How to Protect Your Brand Without Being a Trademark Bully: Lessons from The North Face and Coke

Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition

How can the owners of famous trademarks enforce their rights without being given the dreaded “trademark bully” label? The answer lies in knowing where to draw the line, and in exercising diplomacy in letting people know when the line has been crossed.

Many brand owners tolerate minor third party uses of their marks, including unauthorized parodies, fan clubs and the like, which are undertaken in good faith. But brand owners must act to protect their rights when third parties go too far. Potential red flags include actual confusion, complaints from customers, impact on sales, and formal trademark filings by third parties. In these circumstances, a line has been crossed and trademark owners can and should consider taking action. To protect themselves from bullying accusations, however, trademark owners would do well to emphasize in all of their communications the specific “over the line” factors that drove them to action.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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