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Lessons Learned from RIM’s Trademark Gaffe

Tuesday June 26, 2012 at 3:19pm
RIM, the makers behind the popular Blackberry mobile handsets and operating system, made a huge mis-step when announcing their new “BBX” operating system. BBX was already a registered trademark of Basis International, and had been used since 1985. Even a casual search of the United States Patent and Trade Office’s database would have saved the Canadian mobile makers time, legal troubles, and the embarrassment of introducing a product name that they did not know had been owned by another company for decades.

Making it worse was the fact that Basis registered their trademark for “computer programs and associated documentation providing tools and programming language,” putting RIM in direct infringement of their specific area of trade.

Easily avoidable mistakes

Though it’s easy to say that RIM is a Canadian company, and did put in a trademark application for BBX in Canada. However, the US market is hardly an afterthought for RIM, and the mistake means that RIM either did not conduct a basic trademark search in all of its relevant markets, or did not hire a competent trademark lawyer as part of their due diligence. Either way, the mistakes are embarrassing for a large company, but not devastating to a wide-reaching corporation like RIM. They were easily able to sweep their tweets and announcement of “BBX” under the rug, instead rebranding their operating system as “Blackberry 10,” making use of a trademark they already owned internationally.

In fact, some experts have said that RIM was “lucky” in this particular blunder, as it was sued and enjoined early, and was able to change its error before the product started rolling out. This minimises the amount of financial damage from the gaffe, since they didn’t owe very much to Basis International for damages and could inexpensively rebrand their operating system.

Learn your lessons well

However, a normal start-up business may not be so lucky, and may not be able to bounce back from this crucial and simple error in the way that RIM has. It’s important for all entrepreneurs and start-up companies to pursue the relatively cheap route of trademark searches, hiring a trademark lawyer, and putting in a trademark application. Since this process is the only way to legally ensure exclusive rights to your business’ name, your product’s name, or your logo, there is truly no good reason to skip the due diligence process.

In addition, start-ups who fail to do this could be sunk before they even begin doing business. The expense of a trademark application is nothing compared to the kind of cash that is needed to defend against a trademark infringement lawsuit, or the amount of money it would take to rebrand and pull products off the shelves.
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