Category Archives: Legal Issues

Subways stories, municipal trademarks and IP overreaching

It’s a lot of concepts in that title, but I thought DW’ers might like this post (I’ve dropped a bit of it below) from my annual Christmastime compendium of the best of LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® .

I posted a lot less this year than I used to, but arguably a lot better.

I’ve been following the IP obsession of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority for a while now, including past efforts to maintain control over the use of the iconic subway-line symbols as trademarks.  I expressed particular skepticism that the MTA was in much of a position to complain about any unauthorized misuse of the marks once it had permitted and promoted that use in connection with “NYC Condom.”

Amazing to consider it, but that post was written (gulp) five years ago, almost to the day.

But half a decade later, the issue came up when I stepped into a Lexington Avenue train (the East Side line — of course) festooned exclusively with display ads for kind-of-fancy shoe maker Cole Haan, again integrating the famous letter-in-a-colored-circle logos to spell out all sorts of things — including, naturally:

That’s COLE HAAN, of course — spelled CQLE HAAN (with a “Q”) because there’s no “O” train. Read More

Brand games

NB: It’s been a while since I cross-posted a LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® piece here, but I thought this might be of some non-technical interest, so here goes!  I posted this last week, on the February 21st; it’s as fresh as ever, however. — RDC

This was–I thought–my kind of blog post: a guest post on Duets Blog by graphic designer Ellie Drotning:

When I hear a well-known brand has redesigned its mark, I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. For a graphic designer with a particular penchant for logos and branding, a new logo is like a gift I can’t wait to tear open. But when I got my first look at J. C. Penney Corp., Inc.’s new logo, I was disappointed. If I had been a four-year-old, I’d have been wearing a big ol’ pouty face.

I don’t understand why the friendly, familiar name of JCPenney is gone, replaced by a set of cold, impersonal initials: jcp. Nor do I understand the American-flag imagery. Nothing about this brand, its products or services is any more patriotic than any other American company, but this logo screams “America!” With the new CEO, Ron Johnson (a former Apple Inc. and Target executive) and the new president, Michael Francis (fresh from his last position as CMO of Target) at the helm, I was hoping for a little more cleverness and sophictication. My designer-y prejudices took over and I decided the reinvented jcpenney (or should I call it jcp?) had not won me over.

Ah. So, this I like, especially because, while I had not been aware of the J.C. Penny makeover, I had had similar thoughts very recently about a couple of related minimalist repackagings. One is the now-old-news “KFC,” the rebranding of the fast-food greasatorium formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, now trying to make us forget about the fried, the chicken and probably the Kentucky, too. The second one is the rebranding of Dunkin’ Donuts, evidently — I say this based on the radio ads I am hearing — into something stupidly called “Dunkin’.”

Now it turns out, on investigation, that Dunkin’ has been at work on a rebranding strategy (remember, we want to forget anything fried!) for quite some time. They’ve only recently pushed the campaign into the implausible-sounding radio spots in which we are supposed to believe that real people are calling Dunkin’ Donuts “Dunkin,'” which is simply preposterous. I can see “KFC,” see; people like abbreviations. But “Dunkin’,” while shorter than Dunkin’ Donuts, sounds — what was that word again? — stupid.

And how’s that rebranding going? Well, this article in UK The Economist actually answers that question unintentionally by mentioning Dunkin’ Donuts in the process of ignoring its rebranding while criticizing the ham-fisted rebranding efforts of tonier shops:

Why do people get so upset about such changes? An obvious reason is that so many logos and names are either pig ugly or linguistically challenged. Think of BT’s “piper” logo, which looked like someone drinking a yard of ale and disfigured all things BT-related for 12 years (admittedly, Britain’s incumbent telecoms firm was not too popular to begin with); or the SciFi channel’s decision to call itself SyFy—a name that raises the spectre of syphilis. . . .

The debate about logos reveals something interesting about power as well as passion. Much of the rage in the blogosphere is driven by a sense that “they” (the corporate stiffs) have changed something without consulting “us” (the people who really matter). This partly reflects a hunch that consumers have more power in an increasingly crowded market for goods. But it also reflects the sense that brands belong to everyone, not just to the corporations that nominally control them.

They want your opinion, as long as it’s positive

Companies have gone out of their way to encourage these attitudes. They not only work hard to create emotional bonds with consumers . . . They involve them in what used to be regarded as internal corporate operations. Snapple asks Snapple-drinkers to come up with ideas for new drinks. Threadless encourages people to compete to design T-shirts.

Starbucks has been in the forefront of this consumer revolution. It consults consumers on everything from the ambience of its stores to its environmental policies. It emphasises that it is not just in the business of selling coffee. It sells entry to a community of like-minded people (who are so very different from the types who get their coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s) gathered in a “third place” that is neither home nor work.

Oh, yeah… Dunkin’ Donuts. That clipping-service find (forgive me the anachronism) must have warmed the cockles of the Dunkin’ Brands hearts: rebranding penetration, zero and counting.

But anyway, yes, there’s the substance of that Economist quote, and what I thought was a similar argument in Ellie Drotning’s post. I’m not against rebranding, mind you. I’m against dumb-branding.

But that wasn’t the point (and admittedly, it would have been almost banal if it had been) of the blog post at all. And now: The rest of the story: Continue reading Brand games

Pogo and Changes at Disney

I have of late been entranced by Australian artist who goes by “Pogo” (real name Nick Bertke) who takes an extraordinary number of samples from a single film and weaves them into music and video. His tagline: “I remix stuff.” I love what he does. He’s gained his greatest fame doing remixes of Disney films. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Apparently he does mix in some synthesizer and drum beats from modern equipment, although it’s not clear how much; you can pull an awful lot of sound samples for drum beats and bass lines out of a 90 minute movie.

As a side note, that second video reminds me how easy it is to forget that Dick Van Dyke was a really fabulous dancer (and apparently still was until very recently.)

An interesting part of the Pogo story is that, even though his work is completely independent, he has faced fairly little static from Disney. This is highly uncharacteristic of Disney, which for some time has been famous for being outright brutal in its protection of its intellectual property. Their reputation is for threatening legal action at the speed of light against anyone and anything that even looks like it might somehow be related to one of their properties. They’re outright hated in many circles for it, as they’re known to bully people in circumstances most would call “fair use” or “parody” simply because they had the money and legal muscle to do it. In the case of Pogo’s remixes, Disney appears to have done something of an about-face, and while he’s faced some static from them they’ve mostly left him alone and even (through their Pixar subsidiary) commissioned some work from him. Some of my Facebook friends posit that this more relaxed attitude on Disney’s part may be related to Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, because not only has Disney mostly kept to its promise to let Pixar be Pixar, but key Pixar people are now in place at Disney who may have a more thoughtful take on things like this. Certainly a lot of people with a more modern outlook would look at these videos and say “that’s not just fair use, that’s brilliant promotion of older material!”

I mean, I kind of want to go back and see some of those films again now, especially Mary Poppins. A cheesy and maudlin old movie it may be, but it had some terrific dancing and singing didn’t it?

Pogo doesn’t just do Disney material by the way. Here’s a neat one he did using “Terminator 2″ which he claims is nothing at all but sounds from the movie: