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Protecting Your Style

Why Trademarks Matter in Today’s Brand-Happy World

There’s style, and then there’s luxury. Style is a look; luxury is an aura. That’s why you can appear stylish without acquiring actual luxury brands. Counterfeits, knockoffs, and lookalikes are big business, but they don’t deliver the quality — and cachet — of the real thing.

In fact, fakes and counterfeits are flat out illegal. They intend to fool you into believing they’re real. Knockoffs and lookalikes aren’t overtly illegal, they simply have enough similarity that they remind you of the original, but they’re still not the genuine article.

That’s why trademarks are so invaluable, especially in the luxury marketplace.

“Luxury brands use trademarks to protect the consuming public from knockoffs, infringers and counterfeits,” explains trademark attorney Alice Denenberg. “A brand’s trademarks serve as the foundation of the business.”

“The power of a trademark is clear when looking at a simple product like a handbag. A handbag is a handbag, meant to conveniently carry belongings: but a handbag has a different aura if it’s a bag from Target® rather than a bag from Guess®, a Coach® bag, a Louis Vuitton® bag or a Hermes® Birkin® bag. Each brand has its own cachet and relays the quality and exclusivity of the product to prospective buyers.”

While it might not be easy for the average person to determine on sight whether a Louis Vuitton bag is real or a counterfeit, a good “rule of thumb” is that you’re not going to get an authentic one from a street vendor for twenty bucks.

And it’s not that easy to trademark handbags at all. Denenberg says that some brands consider them to be the “holy grail” of trademark protection.

“Handbag designs are especially challenging to secure and even very famous brands may not be successful in securing the protection of a handbag design. Only a select few luxury brands have secured trademarks for handbags, bags and purses or components of these products.”

It seems like even luxury brands themselves chase their own cachet, even if it’s a legal one.

But it’s not just handbag brands that have to try to protect themselves from the counterfeit market.

You likely know that brand names such as Chanel, Gucci, Versace, Rolex, and others are trademarked (not just in the United States but around the world). And everyone can spot a famous “trademarked” logo.

But did you know what else can be trademarked?

Colors. Product shapes. Phrases. Smells, sounds, holograms, even a store’s interior design/layout — all can be (and have been) trademarked. Even jewelry designs and watch faces. It’s not always easy to get this type of trademark, but if there’s something uniquely identifiable about a brand, there’s a good chance that they’ll try to trademark it – to protect their discerning clientele from fakes.

It’s a good bet that luxury brand fans can identify a brand or two just from their packaging alone.

That’s right, the things that create a vibe about a company can all be protected with a trademark.

It’s not just the Nike swoosh that they trademark, it can be the actual sneaker. Uggs trademarked their very sole pattern.

The Law & Order "dun-dun" sound? Trademarked. (Along with the NBC chimes that often accompany it.)

There’s a reason for all the “big game” ads at Super Bowl time without mentioning the actual words “Super Bowl”. The NFL owns that trademark and has it very tightly controlled.

Even our very own Wayne Lifestyle (and corporate organizational City Lifestyle) logo is trademarked, but you'd probably spot a knockoff version of our magazine a mile away, right?

And you can be darn sure that Apple has a few trademarks in their legal department’s iCloud. In fact, Apple has a trademark registration for the inside of an Apple Store.

Whether a brand is a luxury or simply so ubiquitous that it’s easy to duplicate, these companies rely upon their trademarks for them to continue to stay successful. And if you’ve ever fallen victim to the “counterfeit or fake” trap (especially online), you might find that what separates the good from the bad isn’t just the quality of the workmanship. Sometimes, what separates the good from the bad is the quality of the legal team.

Alice Denenberg is an experienced trademark attorney for Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman with a focus on US and foreign trademark prosecution. She has counseled both domestic and foreign clients on all matters relating to trademark protection, including clearance, filing, registration and enforcement. 

She can be reached at adenenberg@grr.com or linkedin.com/in/alicedenenberg

“Trademarks are indispensable tools for luxury brands to ensure that the products maintain their exclusivity and prestige, as well as their function of emblems of sophistication.”

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