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Trademarks Vital to Global Businesses

  • June Soh

Companies go to great lengths to protect their trademarks and logos. A recent conference by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) highlighted the importance and the difficulty of doing that. The two day event drew more than 10,000 visitors of all ages.

Costumed characters were doing more than amusing visitors as they roamed around the National Trademark Expo - they were educating them.

"Trademarks extend not only to a picture or a logo but we have some characters trademarks," noted USPTO Commissioner Deborah Cohn. "So children actually see a lot of trademarks and have a lot to do with trademarks. We want people of all ages to know that it is very important to buy legitimate products rather than counterfeit products."

Cohn adds that trademarks can take many other forms, as well, including colors, smells and sounds. That surprises many Expo visitors.

"[Take for example] the lion's roar at the beginning of the MGM films. That is registered as a trademark. So maybe you could use a lion's roar for something completely different, but not for the films," Cohn added.

Trademark violations can hurt a business' reputation, and its bottom line. Last year, U.S. officials seized almost $200 million worth of counterfeit products, which looked like the real thing.

Consumers can be hurt, too. C. T. Toner is with GED Testing Service, which develops an exam for earning a U.S. high school equivalency diploma. It has more than 3000 testing sites worldwide.

"We want everyone here in the expo to know that there are a lot of fraudulent programs online who use the GED name," said Toner. "So we don't want people to be taken advantage of, go online pay $300 for a test, get a diploma and realize that it was actually not a GED test that can be used for job or for a college entrance."

Entertainer Chubby Checker, who popularized the dance, the twist, in the 1960s, introduced a new trademarked candy bar he is selling for charity.

"[It is called] Chubby's Checkerbar. [It's in] a few places, but not big yet. But we think over the next couple of years this bar will be all over the world," said Checker.

For business owners, like Checker, who plan on expanding to global markets, the Expo offered seminars about protecting their brand.

"If infringing goods were being manufactured in China, just by example, and they are being sent from China, they are being sent into the United States. You do not have any rights in China at this time, what is your remedy?" asked Susan Anthoy of the USPTO.

Deborah Cohn says trademark protection extends only to national borders.

"So if you register your mark in the United States, then your rights extend in the United States. You would register it in each country that you want protection in," explained Cohn.

That is what David Holmes has learned today. The musician sells his CDs and performs live.

"When you are using the Internet, that is basically international and as a musician you probably would want your music to go internationally. I know I do," said Holmes.

Holms adds that he is now thinking of ways to protect his name as a trademark in the global marketplace.