Tag: trademark

FTC to Protect Us from Multi-Colored Beer Cans

bud lightRecently Anheuser-Busch  hit upon the marketing idea of selling Bud Light beer in cans decorated with the college-team colors.  As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t have much else to do - it’s not like there’s been say fraud going on in the mortgage market - it quickly turned its attention to the issue, expressing “grave concern” that these team-colored cans would encourage underage and binge drinking.

As quoted in the Wall Street Journal,  FTC attorney Janet Evans said “this does not appear to be responsible activity.”  What’s not responsible is the FTC wasting taxpayer resources wondering what color beer cans we are drinking out of.  When I was an underage drinker, the last thing on my mind was the color of the can.  The ultimate purpose of the marketing campaign is to shift demand away from boring, non-team color beer cans toward team color cans.  If beer drinkers (or can collectors) get some pleasure out of a certain colored can, where’s the fraud or deception in that?

The real purpose of FTC’s interest is revealed in the comments of the Licensing Resource Group, which represents the colleges in protecting their logos.  Almost all the colleges that have asked Anheuser-Busch to stop selling the cans have cited trademark concerns.  Yet none of the cans have any team logos.  While no one would dispute the right of a college to control the use of its team logo, is it really reasonable to conclude that the colleges also own the rights to the use of certain colors?

PTO Error/Trademark Abuse Update

Two weeks ago, I published a TechKnowledge article telling the story of how a mistake at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and some sharp lawyering had put a small business on the ropes. The Nordstrom retail chain appeared poised to use the PTO’s processes to grind under an organic yoga and lifestyle clothing business called Beckons so it could take their trademark.

Not so fast, said the blogosphere. Several blogs picked up the story, as did the trademark bar. Hearing from disapproving customers, Nordstrom made sounds about a compromise.

That was well-executed PR, and it tamped down the story, but two weeks later there is no compromise. Nordstrom’s motion to cancel two small businesswomen’s trademark still stands. The women’s legal bills are still stacking up, and Nordstrom’s apparent gambit to take away their trademark is still playing out. It’s a case of pure and simple abuse which I will continue to follow and report on here.

Earlier this year, in a parallel case, Monster Cable Products relented from its wrongful trademark-based attack on a small business called Monster Mini Golf (dissimilar products = no likelihood of consumer confusion from using the same name). The head of the company realized that his attorneys had driven him into a legal and public relations dead-end, and he agreed to dismiss his company’s actions and reimburse Monster Mini Golf’s legal bills.

In today’s increasingly watchful and empowered, Internet-driven marketplace, it’s bad for business to use legal and regulatory processes unfairly. We’ll see if that lesson takes root in this case.