Looking for a new way to find out what your competitors are up to in the product development area? If your answer is yes, consider using trademark searches as a source of market intelligence.
Trademark searches? What the . . . ?
A trademark is a distinctive name, symbol, or slogan that identifies the source of origin of goods. Trademarks find their roots in the law of fraud. In the old days of merchant guilds it didn’t take long for snake oil salesmen to knock off someone else’s product and call it their own. To distinguish the genuine goods from the pretenders the guilds established “marks” to identify the authenticity of their product and so was born the law of trademarks.
Trademarks are a fraud prevention mechanism and in marketing terms they serve as a powerful form of brand protection. Searching the trademark data base at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can provide valuable insight into who might be infringing your trademarks. But it is also a valuable source of public information that can shed insight into what your competitor is thinking.
Take for example the recent article about Hewlett-Packard’s trademark applications for “Zeen” under the class of goods described as “portable handheld device for receiving and displaying text and images and sound; computer software for use in transmitting and displaying text, images and sound; computer peripherals; computer hardware.” The article notes that H-P has filed two trademark applications within five weeks of each other that emphasize hand-held devices and speculates that H-P might be entering the smartphone market.
What could this public data base be saying about your competitor’s plans?
In the U.S. if someone is thinking about launching a new product or marketing campaign slogan they can apply for the mark even though they have not used it yet. That type of application is called an “Intent to Use” application. Savvy companies who are market testing products will often use this process to reserve the name, symbol or slogan until they can bring the goods to market. Sure, the Intent to Use applications can get abandoned because they’re never actually used on the goods and sold in interstate commerce. But from a business strategy perspective, it does tell you what concepts your competitors are playing with and that could be a valuable insight.
To learn more about trademarks and how to search the database at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office click here, or contact your trademark counsel.