With an increasingly competitive marketplace challenging traditional business models, protecting intellectual property in the automotive industry has never been more vital. Among a business’s most valuable assets are the four types of intellectual property (“IP”): trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. But, what is IP and why is it important to protect it?
A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or logo used to advertise or market a product or a service. Trademarks help to identify and distinguish the product or service from its competitors. Although “common law” rights in a trademark can be established merely by using it in commerce, registering the trademark grants the holder the legal presumption of exclusive ownership, and notifies the public that the user claims ownership.
Trademarks can be protected through registration with the state or federal government. If a trademark is registered, someone with a similar mark who applies for protection may be denied and should consider ceasing to use the possibly conflicting mark to avoid litigation. Beyond registration, trademark owners can also hire a “watch service” to monitor trademark registries for copycats, or to watch domain names to see if anyone is selling competing products online. Another cost-effective way to stay aware of whether your trademark is being used, or appears on the news or on the Web, is to create a Google Alert. However, it would be risky to rely solely on Google Alerts, or simply periodically “surf the Web” yourself, because those searches do not flag trademark registries or domain names.
Another way to protect intellectual property is by securing trademarks for future expansions of a product line. For example, when Cadillac introduced its new CT6 flagship in 2014, it began to seek trademark registration coverage for not only CT6, but CT2, CT3, CT4, CT5, CT7, and CT8 as well. By doing so, Cadillac avoided the situation that Audi found itself in with Fiat Chrysler earlier this year. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, in exchange for an undisclosed trademark previously owned by Audi, agreed to release two of its badges, Q2 and Q4. Because Audi owned the trademarks to the rest of the Q1 through Q9 badges, securing the “Q2” and “Q4” trademarks helps to strengthen its recognition in the marketplace and prevent consumer confusion.
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The National Law Review