Trademark portfolio management in a crisis

In our webinar focused on trademark management in challenging times, our panellists offered advice on reducing costs and driving efficiencies in trademark registration and enforcement strategies. Here, we summarise some of the guidance and tools discussed.

In our webinar from earlier this year, US-based Sofya Nadgorny, Associate Counsel, Trademarks and Domain Names at Warner Music Group, and Michelle Ciotola, Partner and Vice Chair, Trademarks at Cantor Colburn, joined Novagraaf’s European team, Alastair Rawlence and Toon Simons, to share tips and advice on approaching trademark portfolio management decisions at this time of global pandemic.

With IP budgets increasingly coming under pressure, the speakers shared guidance and tools for effectively cutting costs in registration, maintenance and enforcement strategies; ideally, while avoiding potential business risks and greater costs down the road.

Tips to lower portfolio costs: New filings

When it comes to future trademark registration strategies, Warner Music Group’s Sofya Nadgorny advised looking to “recycle or expand existing marks”, where relevant, and only filing “strong marks in order to avoid rejections or obstacles”. For example, avoiding marks that are potentially too descriptive or where you have identified a potential conflict following a preliminary search.

Sofya also advised being strategic in decisions around registrations in first-to-file jurisdictions, versus first-to-use territories, particularly where brands may already have established common law rights.

Ultimately, she noted, the conversation should be around the business’s goals: “Not all marks are created equal and not all projects, not all initiatives, not all goods and services are created equal.” She gave as an example, the request for a trademark registration for a short-term or experimental project; as opposed to a major business initiative that is at the forefront of a brand owner’s future plans.

Cost cutting: Outstanding applications and renewals

Novagraaf’s Alastair Rawlence also recommended reviewing outstanding applications to see where cost savings could be found. He advised brand owners to:

  • identify registration fees that may be pending after the application is granted;
  • consider settling any ongoing oppositions; and,
  • determine if any applications can be abandoned, e.g. in light of particularly difficult, and therefore costly, objections.

Reviewing the granted portfolio is also crucial when it comes to making the right renewal decisions, added Alastair, explaining that portfolios will, typically, over time expand, becoming potentially disorganised without regular audits.

Usually, a disorganised portfolio is more expensive to manage and maintain,” he added. “A budget reduction offers the opportunity to cull ‘dead wood’ from the portfolio, such as duplicates or unused brands that could be repositioned to replace the need for a new filing, for example.”

Alastair also advised drawing up a list of marks with brand managers that are potentially vulnerable to non-use cancellation, so that IP owners are pre-armed should those marks be relevant for opposition actions or be challenged by third parties: “Do you need to defend marks that are vulnerable to cancellation? Do you need to oppose a mark, if your own mark is potentially vulnerable to non-use cancellation?

Savings through abandonment – at what cost?

There are some important questions to consider before deciding to abandon a mark, advised Cantor Colburn’s Michelle Ciotola. In particular:

  • Where else do we have protection?
  • What are the key markets for the product/business?
  • Where do we have manufacturing?
  • Will losing protection impact enforcement ability and/or increase risk of counterfeiting?
  • Can we rely on common law rights?
  • Can we take advantage of a grace period and what are the costs?

Before allowing rights to lapse, it’s also advisable to consider whether those assets can be leveraged; for example, by repurposing them for another business unit, or ­if – if there is third-party interest in the brand – via licensing or assignment.

Likelihood of future use should also be considered, added Sofya. This is particularly relevant in industry sectors and/or for heritage brands where previous designs could be re-used or revived as a vintage product.

Enforcement: The cost-benefit analysis

When it comes to decision-making on enforcement, the key questions according to the panellists are:

  • What are the chances of success?
  • Does it really impact my business?
  • Is the other party litigious?
  • To what extent is the other party using the contested mark?
  • What do we gain versus what do we lose if we pursue enforcement?
  • Are there other routes to a solution; e.g. cease and desist letters, rather than a notice of opposition?
  • If the likelihood of confusion is low, should a co-existence agreement be considered?

Where costs are tight, Alastair also recommended: confining offensive actions to core brands/territories only; settling outstanding contentious actions to avoid drawn-out costs and litigation; and, determining clear objectives at the outset, so activity is focused on core assets.

A smarter way to manage IP

Automated solutions and workflows can considerably streamline the costs and time required to monitor and enforce against infringement, as is the case with our Online Brand Protection service, said Toon Simons.

Additional cost saving can also be driven by consolidating global trademark filing, renewal and enforcement programmes via one central law firm. As Toon explained, this will pay dividends to IP owners by:

  • centralising data to deliver a holistic overview of the entire IP portfolio;
  • reducing portfolio management time by streamlining common tasks;
  • enabling budgeting and future forecasting, including splitting larger filing projects over multiple years or tracking spend by age of asset;
  • delivering the data insights required to inform budget-driven decisions, including the cost-risk analysis; and
  • recording the decisions that are made.

For further advice and insight on proactive trademark portfolio management, please download our white paper 'Best practices in trademark management: A pratical guide'.

Sign up to our global trademark management webinar to listen to the recording in full.

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