When the worlds of brands collide
Registering trademarks may not always be enough to avoid conflicts
HOW much would you spend to buy a brand and then close it down? That, of course, is the dream of many a person — to register something, or be a cyber squatter, and then be offered so much loot they could retire in luxury.
In our fast-changing world, registrations made in the dim past sometimes collide, with unexpected results. Who would have thought that Apple Computers registered in 1976 would ever come into conflict with Apple Records, the Beatles label, registered in 1968? But it did.
Around the globe a brand may be owned by different people in different parts of the world, while sometimes the same name is registered to different owners with no connection. A good local example is Woolworths, no re- lation to the one in the US, or Australia or the recently deceased British version. So it’s not a problem if you stay in your own geographic playpen, but take care if you venture abroad.
An interesting local situation is the small top-notch financial group Marriott, founded as Russell & Marriott in Durban in the 1850’s. Today you will know them simply as Marriott, the sponsors of rugby referees and playing to the slogan: “Solutions for Retirement”. For some years the eponymous US hotel group has been pressurising the local group to change its name and curtail its operations. Marriott Hotels is particularly weak in Africa and has no presence in SA; yet obviously they want to keep their options open. Marriott has refused to roll over, quite rightly, and with big brother Old Mutual lurking in the background, don’t expect any changes soon.
I notice from time to time local legal writers quote the Interbrand Best Global Brand rankings by value. And we are the Africa presence of Interbrand. Average age of the top 10 was 74 last year. The 2012 tables will be issued in early October. These tables play a significant part in underlining the fact that for many companies, their major assets are their brands. Locally some companies have difficulty distinguishing between company and brand, let alone know how many brands they own, what the value of each is, and which to focus on.
This year we have already seen a mega transaction involving the selling off of one of Procter & Gamble’s main brands, bought by Kellogg’s. Globally Pringles potato crisps may have become a household name, but I’m not sure anyone locally would have considered paying R20bn for one brand. And of course it fits Kellogg’s perfectly as the company expands into the snacking category.
I couldn’t help wondering if there was one African brand I could buy for that figure? But then with a market cap of a little over R16bn I could buy up all Distell’s fifty or so alcoholic beverage brands and have some change. As an aside I think you will agree Distell is a leading brand in its own right, a name we created in the year 2000, but at the time I was told it would not become a brand. How things change.
Back in 1972 the main British banks decided to club together and create their own credit/debit card to combat the US invasion led by Amex, Visa and Mastercard and as a result Access was born. However by the mid-90’s it be- came apparent that local was giving way to global and that Access had limited prospects. But how to exit gracefully and what about the considerable investment? So a brand valuation was commissioned. In the end I recall a figure of £100m was agreed, a not insignificant figure in those days, and the brand was bought by Mastercard.
Today to globally register any trademark is a mouth-watering prospect for lawyers, the cost of which brings tears to the eyes of most clients, and is a continuous challenge to all branders and wordsmiths who seek to create unique monikers.
An interesting legal row brewing at the moment involves Apple. As we are aware a naming protocol has evolved starting with the letter “i”, so we have iphones, itunes, ipads etc, and a whole way of life. Late last year before his premature death Steve Jobs announced that with the ever-increasing convergence, he was working on an “integrated television set” that was “completely easy to use”.
Jobs and Apple had quickly learned never to create one offs, but always look to synch with other devices and the Internet. The smart money is already predicting a UK launch for Christmas 2012 of a 42-inch flat screen television, retailing at £951 (around R11 000). Obviously it should be called the “ITV”.
However, since 1955 there has been a company in the UK called ITV running a television network, it’s a public listed company and is quoted on the London Stock Exchange.
ITV head Adam Crozier has already told Apple to back off, but as ITV has a market cap of only R35bn, that would be petty cash for Apple should they decide to buy the name or, if necessary, the entire company.
Stranger things have happened than when companies have been bought purely to take ownership of the intellectual assets — often trademarks and patents. So for Apple to clear the way for ITV it may well have to buy up the ITV Company, but perhaps an accommodation will be made.
The first step is to test the current registrations. They had better be rock solid.