— Karen Brennan, Attorney

Recently, I stopped in a neighborhood coffee shop for an iced coffee. It was a fabulous little coffee shop in a neighborhood I don’t frequent and whose name I won’t mention. Anyway, while perusing the menu, I noticed they offered a blended coffee drink under the name Frappuccino.  Noting the teenager behind the counter, I did not feel it would be beneficial to provide a trademark tutorial or a warning as to how Starbucks would react to this use of its arguably famous trademark for identical goods.

Sipping my delicious frozen beverage, I could not help thinking it would be a good blog topic to discuss the importance of trademark policing and enforcement.   Obviously, this is not always an easy task and these types of uses are especially difficult to detect.  In fact, Starbucks has been very active in protecting its trademark rights, even against small, mom-and-pop coffee shops which it discovers are using a similar name or logo mark such as Conga Coffee & Tea (similarly shaped green logo mark).  However, identifying an infringing name of a shop is one thing, but identifying an infringing menu item is a far more difficult task.

Companies spend a lot of time and money developing brand names for products and services and many companies have hundreds of branded products in their portfolios.   An important part of branding is protecting those brands and companies need to determine how to best monitor their marks.  Employing a watch service is always a good idea for major brands and/or a company name.  However, the cost of a watch service is by the mark and can quickly add up if a company has numerous brands to protect.  Thus, a few suggestions as to steps a company can take to protect its marks include:

  1. Apply for federal trademark registration whenever possible;
  2. Proper and consistent use of the ® ™ symbols in connection with each and every brand;
  3. Undertake periodic Internet searches for potentially infringing uses;
  4. Create champions for your brand – highly loyal customers, distributors, retailers, and other partners, who will bring potential infringements to your attention;
  5. Internal education for employees to keep their eyes open and listen with an open ear when others bring potential infringements to light; and
  6. If you become aware of a potential infringement, take action sooner rather than later by sending a formal letter.  You may want to consider hiring a trademark attorney to send the letter; investing in a well written cease and desist letter will often pay off by putting an end to the infringement.