Welcome to this third of our four part series on protecting your business’ intellectual assets at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show. Part one dealt with what to do when you find counterfeits of your products at the SEMA Show. Part two dealt with protecting your new product launch at the SEMA Show.
Part three deals with how and why to protect your brand identifiers at the SEMA Show.
The SEMA Show offers a unique opportunity for your company to get your brand(s) in front of thousands of distributors, buyers and end users. All of this attention also means that your company needs to take the proper steps to protect your brands from those looking to make a quick buck by copying or counterfeiting your products. Here are some things you should think about when considering how best to protect your trademarks and brand identifiers at the SEMA Show:
Make Sure You Own Your Logos and Artwork
Did you know that, when an artist develops a new logo for one of your products, that artist owns the copyright to that artwork? The artist’s copyright technically means that, until the copyright is assigned or licensed to your business, you do not have the right to make copies of that logo without the artist’s permission. This applies not only to logos, but also to drawings, photographs, written materials (such as product manuals), videos and sound recordings. In limited instances, the artwork can be considered a “work for hire,” in which case your company automatically owns the copyright as opposed to the artist.
Unfortunately, many companies fail to have the copyright to their artwork formally transferred to the company. This leaves the company vulnerable to paying damages to the artist for copyright infringement. Worse yet, if your competitor(s) find out that you don’t own the copyright to your important artwork, they can purchase the copyright from the artist. This gives your competitor the right to use your artwork (and sue you for copyright infringement if you continue using the artwork), and leaves you without the ability to stop them.
Carefully review all artwork to be used at the SEMA Show, including company and product logos, drawings, photographs, written materials such as product manuals, videos, and audio recordings, to ensure copyright ownership. Failing to do so exposes your company to possible copyright infringement lawsuits and risks the possibility that one of your competitors could see your new artwork and purchase the copyright from the artist.
Read more ways to protect your trademarks and brand identifiers on the next page.
Apply for Trademark Registrations Before the Show
Trademarks protect anything (including brand names and product logos) that a company uses to identify and distinguish its products and services from those of its competitors. Registering your company’s trademarks with the government provides significant protections, including the right to sue for an injunction stopping future sales of a copy or counterfeit and/or damages, and the right to seize imported goods that infringe your trademark.
The United States requires that the brand owner actually use the trademark before they will issue a trademark registration. However, in many other countries (including China, Germany and Japan), trademark registrations are first come, first serve. In other words, the first person to file a trademark application in those countries gets the trademark registration, regardless of whether they actually use the trademark. This encourages squatters to file trademark applications in their country on your previously un-registered trademarks. Once they obtain the trademark registration in their country, the squatters can use that registration to prevent you from selling your branded goods into their country. Worse yet, the squatter can legally use your trademark in their country to sell counterfeits of your goods.
One can easily envision how squatters in these countries might monitor the SEMA Show for un-registered trademarks. Don’t be left in the position of having to purchase or license a registration for your trademark from a squatter in order to do business in their country. Ensure that your company applies for trademark registrations on your important brand identifies before going to the SEMA Show.
Communicate the Value of Your Brand
The most important, but most often overlooked, aspect of brand protection involves consumer awareness. Evidence suggests that people often purchase counterfeit goods, typically at reduced prices compared to a genuine product, because they do not see the value in purchasing the genuine product. Companies that effectively communicate the value of buying a genuine product as opposed to a counterfeit are less likely to lose sales to counterfeiters.
Are counterfeits of your company’s products in the marketplace? If so, consider purchasing and testing the counterfeit products yourself to determine their quality (performance, durability, fitment, etc.). Once you’ve determined how and why your company’s genuine products are of better quality than the counterfeits, you can use the unique environment of the SEMA Show to communicate that information to distributors, buyers, and end users.
Demonstrate How Your Customers Can Identify Fakes and Counterfeits
Your customers rely upon you to protect them from the inherent dangers of purchasing a counterfeit product. Once a consumer purchases a counterfeit of your product, only to have it fail, the damage to your company’s reputation is done. That consumer will no longer trust your brand or products.
If you know that counterfeits of your company’s products exist in the marketplace, you owe it to your customers to inform them of this fact, and to teach them how to avoid buying a counterfeit product. Does the counterfeit have a different shape? Different colors? Does it come from a particular manufacturer or distributor? Consumers can use all of this information to distinguish your genuine products from a counterfeit. Once you’ve answered these questions, you can use your company’s presence at the SEMA Show to communicate with your distributors, buyers, and end users on how to avoid counterfeits.
On the next page, you’ll find some alternative options for intellectual property protection.
Consider Alternative I.P. Protections
While trademark registrations covering logos and brand names are the primary line of defense against copy-cats and counterfeiters, other intellectual property protections can help your company protect its brand identifiers. These protections can include:
- Three dimensional trademark registrations covering the unique shape of your products or their packaging.
- Trade dress registrations covering the unique design (colors and shapes) on your products or their packaging.
- Design patents covering the unique ornamental appearance of your products.
- Copyrights covering artistic works, which can include complex logos, photographs, artwork, audio/video recordings, and even product manuals.
Before your company exhibits at the SEMA Show, you should consider which, if any, of these protections you can use to better protect your brand identifiers.
Knowing when and how to protect your company’s brand identifiers is important for your business, not just at the SEMA Show, but year round. Failing to take action can leave your brands exposed and at risk for copying or counterfeiting. Before your company exhibits at the SEMA Show, please ask yourself, “have we done all that we can to protect our brands?” If the answer is anything other than “yes,” we urge you to contact an attorney of your choosing immediately to discuss your trademark and brand protection options.
Stay tuned for additional blogs on protecting your innovations and brand identifiers at the SEMA Show. You can also visit us at our SEMA Show booth (Performance Pavilion Booth No. 50120) for more information.
Part 1 – Aug. 15 – What to Do When You Find Counterfeits of Your Products at the SEMA Show
Part 2 – Aug. 23 – Protecting your New Products at the SEMA Show
Part 3 – Sep. 6 – Protecting Your Trademarks and Brand Identifiers at the SEMA Show
Part 4 – Sep. 12 – Using Artwork and Photographs in Your SEMA Show Booth and Literature