Aaron Keller, Managing Principal, Capsule

Both a modern and a historical crime unintentionally depicted on the one belt buckle.

You’ve heard of the Jesse James gang, immortalized by their crimes and ability to epitomize the culture of our great western states.

One day, back when the James brothers were in the business of crime and the Pinkerton crew was in the business of enforcing the law, the two clashed.

Pinkerton took it upon his company to seek out and bring the James brothers to justice, or a quick finish delivered from the wrong end of a gun. The hired “hit men” used lax methods and ended up killing two innocent family members. The local community turned against the law “enforcers” and Pinkerton bagged the effort.

Historical criminals getting a free pass to further crimes.

Now, flip the buckle and seek the maker of this historical artifact. Tiffany is given credit, or rather the Tiffany’s brand is taken with no credit returned. Tiffany never made belt buckles, and this was certainly a fraud. But its historical value reaches $39.95. Is the Tiffany brand taking any royalties? Likely not.

The James brothers achieved fame, fortune and death by illegally acquiring physical property and coin.

Today, if you’re not policing your brand, there are many modern criminals capable of a modern intellectual property crime. While this belt buckle is a minor one, look around at the fashion and design world and you’ll see this is becoming a prominent issue. The clash between those who create original intellectual property and those who “borrow” it for their own purposes is ongoing. As we have the capacity to create more, the capacity to steal more grows.

We should always learn from our past, which leads me to the lesson here. If you’re the enforcer, be sure you are on the right side of both the law and public opinion. If you’ve been accused of trademark bullying, this one is for you. Consider the impact on your brand’s reputation when you heavy handed “lay down the law” protecting it. Is it worth it?