From Taylor Swift’s fiery defence of her Evermore album name to the Minogue versus Jenner moniker battle, we’ve seen pop culture royalty use a powerful yet affordable tool to protect their brands from competitive threats over the last few decades – registered trade marks.
Taylor Swift is a big fan of trade marking. The singer has filed dozens of trade marks in the US and internationally, with everything from her sayings to song lyrics and album titles coming under registered trade mark protection.
Most recently, the multi-Grammy winner faced a claim when Utah-based theme park Evermore Park said Swift had infringed its trademark with her album Evermore and associated merchandise.
The singer, who registered a trade mark for ‘Evermore’ in 2020, hit back with a countersuit. Eventually, both sides dismissed their respective claims, but not before Swift threatened the theme park with copyright infringement for playing her songs without a licence.
Meanwhile, when reality TV-turned-billionaire beauty entrepreneur Kylie Jenner applied to trade mark her first name in the US, Aussie singing superstar and international legend, Kylie Minogue, took court action to block Jenner from protecting their shared name with a trade mark. The singer argued she had been known by her first name for decades and already owned a number of Kylie-related trade marks in the US as well as the website www.kylie.com
Hello….. My name is KYLIE #lightyears— Kylie Minogue (@kylieminogue) February 28, 2016
The case was ultimately settled out of court and Jenner’s application for trade mark was dismissed.
“I’ve spent a lifetime protecting my brand and building my brand so it was just something that had to be done,” the pop icon said.
But why should this matter to a startup?
As entrepreneurs launching businesses, we often underestimate the importance of protecting our brand and reputation in the market. While a startup’s success depends on several factors – everything from an innovative idea to hard work and dedication, safeguarding that success and brand reputation depends on maintaining control of your intellectual property (IP) – and that’s where trade marks come into play.
A trade mark is a simple and effective way to protect your brand and provides you with a legal avenue to take action should any copycats emerge. Registered trade marks aren’t only for big businesses or celebrities.
Protecting your brand, product and service with a registered trade mark can cost as little as $250. From application, the registration process in Australia takes several months, so it’s important to consider your brand protection early in your startup journey.
By registering a trade mark with IP Australia, you have the exclusive rights to use that trade mark in Australia in the goods and services areas you select. This simple move can help protect you from copycats and build brand recognition.
Aussie case in point: Katie Perry v Katy Perry
One Australian business owner who can attest to this first-hand is Katie Taylor. Taylor made the savvy decision to protect her sustainable clothing label, Katie Perry, with a trade mark in 2008. The designer, who trades under her maiden name, first launched her brand in 2006, selling her eco-friendly loungewear at Sydney market stalls.
Meanwhile, across the globe, Katy Perry (whose legal name is Katheryn Hudson) was launching a pop career with a string of hits, such as ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and ‘Firework’.
It was 2009 when Taylor received a cease-and-desist letter in the mail from the pop singer’s attorneys. It ordered her to stop trading under the Katie Perry name.
At the time the US-based singer was considering launching a clothing label off the back of her successful music career and had applied to trademark the Katy Perry name in Australia. The pop star’s attorneys suggested Taylor’s brand with its similar name was “misleading and deceptive”.
Fortunately, Taylor had a registered trade mark to protect her brand.
What ensued was something Taylor described on her blog as a “David and Goliath Battle”. A battle that ultimately ended in the federal courts in April 2023 as Taylor accused the pop singer of infringing on her registered trade mark by selling clothing during her Australian tours under the Katy Perry name.
Despite the singer’s considerable legal clout, Justice Brigitte Markovic found in Taylor’s favour saying the US pop star’s company Kitty Purry was found to have infringed the Aussie designer’s Katie Perry registered trade mark by advertising and selling clothing items during the 2014 Australian tour. Markovic ordered an injunction restraining Kitty Purry from continuing to engage in infringing conduct and further paying damages to the Australian fashion designer.
The judgement was a win for small businesses and emphasises the importance of registering a trade mark.
Why you need to consider trade mark protection for your startup
So if registering a trade mark can provide valuable protection for your brand, why do only four per cent of Australia’s small businesses and startups, do so?
According to Lauren Stokoe, Venture Manager of IP Australia’s TM Checker – a free tool that allows you to check the availability of a trade mark quickly and easily – the reluctance boils down to three things: a lack of awareness of what a trade mark is, the perception that applications are costly and time exhaustive, and finally, that they have left it too late to register a trade mark and the trade mark is no longer available.
Stokoe suggests an IP strategy could be a part of every startup’s business strategy. She encourages startups and business owners to do a free trade mark check to see where they stand.
“It’s an important factor of the protection of your brand and of your ideas, and so it’s really about being informed, and maintaining your knowledge before it’s too late,” Stokoe concludes.
TM Checker makes it easier for small businesses to check if a trademark is available. See how TM Checker works.
This article is brought to you by Startup Daily in consultation with IP Australia.
This article is intended to provide general information regarding intellectual property and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It is not intended to take the place of legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon as such.
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