Last week I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a ninety-minute webinar with my good friend, frequent and eloquent guest-blogger on DuetsBlog — Aaron Keller of Capsule — complete with some friendly banter on the following: "Hot Marketing Topics with Trademark and Legal Implications."

Minnesota Continuing Legal Education has generously provided a link where the webinar can be viewed in its entirety, here.

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Recovering from a nasty bout of walking pneumonia over the last couple of days, I probably spent more time (at least, mindless time) in front of the television than the last several months combined.

One thing that caught my eye during a brief and surprisingly mindful moment while I suffered was another brand to recently jump on the brandverb

Thumbnail for version as of 15:21, 6 September 2009           Thumbnail for version as of 14:28, 28 October 2007  Thumbnail for version as of 05:55, 3 December 2007

More than a few trademark types cringe when their clients or others say things like “let’s trademark it,” “they didn’t trademark their logo,” or “we don’t want to trademark this name,” and, when they ask questions like “is it trademarked?” or “is that trademarked software?” or “did we ever trademark our logo?” or “should we be trademarking this packaging?”

Indeed, some have written: “’Trademark’ is not a verb. There is no such thing as ‘trademarking’ a word or phrase.” Similar views are expressed here, here, and here.

Perhaps any cringing may result from the fact that the Lanham Act — the federal trademark statute — defines the word “trademark” as a noun, not a verb or adjective:

The term “trademark” includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof —

(1) used by a person, or

(2) which a person has a bona fide intention to use in commerce and applies to register on the principal register established by this chapter,

to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown.

Section 45 of Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1127.

Turns out though, the wordstrademark,” “trademarked,” and “trademarking,” are recognized words with established verb meanings that have formed part of the English language: “(1) To label (a product) with proprietary identification; and (2) to register (something) as a trademark.” Moreover, the word “trademarked” has an established adjective meaning too: “labeled with proprietary (and legally registered) identification guaranteeing exclusive use; ‘trademarked goods’“.

From my perspective, there is no need for cringing or even correction, just further inquiry into how the words “trademark,” “trademarked,” and “trademarking” are being used.


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Although intellectual property lawyers of the Dr. No variety may not like to admit it — I submit that, not all slippery slopes are created equal. While some slippery slope cautions might prevent a few bumps and bruises in traveling along a particular path (e.g., the one on the left below), I suspect far fewer slippery slope cautions actually prevent life-ending falls from perilous cliffs (e.g., the one on the right below), yet other man-made slippery slopes specifically are designed for fun and enjoyment — not danger — and have generated enormous sales over the years (e.g., WHAM-O’s SLIP’N SLIDE brand products).

  

So, putting aside Professor Douglas Walton’s teaching that the slippery slope argument is “often treated as a fallacy,” it is worth asking what brand of slippery slope most accurately represents the risk associated with marketers using their brands and trademarks as verbs?

As discussed in Part I of my Just Verb It? series, many marketers love the idea of having their brands embraced as verbs, but many trademark lawyers totally forbid any “brandverbing,” i.e., “mis-using” brands (adjectives) as verbs: “Why? To prevent brand names and trademarks from becoming generic names and part of the public domain for anyone to freely use, even competitors.”

No doubt, genericide — the ultimate fear of using brands as verbs — equals certain trademark death, a horrible result from both marketing and legal perspectives; but, I submit it doesn’t necessarily follow that brandverbing activities automatically result in trademark death or genericide. To be sure, far more than a single act of verbing a trademark or brand must occur before a majority of the relevant consuming public no longer sees the claimed trademark or brand as identifying and distinguishing certain products or services as coming from a single source. Given this, there must be an opportunity to engage in some thoughtful and creative level of brandverbing without committing trademark suicide, right?


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It is probably fair to say from my initial Just Verb It? post, the many articles referenced in that post, the substantial panel of commentary to the post, and additional interest in the topic, that at least two truths about “brandverbing” are beyond much, if any, debate: (1) Lawyers (including the International Trademark Association’s guidelines

There is a growing interest and, quite frankly, a dogged persistence among branding professionals to select brand names that have the ability and potential to be “verbed.” This makes trademark attorney types nervous and those of the “Dr. No” variety actually become unglued.

So, why the emphasis or fascination with verbs anyway? The answer apparently can be found in the definition of a verb: “A verb is a doing word (helping, grabbing).” This feature is appealing to marketers. In addition, some argue that “verbing” a brand extends its reach through effective “word of mouth branding.” Some feel so strongly about the marketing benefit they argue that “having the public utter your company name as a verb is like going to heaven without the inconvenience of dying. Getting ‘verbed’ is the ultimate accomplishment for any brand — the marketer’s Shangri-la.”

As marketing maven Seth Godin argued as early as 2005: “Nouns just sit there, inanimate lumps. Verbs are about wants and desires and wishes.” Given that limited binary choice, David Cameron’s recent and thoughtful “Brandverbing Brands” post on his OnBrands Blog, asks a reasonable question: “Wouldn’t you rather have your brand in the latter category?”

I’m wondering and you might be wondering too, what happened to door number three? We’ll get to that, patience.


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