Earlier this year, the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced that it was coming out with a line of clothing and accessories called "Rain, Heat & Snow." The USPS licensed its motto to Wahconah Group Inc., a Cleveland-based apparel company that will design, manufacture, market and distribute the products bearing the USPS motto. This promotional product license deal may be the most brilliant money-making move that the financially floundering USPS could make.
Promotional product merchandise that includes popular company trademarks (such as names and logos) is big business. Trademark licensing deals can be very lucrative, not only from the income they generate, but in building brand recognition. However, licensing deals, like the USPS' arrangement, can involve many legal land mines. Before jumping into a licensing deal or simply popping a logo onto a product to sell, here are some important points to remember.
1. Don't Use Others' Trademarks Without Express Permission
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of one party's goods from someone else's goods. Examples of trademarks include names and logos of famous fashion designers, soft drink products and automobiles, to name a few. Other trademarks include universities' names, seals, crests, sports teams and mascots, as well as marketing slogans.
Trademark owners have exclusive rights to use their trademarks—others can use them only with permission of the intellectual property owner. Intellectual property that is used by others without permission (i.e., infringers) can expose the infringer to lawsuits involving significant sums of potential damages. This is where just popping a logo onto a product without explicit permission from the intellectual property owner could land your company in hot water. Therefore, permission to use others' intellectual property should be obtained through a license arrangement.