This past weekend, with what appears to be our first lasting snowfall, I enjoyed following my daughter around the chilly alleys of downtown Minneapolis while she created for her photography class. As you can see from the moment I captured, she inspired me to create a bit too.
Thankfully I’m not being graded for my efforts.
Yet, as I reflected on capturing my daughter’s creativity in action, it occurred to me that the results of the creative efforts of our friends in the branding world are frequently watched too, but not always by those with as good of intentions as mine toward my daughter’s activities.
I’m not talking about jealous peers or green-eyed monsters or even the talented and skilled judges who review and evaluate creative submissions for industry awards. The watchers I’m thinking about have a different perspective as the IP counsel for brand owners who evaluate potential enforcement targets as new creative works endlessly flow into the marketplace.
One type or method of this kind of watching is automated and quite routine in the IP world. Many professional trademark search firms provide services allowing brand owners and/or their counsel the ability to be alerted when another files an application seeking registration of a mark, when the new creation has the potential to cause likely confusion.
Receiving a cease and desist letter after an application is filed is a pretty reliable sign that the brand owner behind the letter is watching — either the applicant directly or the penumbra surrounding the brand owner’s trademark rights, to maintain or grow a vibrant scope of rights.
Sophisticated brand owners also are well-versed in using, where appropriate, a more stealth approach of watching with the letter of protest strategy. The letter of protest option can avoid the need for direct interaction with the trademark applicant because it positions the USPTO to do the brand owner’s bidding by erecting road blocks to registration.
Of course, if the concern stems from more than registration and includes a concern of use too, then the brand owner eventually will need to unmask and reveal its concerns directly to the applicant. Having said that, having the USPTO on your side as a brand owner watching the filings of concerning marks can be a powerful tool when one decides to finally unmask and speak up.
With these IP realities in mind, are you watching or being watched or both?
Best to do the former and assume the latter.