Borrowing Blue

Smart marketing. That is what comes to mind when I think about what China Glaze has done with the branding behind its For Audrey nail polish. Take a look at the product.

For Audrey Nail Lacquer Ad
For Audrey Nail Lacquer Ad
Something Blue Counter Display
Something Blue Counter Display

Did you notice the clever associations the nail polish company created by relating the product to the blue color associated with an iconic jewelry store? Or the movie with that store’s name?

On its Web site, China Glaze calls this product a “Tiffany inspired turquoise creme nail lacquer”. But the word “Tiffany” does not appear anywhere on the nail polish bottles or the store displays.

Why is this all so clever? Because the color conjures up images of exclusivity, allure, romance and also a bit of decadence. How did this come about? There is actually a trademark tale behind it all. Tiffany & Co. owns the trademark exclusive rights to use the color robin’s egg blue for boxes, shopping bags, packaging and catalogs in various markets, including fragrances, tableware and crystal. The famous luxury retailer has done a magnificent job of managing this exclusive trademark color in the market for high-end luxury items.

Has China Glaze infringed the color trademark owned by Tiffany & Co.? Not likely since their nail lacquer is not included in the above categories.

Will Google Shut Down Copycat Site?

A student in my Entrepreneurship class recently made me aware of the site: “Let me Google that for you” .com (LMGTFY).

As the name of LMGTFY implies, the site shows you how to search Google if you follow the simple steps listed on the site. I showed the website in class, and one student immediately thought it was a joke. “That’s not so unique” was one comment. “Why not get rid of the middleman and go straight to Google?” another student asked.

As it turns out, the website is dedicated “to all those people that find it more convenient to bother you with their question rather than google it for themselves.” So, if you receive an annoying question, rather than ignore the person or say something nasty, you can send them to LMGTFY and hope they get the message not to bother you again.

The website raises some intellectual property issues, however. I asked the class if they would be willing to invest in this company. The site apparently is trying to raise advertising revenues and claims to have a “steady stream of traffic made up primarily of affluent 30-somethings.” They also claim to have received 1.25 million visitors in February. One student said he would not invest because Google would be able to “shut them down fairly quickly”.

Under what grounds? First, there is the possible trademark issue since the Google trademark and logo are used on the site. Also, the Google website is secured under copyright.

Knock-Off Awards

Can you tell the difference?
Can you tell the difference?

Shame on you. That’s the purpose of Plagarius, a German cereremony that awards the most blatant knock-off  artists. The purpose of the awards is to send a message that stealing innovations is not acceptable.

Having their innovations knocked off in this manner can be an innovator’s worst nightmare. With some money and determination, they can shut down the knock-off artists. This kind of behavior really highlights the law of the market: if you succeed others will imitate.

Click here for the full BusinessWeek story.

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Arvind Natarajan for sending me the link to this story.


“I have the name Matsuflex. If I can harness that Matsuflex energy, it’s gonna help change America in a positive way!”


These are the words of Ryan Matsunaga, a.k.a. Matsuflex, one of the participant’s on VH1’s reality t.v. show The Tool Academy. Matsuflex, is one of the program’s finalists and has made a point of advertising his name as often as possible. During a recent show, one of the show’s attendee’s asked “What’s Matsuflex? It sounds like an energy drink.” Here’s another suggestion, a Matsuflex sounds like a pull-up machine hawked on late night t.v. The point is, the name Matsuflex may have real commercial value.

If that is the case, Matsuflex would do well to trademark the name as soon as possible. I ran a quick search at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database and was unable to find a trademark registered as Matsuflex, which means it is still open for someone to claim, so long as they can prove they will offer something for sale called Matsuflex in a particular class of goods or services.

Matsuflex should think about running to the USPTO to claim the name, if he hasn’t done so already. Otherwise, an unscrupulous entrepreneur might take it over, and misappropriate all that positive Matsuflex energy.

Board Game Manufacturer Trumps The Donald

Donald Trump tried to register the phrase “you’re fired” but was denied. Paris Hilton was allowed to register “that’s hot”. What gives? The law of trademark.

Trademark law accomplishes two important objectives: 1) it protects investments to build brand equity in a trademark; 2) it protects consumers from the likelihood of confusion in the marketplace. The second reason explains why the Donald was rejected, and Paris was not.

Another important item to consider is that trademarks are only registered for goods that are actually sold in narrowly defined product markets.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office examiner rejected Donald’s “you’re fired” trademark application in the class of goods for “games”. The rejection was based on a previously registered trademark: “you’re hired”. A company, called Franklin Learning Systems, had registered “you’re hired” for one of its educational board games. The examiner determined that “the similarities between the marks and the goods of the parties are so great as to create a likelihood of confusion.”

In Paris’ case, no one had registered anything similar to “that’s hot” as a federal trademark for the classes of goods and services she applied for, including “men’s and women’s clothing”.

Trademark a catchphrase?

A catchphrase, a.k.a. tag line in marketing parlance, can be registered as a federal trademark if customers recognize the phrase as the source of a product or brand.

Below are three catchphrases associated with particular celebrities. Two of these phrases have been successfully trademarked. Try to guess which one failed to make the cut.

Paris Hilton
"That's hot"
"You're fired!"
"You're fired!"
"Two thumbs up."
"Two thumbs up."

I’ll post the answer this Wednesday, along with a discussion about trademarking catch phrases in general.

Pimp My Trademark

I recently watched the MTV show “Pimp My Ride“, in which people with junkers contact the show with the hopes of getting their cars souped -up. The show I happened to watch involved a pretty beaten up Honda Civic. During the car’s transformation, the team installed Lambo doors on the Civic. Lambo doors are car doors that swing up like those in the famous Lamborghini models from the ’80’s (just think of Miami Vice).

I recalled seeing a trademark at one point owned by Lamborghini on the motion of its doors. I did a little research at the U.S. Trademark Office and found the live trademark registration # 2793439 owned by Lamborghini. Here is the image of the trademark as it is currently registered to the company:

Image of car doors swigning up to open.
Image of car doors swinging up to open.

This registered trademark was issued to Lamborghini in 2003 and “consists of the unique motion in which the door of a vehicle is opened. The doors move parallel to the body of the vehicle but are gradually raised above the vehicle to a parallel position. The matter shown in dotted lines is not part of the mark.”

Did Lamborghini license this trademark to the folks involved in MTV’s program? If not, did they commit trademark infringement?

It seems that several companies make and sell kits that allow mechanics to transform any old regular car doors into the pimped out Lambo doors. Most of the kits I have seen advertise the doors as “Lambo doors”, giving proper attribution to Lamborghini as the pioneers.

Back to the trademark infringement. It seems to me that the kit manufacturers would not be infringing the trademark shown above since they are only selling the specialized hinges that make the car doors rotate upwards. That is a functional product (subject to patent laws) and not trademark, which only extends to source identity. If you go back the trademark listed above, Lamborghini owns the right to how car doors actually move on an actual car. So, perhaps the person who owns the car commits the trademark infringement every time they open and close their car doors!

Is Lamborghini going to do the same thing the recording industry has done and go after individuals? Let’s hope they have better things to do.

Boundless trademarks

Trademarks have a dual purpose: to prevent consumer confusion by preventing any company from usurping the identity of another firm; they also are private property rights that secure a company with goodwill and brand equity.

Trademarks have lately been controversial since the scope of trademark property has expanded a lot in recent times. Some trademarks can even legally become “famous”. When a mark is legally recognized as famous it can stop other users of the mark even if there is zero consumer confusion. This has created problems for companies in totally different markets and contexts who try to use a similar mark that no one would confuse with the famous mark, e.g. using rolls royce for a dry cleaning service. It has also created problems for people who try to comment on a brand through parody or social commentary (see discussion thread below dealing with the Barbie). Owners of famous marks can potentially censor others who tarnsih the mark in any way.

The other controversial development is the use of trademarks to cover sensory perception, e.g.  strange trademarks, where companies secure a property right to things like sounds, colors, shapes and motion. That was the subject of my recent lecture, and a Wall St. Journal article I wrote last year about how Apple received a shape trademark for the iPod. If you would like to see the recent lecture slide show please click here:

The Shape of Things to Come: Non-Traditional Trademarks from the iPod to the Chippendale Dancers

I’d love to hear about what your  thoughts are on trademarks!