Companies should be specialising in strategic, holistic and cost-effective approaches to brand protection and enforcement, says Julius Stobbs
In my lifetime, the role, scope and value of “brand” has changed significantly. World rankings show brand valuations as assets in the billions – these are the most valuable assets of many businesses – but it is not just the economic value that has changed. In the modern world brands also carry social value. Brands have always carried with them the promise of quality or consistency, but now consumers expect more – the brand stands for the ethical, social, environmental approach of a company and acts as a sort of guardian in relation to this behaviour.
I have seen an increase in understanding in corporates of the importance of intellectual property (IP), but it is rare that brand value is focused on over and above a focus on technology. Unlike any piece of tech, the brand has indefinite life, is what allows a business to stand out in increasingly crowded markets and encapsulates the business and all it stands for to the consumer. And yet it is often not given the attention that its value would suggest it demands.
The concept of what makes up a brand has also broadened. This is no longer simply a name and/or a logo, but a combination of these things with “look and feel”, brand architecture, tone of voice, typography and even “personality”, among other things.
Brand owners should enforce their rights in order to prevent dilution of the brand and ultimately retain brand value
For companies specialising in advice on and protection of brands, this development makes the task harder. Traditional IP – trademark, design, copyright, confidential information – doesn’t map straight on to this modern view of brand and this creates a need for more creative strategies. Brand protection is no longer about standard trademark protection – think about unusual marks (colour, sound, shape, trade dress), design protection, domain strategy, supply chain management, contractual terms with suppliers, partners and licensees, and even enforcement activity. All of this, and more, goes towards an effective brand protection strategy.
The proliferation of access to online marketplaces all over the world, use of social media, the ability to own and set up websites and domains easily, and get in front of consumers without an expensive physical presence, as well as the internationalisation of trade, makes it more and more straightforward to mimic brands and do things that can divert trade or undermine brand value.
Research from MarkMonitor in 2009 values counterfeit product online at $133 billion. The issue has grown by orders of magnitude since then. And it is not just about product.
Brand owners should enforce their rights in order to prevent dilution of the brand and ultimately retain brand value. However, the volume of problems in the modern online world makes this very difficult, especially as traditional legal approaches to enforcement are so expensive. This often puts companies off from trying to deal with the problem. Instead brand owners need to be as creative as those running the parasitic businesses in their efforts to put a stop to their activity.
But modern technological tools and platforms help. Companies such as Incopro and Yellow, for example, make it easier than ever to monitor online activity properly, but the volume of information makes it difficult to prioritise effectively. Standard low-level “take-downs” on marketplaces and domain recovery techniques are cost effective and a good start, but do not address real long-term, underlying issues.
At Stobbs we specialise in strategic, holistic and cost-effective approaches to brand protection and enforcement. This has to start with a creative and complete approach to obtaining the right sets of rights. Many make the mistake of protecting what is in front of them rather than asking the question, “What do we want to use these rights for?”
Enforcement standardisation is key to keeping costs manageable, but it cannot be the only approach. Companies should explore the range of options available. Cost-effective commercial tools and standard take-down techniques should be coupled with proper filtering and prioritisation of the information to work effectively. All this needs to be done in close co-operation with the marketing and public relations departments.
Companies need to recognise the growth in importance of brand in the modern world and not be put off by what might seem an apparently unmanageable task. With the right approach, significant and cost-effective progress can be made.
Stobbs is a new consultancy firm specialising in all things relating to brand protection, management and enforcement. Stobbs won the 2016 Managing Intellectual Property Award for Best Trademark Firm in the UK