What's in a Trademark?
Something the owner of Washington Promotions & Printing said to Bloomberg Businessweek always stood out to me. The day after the lawsuit was filed, he said, "I thought presidential campaigns were like the Grateful Dead, who never enforced their IP rights, but encouraged people to record their music and print their logos."
My jaw dropped. I would expect an end-user, and even an end-buyer, to not know the severity of trademark infringement. The rest of us cannot afford to be so cavalier. Fortunately, most of us aren't. As one PromoMarketing.com commenter said, "Ignorance is no legal excuse." No matter how the Obama for America vs. Demstore.com case plays out in the future, it's important to know how to protect your business and your clients.
Is it legal to use the same colors as a sports team, but in a different pattern? What about the same pattern with inverse colors? Can you reprint a popular slogan like "Just Do It" on an unrelated product? The ins and outs of intellectual property law go beyond my intellectual capacity, but it's important to know how to respond to these questions. Your clients may ask them, or they may come to you with a job that involves an imprint dangerously close to a registered trademark, and you need to know what to do.
How can you protect yourself? Lawyer up. Find an attorney in your area who specializes in intellectual property law and don't be afraid to consult them when it comes to questionable jobs. The fee they'll charge you for a phone call is much less than the fee they'll charge to defend you in court, plus damages you could be forced to pay if your client is caught using a trademarked logo (and if your client is caught, you can safely assume you are as well).