em. In other words, when you see a trademark filing, odds are that your competitor will be taking advantage of it soon. Finally, while patents are the primary domain of technology-driven organizations, trademarks are useful to every type of organization. You could argue to me that your service organization doesn’t need to monitor the patent gazette, but you can’t argue trademarks won’t impact you.

Bottom line: Using trademarks for competitive intelligence is easy and cheap. You should be doing it.