A few weeks ago, I took an afternoon Internet off-the-main-road cruise with the hope that a few unplanned detours would cure my midday highway hypnosis. The following item at Bloomberg.com caught my eye: Land Rover, NFL, Citadel: Intellectual Property.
Seeing those organizations lumped together piqued my interest: What could each have happening in the Intellectual Property domain that was significant enough to be blurb worthy?
Silly me. While the NFL and Citadel items were ho-hum (a clothing company nailed for selling unauthorized Steeler’s merchandise; Citadel Broadcasting using a copyrighted photo on its webpage), some of the other items made me feel sorry for people in the olden days (like me), who once had just had soap operas and gossip rags for entertainment.
In the space of a single column, I learned:
- Not only did Jerry Seinfeld’s wife not steal cookbook author Missy Chase Lapine’s exclusive idea when she wrote a cookbook helping parents sneak vegetables into food for reluctant toddlers; but Jerry did not defame her when he called her a “nut job” and a “wacko” on TV. Said Manhattan Judge Marcy Friedman, “Seinfeld’s statements disparage Lapine’s claim of plagiarism as false or baseless or, more colloquially, as wacky.”
- A guy from Buffalo, NY, who got pulled over for driving funny ended up being charged not just with a DUI and misdemeanor possession of pot, but also with criminal trademark infringement when the cops found more than 200 illegally copied CDs in his car.
- ChaCha Search Inc., an Indiana concern that operates a question-and-answer website, is suing HTC of Taiwan so they won’t name their new cell phone the ChaCha. In its complaint, ChaCha Search said, “HTC’s use of the entirety of the ChaCha mark in connection with the infringing phone is likely to cause consumers to mistakenly believe that there is an affiliation between ChaCha and the infringing phone.”
Wow! And all this time I thought the ChaCha was…you know…a dance.
But the best item reported how Land Rover is suing a Chinese auto company – Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. – over its use of two characters: “Lu” and “Hu.” Knowing there are perhaps, oh, a billion other characters in the language, I hopped over to the Xinhua Chinese news service to get the skinny on what I felt sure was going to be an amazing coincidence…not.
Apparently, the UK-based company that makes Land Rovers has been using “Lu Hu” to promote Land Rovers in China for more than two decades, and darned if Geely didn’t happen to register the Lu Hu trademark in 1999. The Land Rover folks said Geely did it precisely because they knew the characters were critical to Land Rover, and asked the Trademark Appeal Board in China to revoke Geely’s ownership of the trademark.
China’s Trademark Appeal Board declined to do so, so now the Land Rover manufacturer is suing the Appeal Board. Boo hoo, Lu Hu.
Why does this surprise me in an era when even Volvos are now made (by Geely) in China?
China obviously hasn’t gotten where it is by being asleep at the wheel, but I’m thinking that for many average people like me who work within businesses rather than developing their architectures, until the last decade or so China was still just that big, inscrutable place on the other side of the world.
All of this just underscores the business need for affordable 360-degree IP protection.
A lot of people have good ideas and a viable business plan, along with access to specialists willing to help with fine-tuning the vision, developing the products, and other crucial aspects of execution. But few start out with the kind of capital it takes to ensure their IP is locked down and ensure that it stays that way as the company grows.
Unfortunately, that’s where up to 80 percent of a company’s value lies. An established giant like Land Rover can afford – reluctantly – to take on China’s biggest car company and even its Trademark Appeal Board over a couple of characters. But what’s happening in the Frontier Town that is the IP environment today is that a lot of people are putting blood, sweat and hope into genuine innovation, only to lose it all when a legal gunfight breaks out at the Not Okay corral.
As evidenced by the scope of the news items culled from a single column on a single day, IP concerns range from highbrow to hilarious. It’s time to wake up, do your due diligence, and make sure you have the comprehensive IP protection you need in place when you start a business so you can stay on track creatively without fear of being derailed. Securing IP protection should now be at the top of your “to-do” list – not just an afterthought.