Trademark Protection in Licensing Deals Gone South
Most startup businesses work very hard to get a trademark for their company logo. This is a very wise idea and it prevents some copycats, but not all of them. Often people will try to pretend that you are partnering with them, and stick your logo on their website. Sometimes they will reason that if they’ve done some business with you then they can use the “partnering” terminology, something I believe has been so abused in recent years, perhaps even going back to the early 90s. If you allow one company to do it, other companies will follow suit.
Interestingly enough, just because you have a federal trademark doesn’t mean the federal government is going to help you enforce it. They might when it comes to illegally imported goods, but then again they might not. It is up to you to seek out the perpetrators that are violating your trademark and go after them legally. Another problem you might find is that it is hard to serve someone because they don’t have a viable address, if they are using your logo on a website, their website may not even be listed. That means you have to use legal means, paying attorneys and private investigators to hunt these people down just so you can serve them with papers, or tell them to cease and desist.
Another problem I’ve encountered is when you have done business with a vendor or another company in some sort of a licensing deal many years in the past. Even though that deal has concluded, and you are no longer doing business with them, they continue to use your trademark to make themselves look good. Often they will keep your logo on their website to promote their own business and use your good name in the marketplace. This is equally upsetting when they go and do something wrong and people have been tricked or fooled thinking they were legitimate because your trademark is legitimate in your industry, or with consumers.
One challenge which is worthy of mention is when you terminate a licensing deal for cause, but the company you are doing business with continues to use that marketing material until they run out of it, which could be years, worse sometimes you have no way of knowing. As a former franchisor these sorts of things have happened to me on many occasion, and it is amazing how much work it is to go and try to fix all these issues due to unethical folks in the marketplace.
If they think they can get away with it generally they will. It’s unfortunate, but it seems to be an innate characteristic of mankind to use unethical behavior and trickery. It behooves you to stay on top of these things, and fiercely protect your trademark(s). Do not assume that the government or anyone else will. Yes, this will cost you money, but it is important that you do so. Please consider all this and think on it.