*Note* The Meeting below has been cancelled. Further information is available here.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced late last week that it will hold a public meeting on July 17, 2017 at its Alexandria, Virginia headquarters on measuring the impact of voluntary initiatives to reduce online intellectual property infringement.
As private online retail and social media platforms such as Amazon and Facebook are becoming the main channels in which people shop and socialize respectively, voluntary IP enforcement measures taken by these and other online parties are increasingly shaping how IP is enforced online—with both positive and negative reception. Google is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Google currently handles millions of online copyright and trademark takedown requests a day, up from merely dozens a day just a decade ago. Based on its heightened role as one of the Internet’s main search engines and online service providers, Google has developed its own voluntary initiatives to deter trademark and copyright infringement including removal of listings that have received repeated notices of IP infringement. While arguably taken to protect against any contributory liability (see 17 U.S.C. § 512(i)(1)(A)), Google’s voluntary enforcement measures such as its removal of repeat infringers is shaping how IP is protected online and how content rights holders address online IP protection. Despite such influence, Google has in the past also faced scorn by such rights holders for not going far enough with other voluntary measures, such as demoting search results of known infringers.
The July 17th meeting is a part of the USPTO’s recent outreach efforts to such interested parties concerning their voluntary online IP enforcement regimes, and is intended to evaluate how such private parties are addressing online IP enforcement—both and home and abroad. Topics to be discussed at the meeting include (among others) evaluating the effectiveness of self-regulatory regimes, presenting case studies of certain private sector initiatives, discussing the role of voluntary undertakings in raising consumer awareness and stemming revenue flows to bad actors (i.e. infringers), as well as others.
Further information about the meeting is available here.
A recent story out of Ireland highlights the importance of understanding territorial trademark protection requirements when registering trademarks—both at home and abroad.
Techdirt and The Spirits Business recently reported about Leo Mansfield, an entrepreneur from Northwestern Ireland who opened a retail outlet in Clifden, Ireland in 2009 called Conn O’Mara, a play on the name of the geographical region where the store is located (CONNEMARA). Since opening his store, Mansfield has decided to produce and sell beer under the store’s name, and filed a trademark application for CONN O’MARA at the Irish Patent Office for beer and alcohol beverages including whisky in Class 32 and 33 (Trademark No. 253618).
U.S.-based Beam Suntory, a subsidiary of Japan beverage behemoth Suntory, filed a notice of opposition at the Irish Patent Office against Mansfield’s CONN O’MARA trademark application citing his trademark’s likelihood of confusion with its CONNEMARA trademark for whisky owned by its locally-owned distillery, Cooley Distillery. Mr. Mansfield has since begun a public relations and petition campaign to contest Beam Suntory’s trademark opposition. Specifically, Mansfield has made statements that CONNEMARA is the name of the geographical region in which his store and the Cooley Distillery are located, and as such, Beam Suntory cannot monopolize use of a geographical region name as a trademark. He has even gone so far as starting a public petition against Bean Suntory’s opposition proceeding.
Mr. Mansfield defense of his store is admirable. However, his story drives home the importance of brand owners understanding differences between trademark protection requirements from country-to-country.
If Mr. Mansfield case had occurred in the U.S., he may have been able to defend against Beam Suntory’s opposition and obtain registration for his trademark. With limited exceptions, the U.S.’ federal trademark act (Lanham Act; 15 U.S.C. § 1052(e)(2)) prohibits registration of a trademark that is “primarily geographically descriptive” of the goods of its owner. As such, Beam Suntory’s CONNEMARA trademark, as used by Cooley Distillery, would not be entitled to protection in the U.S., meaning Beam Suntory likely could not have brought forth an opposition.
Unfortunately, Ireland provides no similar registration restrictions on geographically descriptive trademarks. Ireland’s trademark legislation, the 1996 Trade Marks Act, does not bar registration of a trademark for being primarily geographically descriptive. As such, Bean Suntory’s trademark rights to CONNEMARA in Ireland are not only valid, but will likely prevent Mr. Mansfield from successfully defending against Bean Suntory’s opposition.
What’s The Takeaway? Brand owners wishing to seek trademark protection for their brands in multiple countries need to consider whether their brand names and logos would be entitled to trademark protection not only in their own country, but also in their expected foreign markets of expansion. Working with a qualified trademark attorney with multi-jurisdictional strategizing experience can help to ensure differences in trademark protection across jurisdictions are taken into consideration.
I am honored to announce that I will be returning to my alma mater—Gonzaga University School of Law to speak on state, federal and foreign trademark prosecution and licensing for cannabis businesses at the Second Annual Gonzaga Intellectual Property Merit Scholarship CLE on September 23, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. We have an amazing panel with speakers on a number of interesting IP issues. Hope you can make it, and if you cannot, it will be webcasted so watch it online. See you there!
I am happy to announce that I have the honor of publishing an article in the European Intellectual Property Review (EIPR) to be released this month. Titled “The Effectiveness of the Trans Pacific Partnership’s Internet Service Provider Copyright Safe Harbour Scheme,” the article examines the Trans Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) proposed copyright safe harbor provisions for Internet Service Providers (ISP), its implications on existing TPP member state ISP safe harbor regimes, and rights holders’ abilities to enforce rights in their works online in such states.
Earlier this month, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced it had concluded a Work Plan with the Honduran Government to strengthen intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement. Included in the Work Plan are commitments by the Honduran government to increase criminal IP prosecutions, improve IP enforcement coordination efforts with U.S. authorities, evaluate the adoption of trademark customs recordation procedures, and enhance and clarify the Honduran geographical indication (GI) protection registration process.
The adoption of the Work Plan is a positive step in U.S.-Honduran IP relations. Honduras was identified in the USTR’s 2015 Special 301 Report as being subject to an out-of-cycle review to determine whether Honduras should be included in the USTR’s Special 301 Report Watch List, namely countries considered by the USTR to have inadequate IP protections. While the 2016 Special 301 Report will not be released until April 2016, the conclusion of the Work Plan should assist Honduras in remaining off of the 2016 Special 301 Report Watch List.
Intellectual Property (IP) Watch reported late last month that Nigeria was in the process of reforming its copyright laws for the digital age, including the adoption of its own notice and takedown Internet service provider (ISP) safe harbor scheme. As detailed in the Nigerian Copyright Commission’s (NCC) draft 2015 Copyright Bill (Draft Bill), the proposed notice and takedown scheme would create extrajudicial legal procedures in which an owner of a copyright protected work can petition a ISP subject to Nigerian jurisdiction to remove content hosted by the ISP that infringes the work. Like in the U.S. under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and other countries that have notice and takedown safe harbor schemes, such an ISP would be required to remove such hosted content under certain circumstances in order to qualify for a safe harbor form contributory liability for copyright infringement.
If adopted, such procedures would make Nigeria one of the few countries in Africa with a notice and takedown scheme, giving copyright owners greater means of online enforcement of their rights in Nigeria, and potentially beyond. However, Nigeria’s draft notice and takedown scheme varies from its foreign counterparts. Further, it is uncertain whether it will be adopted, and if so, whether it will be adopted in its proposed form. To understand these issues, it is important to first understand the provisions of Nigeria’s proposed notice and takedown scheme.
Section 47 of the Draft Bill provides that an owner of a copyright-protected work or their agent (Complainant) may submit a notice of alleged online infringement of their work to an ISP hosting such infringing content. In order for such a notice to be effective, it must include the following information:
- A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right in a work that is allegedly infringed;
- Identification of each work claimed to have been infringed;
- Identification of the content that is claimed to be infringing such work(s), and information reasonably sufficient to permit the ISP to locate such content;
- Contact information reasonably sufficient to permit the ISP to contact the Complainant, such as an e-mail address, telephone number, and/or physical address;
- A statement under penalty of perjury that the Complainant has a good faith belief that use of the allegedly infringing content in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, their agent, or the law; and
- A statement that the information in the notice is accurate, and that the Complainant is authorized to act on behalf of a owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
Once a notice is submitted to an ISP, the ISP shall promptly notify their subscriber hosting the allegedly infringing content (Subscriber) of receipt of the notice. If the Subscriber fails to provide the ISP with information justifying their use of such content within ten days after the receipt of the ISP’s notification, the ISP must take down or disable access to such content. However, if the Subscriber provides information justifying their legitimate use of the content, or the ISP is convinced that the Complainant’s notice is without merit, the ISP will promptly inform the Complainant of their decision not to takedown or disable such content.
An ISP can restore access to taken down or disabled content if the ISP receives a written counter-notice from the Subscriber, which the ISP has forwarded to the Complainant immediately upon receipt; and the ISP does not receive, within 10 days, a subsequent notice from the Complainant indicating that no authorization has been granted to the Subscriber for use of the content.
Further, the Draft Bill states that an ISP shall not be liable for any action taken under the notice and takedown scheme that is taken in “good faith.” A copyright owner dissatisfied with a determination or action by an ISP may refer their matter to the NCC for further evaluation.
Evaluating The Proposed Scheme
Now that we know the NCC’s proposed notice and takedown scheme under the Draft Bill, what are its strengths and weaknesses?
Mandated Removal: The Draft Bill obligates an ISP to remove infringing content upon receipt of a Complainant’s notice. As such, it ultimately makes the Draft Bill’s notice and takedown scheme more robust than ISP safe harbors without mandated take down or disabling provisions. For example, the NCC’s proposed scheme is more robust that notification systems that solely require an ISP to notify a Subscriber of their infringing acts upon receipt of a Subscriber’s notice as in Canada, or national schemes that require multiple Complainant notifications and/or expedited judicial action in order for a ISP to be mandated to take action as in New Zealand or Chile.
Delayed Response Time: While the NCC’s proposed scheme mandates an ISP’s removal of hosted content under certain circumstances, it only mandates that an ISP remove infringing content 10 days after receiving a Complainant’s notice and upon receiving no response from a Subscriber. This contrasts from the DMCA that requires an ISP to act “expeditiously” to remove infringing content upon receipt of a Complainant’s notice. See 17 U.S.C. § 512(b)(2)(E). However, the NCC’s proposed scheme still mandates that an ISP eventually remove infringing content after the 10 day period, mirroring similar waiting periods in other countries (Japan (7 day wait period), and Malaysia (48 hours), among others), and without requiring any reposting of such content should no further legal action be taken by the Complainant (as in India).
Ambiguous Exemption: While the Draft Bill obligates an ISP to remove infringing content under qualifying circumstances as described above, its good faith clause may allow an ISP to evade liability for failing to remove infringing content should the ISP’s acts or omissions be considered in good faith. Without any further definition of “good faith” in the Draft Bill, it is uncertain what such a standard would be, nor how it will be interpreted.
What’s The Takeaway? It remains to be seen whether the NCC’s notice and takedown scheme will be adopted, and whether it will be adopted in its current proposed form. Its provisions offer multiple benefits, as well as some drawbacks, for copyright owners compared to its foreign counterparts. Those with current online copyright enforcement concerns in Nigeria should seek qualified Nigerian counsel.
Co-Authored By Josie Isaacson, Gonzaga University School of Law, J.D. 2015.
As the Internet has arguably become the main venue for global commerce, and as domain name registration becomes even more user-friendly, it comes as no surprise that trademark owners and right holders are facing an ever-increasing battle against foreign domain name infringement.
Facebook recently faced and effectively overcame this problem. A U.S. representative of the Ghana-based social networking website Ghana Nation, registered a similar domain to Facebook’s name (facebookghana.com). When Internet users accessed the website utilizing the domain, they were redirected to Ghana Nation’s website. After failed attempts to privately acquire the domain, Facebook filed a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) arbitration complaint against the registrant at the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center.
In this UDRP arbitration proceeding (Facebook Inc. v Host, Case No. D2015-1057 (WIPO Aug. 14, 2015), Facebook provided conclusive evidence of their rights to the domain name and that bad faith use of the domain occurred. This included: (a) evidence of the well-known recognition of the FACEBOOK trademark around the world; (b) registration of the FACEBOOK trademark in multiple countries, including the United States, the European Union and Ghana; (c) evidence of the ownership of several Facebook-related domains across multiple top-level domains (e.g., facebook.biz and facebook.org) and multiple top-level country extensions (e.g., facebook.us and facebook.eu); (d) evidence that the registrant had no affiliation with Facebook; and (e) evidence showing that the registrant used the domain to take Internet users to a competing social media platform. Based on this evidence, the WIPO Administrative Panel warranted a transfer of the domain from the registrant to Facebook.
As Facebook’s recent cross-border domain name dispute illustrates, trademark owners or rights holders need to take important measures to protect themselves against foreign domain name infringement. However, before digging into what steps they can take to protect themselves against such acts, it is important to first understand how domain infringement occurs and the available enforcement tools to protecting trademarks from foreign domain name infringement.
How Does Domain Name Infringement Occur?
Unlike other forms of trademark infringement, domain name infringement, whether in a domestic or foreign context, occurs in three specific ways: cyber-squatting, typo-squatting, and domain name confusion.
Cyber-squatting is where a person or entity registers a domain of a famous or already existing trademark before the actual trademark owner or rights holder is able to register that particular domain. The registrant (squatter) does this usually in an attempt to sell the domain (or extort) t0 the trademark owner when the owner eventually wants to use or acquire rights to the domain, or when the squatter’s use of the domain leads to divergent Internet traffic towards the squatter’s domain website. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) faced foreign-based cyber-squatting in 2000, when a U.S. entity who had a history of buying up confusingly similar domains to known company names and brands (e.g. www.chasevisa.com and www.yahow.com) registered the domain www.bbcnews.com before the BBC had the chance to acquire the domain.
BBC brought a WIPO UDRP proceeding against the registrant that same year (British Broad. Corp. v. Data Art Corp., Case No. D2000-0683, WIPO Sept. 20, 2000). Despite the fact that BBC did not register the domain first, BBC’s extensive worldwide use of the BBC NEWS trademark for decades firmly established BBC’s trademark rights to BBC NEWS. Further, the fact that the registrant purchased the domain long after BBC had been using the BBC NEWS mark worldwide, and as the registrant had a history of purchasing domains that were confusingly similar to well-known trademarks, the WIPO Administrative Panel was able to establish that the registrant had no legitimate interest to the domain, granting its transfer to BBC.
Typo-squatting is where a registrant registers a very similar or misspelled version of a famous or already existing trademark, preying on the common mistakes Internet users make when typing a domain name address. Microsoft has combatted foreign typo-squatters multiple times, including their 2004 WIPO UDRP proceeding against a U.K.-based squatter over the domain micorosft.com (Microsoft Corp. v. Macafee, Case No. D2004-0027, WIPO Mar. 1, 2004). As in Facebook and BBC’s proceedings, Microsoft was able to establish their rights to the MICROSOFT trademark through trademark registrations in multiple countries, domain name registrations including MICROSOFT across multiple top-level domains, and the registrant’s history of registering confusingly similar domains similar to existing brands. As such, Microsoft prevailed over the domain registrant and won rights to the domain name.
Domain Name Confusion
Domain name confusion can occur when two entities have the same name or when a parody site registers a famous mark as a domain name before the actual famous person or entity can register it. Although not cross-border focused, a good example of such confusion is the U.S. case of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. (PETA) v. Doughney, 113 F. Supp. 2d 915 (E.D. Va. 2000), where the actual PETA organization brought suit against a parodist registrant who operated the website “People Eating Tasty Animals.” The registrant lost on parody grounds, and the domain was transferred to PETA, because the PETA trademark was used in the domain name and the parodist page did not simultaneously appear to Internet users–meaning Internet users would be confused between the domain names of PETA and parodist.
How Do You Combat Foreign Domain Name Infringement?
Now that you know how domain name infringement occurs, it is important to now look at what steps a trademark owner can take to prevent such acts.
Prior to taking more formal resolution procedures, such as initiating a UDRP arbitration or legal proceeding, a trademark owner can send a simple demand letter to prompt a domain registrant to transfer a similar or confusing domain to the trademark owner. A formal settlement agreement can help to ensure the transfer of a domain to the business or trademark owner if the registrant consents to the transfer. However, if the registrant refuses to transfer the domain, the trademark owner would need to proceed with more formal domain name dispute resolutions, as provided below.
The UDRP is the main dispute settlement tool to combat foreign domain name infringers by facilitating a streamlined, multi-jurisdictional, and often less expensive dispute resolution process. It was adopted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN; a non-profit corporation that manages the Internet’s domain name system), as a way to simplify domain name disputes, by creating one set of rules that every domain registrant must follow. UDRP arbitration can be sought by a trademark owner or rights holder through WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center (as shown in cases above) or the National Arbitration Forum. The benefits of the UDRP are that it offers a speedier and cheaper option to obtain dispute resolution over a domain, through streamlined evidentiary and procedural processes, with the flexibility of allowing a trademark owner or rights holder to seek enforcement through national legal systems.
However, the UDRP has potential downsides as well. The only remedy available from a UDRP proceeding is either the transfer or cancellation of the disputed domain name, disallowing the recovery of damages. Further, as a UDRP panel does not have to follow strict precedent and has a relatively less-defined evidentiary standard, the UDRP arguably has more unpredictable outcomes than litigation. Lastly, as the parties to a UDRP proceeding can always seek litigation, a UDRP arbitration proceeding may be a non-permanent dispute resolution measure.
So if you choose a UDRP proceeding, what must a trademark owner or rights holder prove to have an infringing domain name transferred or cancelled? According to URDP Rule 3(b)(ix), a successful UDRP complaint must establish three primary elements including that:
- The registrant’s domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the trademark owner has rights;
- The registrant’s has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and
- The registrant’s domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
While these elements seem straightforward, trademark owners and rights holders should work with a qualified attorney to evaluate the merits of their case prior to initiating a UDRP proceeding.
The final alternative in combatting domain name infringement is litigation. The upsides to litigation include the availability of damage recovery and formal precedent and procedural rules of evidence. The downsides are increased legal costs, longer proceedings, and often jurisdictional issues, especially for cross-border domain disputes. Like UDRP proceedings, trademark owners and rights holders should work with a qualified attorney to evaluate the merits of their case prior to initiating a legal proceeding.
How Do You Prevent Foreign Domain Name Trademark Infringement?
Before seeking these identified enforcement procedures, there are a number of measures a right holder can take to ensure favorable outcomes to any foreign domain name dispute. These include trademark prosecution, domain name registration, and domain name monitoring.
The most important way to prevent foreign domain name trademark infringement is to first acquire trademark rights to the domain name in question. Regardless of the country, trademark registration (aka prosecution) is the most effective way to establish trademark rights as it grants the greatest amount of rights possible to a trademark under a country’s laws, and a presumption of exclusive ownership to a trademark in that country. While it is impossible to know what country (or countries) a potential infringing domain registrant will be located, a trademark owner wishing to prevent foreign domain name trademark infringement should consider trademark prosecution in the countries they offer their goods and services. Beyond a prudent means to protect trademark rights, proof of prior trademark registrations in multiple countries strengthens any domain name infringement case against a domain registrant. As in Facebook’s UDRP action, Facebook was able to establish its rights to the facebookghana.com domain based on its prior trademark registrations for FACEBOOK in Ghana and the United States, where the registrant and their principal was based, as well as other major markets such as the E.U. As with any means of trademark protection, trademark prosecution is an essential protection tool.
Register Domains Early and For All Variations
Registering a trademark as a domain early, including in any popular top-level and country designations, can help to eliminate foreign domain name infringement. In Facebook’s dispute above, early registration of the Facebook trademark in various top-level domains and multiple country designations helped to show that consumers would be confused as to a false connection between Facebook and the infringing domain facebookghana.com. Registering domain names early and across popular top-level and country designations establishes priority in the use of the domain names and starts the growth of an online user base accessing the domains.
In addition to registering domains with the exact trademark, it is also good to consider registering domain names with similar misspellings. Such as with Microsoft, typo-squatters will prey on consumers who incorrectly type a company name like Micorosft. Microsoft’s registering misspelled versions of their name may have prevented their 2004 domain dispute from ever happening.
Domain Name Monitoring
As trademark monitoring services help to detect general trademark infringers, domain monitoring services can help to catch infringing domain registrants. Several service providers offer domain monitoring services, constantly searching for confusing and similar domain name registrations in addition to providing alerts to changes in ownership to specific domains. Such monitoring can help to detect domestic and foreign domain name trademark infringement, as well as help trademark owners strategize the acquisition of domains.
What’s the Takeaway?
In the end, robust trademark prosecution, domain registration, and domain monitoring can help to reduce foreign domain name infringement. If a trademark owner or rights holder does confront a infringing registrant, swift action should be taken to protect trademark interests, including pre-action enforcement, and possible UDRP arbitration or legal action if needed. While most trademark owners do not have Facebook’s resources to fight foreign domain name trademark infringement, most owners can take prudent measures to prevail against foreign domain infringement if the correct steps are taken to secure and enforce domain name and trademark registrations worldwide.
After eight years of negotiations, it was reported on Monday, October 5, 2015, that a final agreement to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP; Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam) was reached. While a final text of the TPP agreement has yet to be released, and is reported to not be available for at least another month, some TPP member state governments have provided some details concerning the TPP’s IP provisions.
Ars Technica reported that New Zealand government officials announced that the TPP agreement will require New Zealand to extend its copyright protection term from life of the author + 50 years to life of the author + 70 years, thereby requiring New Zealand to adopt copyright protections beyond minimum requirements provided in existing international copyright treaties such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Despite the potential expansion of copyright protections under the TPP, such reporting also revealed that the TPP agreement will not require New Zealand to adopt stronger Internet Service Provider (ISP) enforcement provisions against repeat copyright infringers. According to the reporting, New Zealand will not be required to adopt a “six-strike” enforcement program, namely requirements mandating that a New Zealand ISP terminate an infringer’s Internet account after six cases of reported copyright infringement, as established amongst many U.S. ISPs.
It remains unclear whether all TPP member states will be required to adopt these copyright protections, as well as what other mandated IP protections are included in the TPP. Further information about the TPP’s IP chapter and its implications on TPP member states will be reported here once available.
Co-Authored By Josie Isaacson, Gonzaga University School of Law, J.D. 2015, Magna Cum Laude; Washington State Bar Pending.
Last month, global sportswear company Adidas introduced a new sneaker design featuring a blue and yellow floral pattern. While unsymbolic to most global consumers, the design has a completely different connotation in Sweden. A very similar blue and yellow flower design is the logo for the Sweden Democrats Party (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) – a nationalist party described by some as racist. To add insult to injury, Adidas launched the new shoe design the same week the SD launched an unpopular anti-beggar campaign in Sweden’s capital Stockholm utilizing similar designs, which was shut down due to widespread public criticism.
It should come as no surprise that a product’s name or design may be perceived differently depending on the cultural lens thru which it is viewed. Cultural misunderstandings can have potentially devastating consequences for a company and its products as it can ruin product launches and marketing efforts no matter how much financial resources and time is spent on foreign marketing and promotional efforts.
So how can a business prevent foreign cultural misunderstanding?
The first way to prevent cultural misunderstanding is to understand how it manifests. Typically, it appears in three ways:
- Color Symbolism. Color symbolism can vary widely from country to country and often can take on unexpected diametric meanings. For example, the color purple in Western cultures such as the United States has a strong connection to royalty, wealth, and honor in the military (e.g. Purple Heart). However, in other cultures such as Brazil and Thailand, purple represents mourning.
- Design Symbolism. The same global variation in meaning can be shown for design features of a product or trademark, where a design element may be innocuous in one culture but negative in another. For example, a logo with a blue eye in the United States has no apparent meaning by itself. However, in other cultures, a blue eye is commonly linked to the negative meaning of the “evil eye” curse.
- Translation Differences. Differences in translation between languages are the most common form of cultural misunderstanding. For example, when the American Dairy Association’s popular “Got Milk?” slogan expanded into the Mexican market, the slogan lost its appeal when the Spanish translation of the slogan read “Are you lactating?”
Next, it is important to do your homework, namely prior foreign market research. Any amount of time and money invested in foreign cultural research prior to introducing a new product in a new market can be a lifesaver. Prior research can be anything from a simple Internet search, to performing formal trademark clearance, to even organizing a focus group of people from the target foreign market. Here is a breakdown of these measures:
- Conduct an Internet Search: An Internet search is by far one of the cheapest research methods to identify cultural differences in words, colors, and symbols in the target market. If Adidas had searched Google.se or a local Swedish search engine, they might have become aware of the flower symbol through searching for “blue and yellow flower” or an image search of similar symbols. However, an Internet search alone will not provide comprehensive results without utilizing other search and research methods.
- Trademark Clearance: A formal trademark clearance search can expose any potential conflicting registered trademarks being used in the target market. For example, SD has a number of design mark registrations of their flower symbol at both the Swedish Patent and Registrations Office (Patent-och Registreringsverket – PRV) and at the European Union trademark office (Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM)). By identifying these conflicts early, a trademark clearance search can not only reduce the risk of cultural miscommunication, but also limit the risk of foreign trademark infringement.
- Focus Groups: Organizing a focus group can be the best way to get the real feel for how the consumer in the target foreign market will perceive and respond to a new product or service being introduced in the country. Many cultural differences are subtle or varied enough that an Internet or trademark clearance search may not reveal them. While relatively more expensive, obtaining personal cultural knowledge from conducting a local focus group survey can be very informative and help to ensure a product or service overcomes cultural miscommunication.
What’s the Takeaway? While it is unknown what prior research steps Adidas took before introducing the blue and yellow floral design in Sweden, relatively simple prior research measures could have been taken to prevent their failed foreign product launch. As each foreign market has its own sensitivities, there is the potential for cultural miscommunication in every country. Taking steps to research the potential meanings or perceptions to a mark or design prior to launching the product or service abroad will not only save a company money and time but also protect against bad publicity.
Today I was recognized by one of my favorite trade and export-related blogs, Shipping Solutions‘ International Trade Blog, as being an Export Thought Leader on Twitter. I was flattered to be listed among other persons and organizations I highly admire in the export world, including Becky Park DeStigter (@IntlEntreprenr), The International Trade Administration (@TradeGov), U.S. Customs & Border Protection (@CustomsBorder), and other distinguished people and organizations.
A link to the blog article can be found here.
Thank you Shipping Solutions for the recognition. It is truly an honor!