Update: A settlement was reached between the two sides when Adecco publicly apologized, removed the trademark, paid Barr a sum of $50,000, and donated a matching amount to the wildlife charity SaveElephant.org
The human resource consulting company, Adecco, is in the midst of receiving a major public backlash from its launch of the competition Around the World in 80 Jobs. The marketing campaign blatantly rips off the site and domain of the same name run by blogger/adventurer/career hunter Turner Barr. Although Barr has been using the brand creatively for the past two years, Adecco recently grabbed the trademark to the name. Whether this was intentional on Adecco’s part or an insurmountably huge oversight, Barr’s supporters and creatives from all over the world have jumped on social feeds to publicize the event and call out Adecco.
Although the situation is still unfolding, it serves as a lesson to ecommerce companies and marketers alike. Let’s start with a few tips to avoid trademark infringement on moving forward with creative marketing and branding ideas.
Start your search engines – This situation was nothing a quick Google search and a logical marketing mind could have prevented. See who is using the name, and what they are selling/promoting. If there could be any confusion between your services and the ones under the same/similar name, you will have a problem. Even choosing a name that isn’t exactly the same but can detract business from your competitor is a legal complication.
Be thorough – Just because it doesn’t come up in a search query, it doesn’t mean the phrase or name hasn’t been taken. Hit up the public database for your country – the one for the US is the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) – to see what phrases are “live,” “dead,” or non-existent. A trademark is valid as long as the owner is still using it. Even if a trademark is dead, it may be well known and broaching on that territory would be useless. See if the domain name is taken or if the holder is taking offers. Sometimes you can buy your dream dot com for only a few hundred bucks.
What about images? – Know the difference between editorial & advertising. If you’re using someone’s image or photo in media that you are profiting from, that person deserves a share. In an editorial piece, ask permission to use the image and give credit to the owner. If you don’t have time or can’t get permission, use public databases like Wikimedia for free pictures.
The good rule of thumb on trademarks is if someone is already providing a service/product under a specific name, that person has rights to it. If you go ahead and stomp on that brand, it’s possible you could get away with it. But at what cost? In the case of Adecco, your reputation could be severely compromised. Or at least you may suffer costly consequences: cease & desists, domain name seizure, and other legal penalties. If you do make that mistake, honest or otherwise, here’s how to save face and avoid severe public backlash:
Back down – if you’re in the wrong, you will have to surrender the phrase and/or domain eventually. You may as well give it up to show you have the integrity and sense to admit your mistake.
Make a public statement – As soon as you’ve made a decision where you stand and what the right course of action is, address public concerns via social media platforms. Be clear and explain your decision-making. If you’re logical and fair, people will stand behind you.
Monitor your feeds – Once you’ve made a stand, defend larger accusations. You don’t need to address every negative comment but remind your audience you are working towards a solution. If the negative onslaught is relentless, it may be time to disable your auto-scrolling Twitter feed on your site (again, looking at you, Adecco).
Don’t delete evidence – That being said, don’t remove any negative comments or evidence. Deleting it will only serve to make you look sneaky and deceitful in the public eye. Acknowledge what has happened and try to move forward in the most honest way.
Finally, when in doubt, get creative. There are billions of combinations of words or photos you can create. If your ideas are truly your own and you make it come alive through legitimate methods, you should have nothing to fear. But an extra couple of minutes of research can ensure you are not stepping on any creative toes.
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