Trademarks (Part 3) – Call the police


Aim of this article: to give entrepreneurs an introduction to trademarks; by reading these three articles, you will gain a working knowledge of trademarks, easily avoiding a huge pitfall that has befallen many an entrepreneur. (Part 1 is here;Part 2 is here; ).

Here’s the thing: Some do; some don’t.

An entity holding a trademark on a set of words or word in a particular class of economic activity in a particular jurisdiction had the right to stop other entities using those words in the same class and jurisdiction.

When I was researching this piece on Trademarks, I came across a fascinating case over the word – Apple. Yes that’s right, someone else had a Trademark in use on the word “Apple” before Steve Jobs & co. Those somebodies were, in fact – The Beatles.

They did a sweetheart deal initially, with a small (under six figures) compensation going to The Beatles company (Apple Corps).

Now the Beatles trademark was in the realm of music (you won’t be surprised to hear), and Apple agreed to stick to the computers.

That’s a problem with the launch of iTunes. Again another deal – much bigger compo this time – and everyone ended up friends, with The Beatles adding their catalogue to iTunes.

2. What you can do if someone else has the term trademarked

Okay, so your heart is set on a term that someone else has a trademark on in class of business that’s close to yours – what to do?

This will depend on your attitude to risk. And also that of your Board. Because make no mistake, trademark holders have rights.

They could force you to rebrand. You would have to rename the lot. Packaging. Logo. Website. Not to mention – the damage to your reputation, as well as possibly permanent damage to your startup. And then there’s the not inconsequential matter of compensation.

Not a pretty picture and not a pretty board meeting.

If this scenario applies to you, you won’t be too surprised to hear me say you need to talk to your lawyer. One thing you and your lawyer could do is write to the other party.

Perhaps they no longer intend using their mark, and are happy for you to use the same term.

This clearly involves a time delay and cost, do you will see why most people avoid this like the plague, and go for a complete!y trademark free term.

And that wraps up this series on trademarks. By the way – wasn’t that a cute word twist performed by the Beatles on Apple Corps?