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Trademark Turnarounds in the News

Wednesday June 27, 2012 at 11:34am
For fledgling entrepreneurs and those who are trying to grow their business by creating and protecting a distinctive brand, there is much to be learned from the foibles and follies of large international brands. These brands have enough money, recognition and clout to go about the process of re-branding or pulling products from shelves, but for the rest of us, it’s important to look into the news and learn our lessons well.

Colour wars in fashion

One of the biggest trademark battles in fashion right now is over the right to trademark a colour. Though it is possible to trademark a colour, such as the canary yellow of Post-It notes or the robin’s egg blue of Tiffany’s jewellery boxes, trademark law in most countries dictate that the colour must serve to distinguish a brand and identify its source “without serving any other significant function.”

While there is nothing about the colour yellow that affects the purpose or function of a Post-It note, fashion house Yves Saint Laurent is claiming that the trademark “Chinese red” on the soles of Christian Louboutin shoes serve an aesthetic purpose as well as identifying their brand. Since it serves a purpose, YSL – boosted by an amicus brief from a group of 11 law school professors – are trying to discount Louboutin’s court appeal to protect their red lacquered soles.

The lesson to be learned here is to pick your trademarks as well as your battles wisely. Shoe designer Christian Louboutin took fashion house Yves Saint Laurent to court in order to protect their trademark shoe bottoms, but was left with an ugly legal battle that has dragged on for the better part of a year. What’s worse, Judge Marreo, who originally denied Louboutin’s motion for injunctive relief, brought up the question of whether or not the company – who built their empire on the red bottoms of their shoes – should actually have been granted trademark protection in the first place.

German Google consumers get Gmail addresses

Another story, this time from international and internet powerhouse Google, teaches us the importance of securing a trademark in all relevant geographic markets before launching a product. Their popular mail service, Gmail, had to be changed to “Googlemail” in Germany because that trademark was already owned by businessman Daniel Giersch, who operated a company called G-Mail, short for Giersch-mail.

Google was finally awarded the rights to gmail.de and all Gmail trademarks in April of 2012, and has just announced that Googlemail will be turned into Gmail, spelling a happy ending for all German google users who did not understand why their email domains were different from their international friends and families. However, the lesson to be learned is that trademarks are powerful tools, keeping a man like Daniel Giersch legally protected even against large and powerful corporations.
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