The Season For Infringement – Why brands need to be extra vigilant over the holidays

In the countdown to Christmas, brands large and small are launching their biggest seasonal marketing campaigns of the year. From Halloween and Thanksgiving, to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consumers are bombarded with advertising and marketing messages.

For some it’s the creation of a catalogue and in-store branding. For others, like high street retailers John Lewis and Marks & Spencer in the UK, it is a series of a multi-channel sales and marketing efforts that encompass all the activities expected. And when it comes to Christmas, this includes the ever-popular and much anticipated Christmas adverts.

For the consumer, these campaigns spur gift-giving ideas, provide fodder for office chit-chat and create hype around the holiday. For brands, these campaigns are the culmination of hard work, creative brainstorms, and a lot of behind-the-scenes work by legal departments.

These types of promotional campaigns can include new taglines, new brands and new product names – all of which must be trademarked before the campaign can be launched in order to avoid the risk of infringing on other brands. Protecting seasonal brands and taglines is still vital to promoting the overall health of a brand, despite the fact that often these get overlooked as a result of tight deadlines or budgets.

Building a campaign on a brand, mark or tagline that hasn’t been cleared could be costly mistake — not just in terms of potential litigation, but also if marketing materials, branding and packaging needs to be redone to avoid infringement.

And the season isn’t all about trademarks, but extends to other IP as well, including copyright. Ever thought about which Christmas songs are copyrighted? And which are in the public domain? They were heard pretty much everywhere, so surely they’re all in the public domain? Actually, favourites like Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls are in the public domain, but others like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, are all still under copyright.

All of this needs to be taken into consideration if they’re used in marketing campaigns, or used to entice customers in-store.

Ultimately, there may be the temptation to cut corners when it comes to clearing seasonal trademarks — but it is certainly not worth it in the long term. While it may be the season of goodwill, this doesn’t extend to infringement and you certainly don’t want to wake on Christmas morning to a lump of coal underneath your tree.