Google’s right to call its online shopping service “Froogle” may be in jeopardy. Last Friday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) rejected Google’s claim that a competiting website, Froogles.com, infringed on the Google trademark.
Froogles.com, a search engine for free stuff, pre-dates Google’s registration of the Froogle.com domain. Froogles probably refers to the people who seek out free goods and services — frugals or “froogles”. Froogles.com is owned by a disabled carpenter from New York State.
In a separate but related issue, the owner of Froogles.com has challenged Google’s attempt to register “Froogle” as a trademark with the US Intellectual Property Office. Froogles claims Google’s “Froogle” infringes the pre-existing Froogles mark.
Why all the fuss? Companies depend on their brand identities to help buyers quickly and easily identify their products and services. A trusted brand instills buyer confidence and generates equity for all products in the family. If a company’s trademark is confused with that of another firm, the brand equity may erode. If the trademark becomes generic, as with “trampoline” spring equipment, “zipper” slide fastener or “dry ice” coolant, the company may lose its investment in marketing and brand equity.
Companies need to police their trademarks, servicemarks, copyrights, and other intellectual properties. Although many companies carefully set out user agreements, non-disclosure agreements, trademark applications, and escrow provisions, many overlook marketing tools. Brochures, websites, news releases, product packaging and other materials often include intellectual properties. Down the road, these materials can help establish credibility for prior use, likelihood of confusion, strength of mark, intention of use, and other trademark disputes. Marketing and customer management reporting can also help establish the intent of a mark, consumer confusion, and the market’s perceived value of trademarks.
Aside from investing in legal resources, companies should make sure their marketing managers, copywriters, designers, and consultants have intellectual property management training and experience. Ask your in-house and freelance marketers what steps they take to protect your intellectual property. If you receive a stunned look, start digging.
(c) 2004 by Andrea Coutu. Vancouver Marketing Consultant. All rights reserved.