PATENTS AND TRADEMARKS

Ikea's Take Down of Ikeahackers.net Aside: It Is OK to Push the Trademark Envelope

Ikea recently sent a cease and desist letter to a popular blog based on the Swedish company's products. Maybe that was the wrong idea.
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Sometimes when you have a good idea, you just have to go with it. So it was with Ikeahackers.net, a blog mostly devoted to the adulation of the Swedish furniture maker's products.

The blog, owned, operated and monetized through Google Ads by Jules Yap, seems to have prodded a sleeping giant. Ikea reportedly sent Yap a cease-and-desist letter asking him to stop using Ikea's trademark in his blog last week.

The trademark issue is particularly important, in light of the recent U.S. Patent Office ruling that canceled the Washington Redskins' trademark on Wednesday. The USPTO cancelled the national football league team's trademark because they deemed it "disparaging" to Native Americans. Pending an appeal, the team may have lost its federal right to the trademark, but legal experts say the Redskins may continue to use the mark under common law.

"This is a matter of first amendment rights," Rudy Telscher, an intellectual property attorney at Harness Dickey said, commenting on trademark use in general.

Common law does not carry the same weight as federal law when it comes to trademarks, but it allows businesses to use sometimes questionable trademarks in their specific regions.

"Just because you're a small business owner does not mean that you can't choose a trademark someone might think is racey" or that pushes the envelope, says Telscher.

The thing that you have to watch out for is when there's a likelihood that consumers might get confused over whose products or services they're buying. That's clearly disallowed, Telscher says. And Ikea may have a legitimate concern that consumers think Ikea endorses or operates Ikeahackers.net.

Ikeahackers.net recent difficulties brings to mind another trademark infringer--the recent Starbucks parody, Dumb Starbucks, launched in Los Angeles by Comedy Central comedian Nathan Fielder earlier this year. The standalone store made fun of the coffee giant's popular drinks by putting the word "dumb" in front of all its product names. Starbucks took a mostly hands-off approach to that one, saying only that it was looking into the situation. As luck would have it, Los Angeles County health inspectors shut down the store after only a few days of operations in February, for improper permitting.

In the end, if you want to borrow on a trademarked name, just make sure it's clear you're not offering the same products and services. Or if you are, be sure you're sufficiently making fun of the giant company you're channeling. 

 

IMAGE: julesantonio/Flickr
Last updated: Jun 19, 2014

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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