Trademarks can have their complications sometimes, particularly in dealing with the problem of infringement by others. In the world of parody, trademark fair use is still a hot button topic that comes up at times as comedians go after popular properties in pop culture. We saw one of the most daring recently with the comedian who went to the trouble to start a Starbucks coffee shop with the word “Dumb” before the iconic title.
While this might be an extreme example of parody, it’s already starting to create debate about what exactly constitutes fair use in trademarks. Fair use is generally allowable under the guise of parody, even though lawyers quoted in International Business Times are saying that there isn’t really any clear definition.
What does this mean for your own Intellectual Property (IP) if someone does the same to your company?
Using the Proper Context
It is important to make very clear exactly what is being parodied in order to make a clear distinction that you are within the lines of fair use. The “Dumb” Starbucks gag might end up backfiring legally because some people didn’t understand the joke and created more confusion than anything. It didn’t help that the classic Starbucks logo was used in full without any variation.
While it may say more about comedy becoming more extreme and less obvious, it is also a dangerous line to tread. If the comedian behind this (Nathan Fielder) ends up getting away with it without legal action from Starbucks, then it likely sets up a pattern where other trademarks become vulnerable to more subtle parody.
This could affect your own trademark if you have a very popular local or well-known brand. It is all the more reason you should identify IP in your business and be sure you have more legal protection beyond local rights.