Tough times call for tough decisions. Brand managers know this as well as anyone, and they are certainly facing some very tough decisions during these challenging economic times.

Sometimes shrinking the workforce is considered to be in the best interest of the brand. For example, last week, Carter’s, the parent company of OshKosh B’Gosh, announced that it would be trimming the workforce in order to improve the efficiency and profitability of the iconic — and more than century old — brand.

Brand managers also may be asked to re-evaluate their brand protection strategies in order to cut costs. Given a recent competing brand that appears to have gone unchallenged by OshKosh B’Gosh®, one has to wonder if there is a willingness to shrink the B’Gosh® brand in addition to the workforce.

Returning from a trip to Washington, D.C., for a pair of oral arguments at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), I did some speed-shopping for my daughter at a neat little boutique in Bethesda, Maryland, called The Blue House (I highly recommend it). Without paying attention to brand at all, or even looking at the hangtag or label (okay, I had to catch a plane), I picked up a really cute outfit I thought she’d just love. I was actually right, this time. In fact, she is so taken by it and some other items sold under this brand online, she not very happy that I am writing this post right now. Oh well, duty calls.

Anyway, when I got home and unpacked the outfit I noticed the hangtag for the first time, and honestly, my first thought was, is this a modern rendition of the B’Gosh® brand? After a closer look, I began to wonder whether it is an extension or somehow related to the B’Gosh® brand? It wasn’t until visiting the brand’s website and conducting some searches on the Trademark Office database that I was able to satisfy myself, no apparent connection. In case you’re wondering, no image of the outfit, but I did scan an image of the hangtag and it is viewable after the jump.

Turns out that a company called Bee Posh, LLC, located in New York City, filed an application to register the above Bee Posh logo in June 2007, and a registration issued in July 2008.

Especially interesting is that back in 2006, a year after Carter’s acquired the B’Gosh® brand, and a year before Bee Posh filed for registration of the above logo, OshKosh B’Gosh® successfully opposed registration of a different B*POSH for clothing. After the filing of this opposition, the application for B*POSH was voluntarily withdrawn, causing the TTAB to sustain the opposition and refuse registration.

Despite the phonetic identity with the previously and successfully opposed B*POSH mark, there is no indication in the Trademark Office database that OshKosh B’Gosh® ever challenged the Bee Posh mark. Why is that? It would appear this phonetically similar mark to B’Gosh® (with the only phonetic difference being a “p” for a “g” — mirror images of each other –in white on a yellow background) slipped through the overalls or, perhaps, B’Gosh® has modified its brand enforcement strategy.

All this reminds me of a few thoughts for brand managers and their trademark counsel to keep in mind, especially during these more challenging times:

(1) Trademark rights in a brand are dynamic, they can shrink or grow over time, depending on whether newcomers’ confusingly similar uses are stopped or ignored;

(2) Without smart and efficient brand enforcement strategies and priorities in place, when budgets shrink, so will the trademark rights supporting the brand;

(3) Putting the proverbial “head in the sand” is certain to lead to a shrinkage of rights over time;

(4) The earlier the objection, the more likely a prompt and efficient resolution will result; and

(5) Tough times can be the best times for highly efficient brand enforcement efforts because enforcement targets may come to agree much more quickly that the dispute means far more to the brand owner than it ever could to the newcomer.

Of course, the key to success is adopting smart strategies and priorities that properly allocate and make the best use of precious resources.