In the movie “Coming to America,” a running gag was a McDonalds Restaurant knock-off called “McDowells.” From color, to layout, to menu items, everything was designed to make money at the expense of McDonalds.
Last year, Starbucks successfully sued one Samantha Buck for operating a coffee shop under the name “Sambucks” with a logo that was similar to that of Starbucks.
Internet marketers are finally understanding the need to protect their names just like traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. Big name online marketers are seeking trademark protection for their names.
Here are a few examples of why this has become necessary.
1. Competitors are using the marketers’ names as pay-per-click (PPC) keywords to drive traffic to other products and services.
2. Goods and services are being sold using the marketers’ names in such a way as to mislead buyers into falsely believing the marketers have in fact endorsed these products and services. This is particularly troubling from a legal standpoint when the products and services are high risk items…such as healthcare products that over-promise results (eg. diet pills) or speculative investments in ventures that violate blue sky laws.
3. Internet marketing gurus’ names are being used in articles as an SEO tool to drive traffic to websites. A repulsive example of that involves publications of articles involving the name of a prominent Internet marketer who recently died. Those publishing the articles are literally robbing the corpse of his good name in order to make money with it. Unfortunately, most don’t realize what is occurring because the articles are written as tributes to the deceased…but with hyperlinks to the target websites where money is to be made.
Many personal names are difficult to assert trademark protection. But those whose names have acquired secondary meanings through their online marketing successes should not have their names abused for financial gain by others.