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B-2-B Trademarks and Brands – A Slippery Slope

April 2008 Communication, Corporate

While the marketing gurus will tell you about the importance of trademark and brand building for business-to-business products and services, if you are a small player or entrepreneur don’t fall too deeply in love with your brand.

John Quelch, the prolific Harvard marketing professor, provides superb rationale for B-2-B branding.  But if you look closely, Quelch is talking primarily about the global B-2-B megabrands like Intel, Accenture , GE and Microsoft..  However, for the smaller company, selling in a narrow or niche market with relatively few customers, branding and trademarking can be a slippery slope.

While the smart CEO or entrepreneur should try to create a memorable trademark and brand.  Moreover, the procedure of registering the brand and trademark should be done so that it becomes part of the company’s intellectual property.   If the brand is particularly good and memorable there is the chance that some large, deep-pocketed company will try to hijack it.

Here is where the fun starts.  Invariably a lawsuit is filed by the brand holder to prevent the hijacker from using the brand.   Law firms are brought in by both sides and the invariable legal processes begin – complaints, answers, hearings, expert reports, briefs, motions for summary judgments, depositions, settlement hearings and, if all else fails, the full-blown trial.

As each step in the process unfolds, the small or entrepreneurial firm is forced to shell out large sums of money.  Lawyers and experts work by the hour and a typical intellectual property trademark infringement case can easily run into the six figures.  Even if you win the case, you are big loser.

So how can you avoid this nightmare:

  1. Don’t fall so in love with your brand or trademark that you are willing to lose the store to defend it.
  2. If you are the original user and you own the trademark, the usurper cannot take it away from you.  You just might not be able to prevent the usurper from using it.
  3. Before you get into the litigation morass try to figure exactly what your brand is worth.  You might be surprised to know that people don’t buy your product or service because of the brand per se but for a myriad of other reasons – like your own personal reputation for integrity.
  4. Investigate Intellectual Property insurance.  There are companies out there who will insure your brands and trademarks and spend the big bucks to defend them.

Under no condition, should you get involved with intellectual property litigation without sound advice and counsel from your attorney.



About the author

James T. Berger, Managing Editor of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.

James T. Berger
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