A trending topic with many of our clients recently is trademark infringement. And trademarks in general. Not only do you want to avoid trademark infringement in tourism marketing, but also know what to do if you’re working with a trademark brand. Today I’ll share pointers from working on campaigns on both sides of the equation.

Note: We are not lawyers, we are marketers. This is not intended as legal advice, but rather as an account of our experience and a caution to tread carefully.

First, what is trademark infringement?

Let’s just take the definition from the source. “Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of a trademark or service mark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services.” As stated on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website.

If you look for examples, you’ll find a lot of cases that center around brand names and logos. But that’s not the only time you can run into this issue. Large events, character names and even artwork can be defended as part of a brand.

Avoiding trademark infringement: Examples

Have you ever heard commercials and even TV shows in January start talking about “The Big Game?” That’s because they’re not allowed to say Super Bowl. The NFL does not let unaffiliated brands profit from the use of the name without paying for that right.

Also consider avoiding March Madness for the same reason.

One of the biggest franchises around, Harry Potter, is also very closely safeguarded by Warner Bros. Using the name of the books, films, characters or even selling clothing or objects similar to those that appear in the stories is a no-no. For example, in 2018 the entertainment company cracked down on festivals. While fans may not agree, it seems best to avoid a lawsuit. Instead, you can allude to the characters and stories without naming them. Words like wizarding, magic and the like are creative ways to make your point without attracting unwanted attention.

Along these same lines, avoid trademarked character names from any franchise. Unless, of course, you have permission.

Working with a Trademarked Brand

I’ve worked on a few projects with destinations and attractions that have permission to use a trademarked logo or character.

DMOs receiving matching funds in New York State are very familiar with the brand guidelines. Proper usage of the logo is required to receive those funds. I Love NY brand guidelines are very specific on how to present the logo and which logo to use across all marketing channels. Prior approval is required before you can begin marketing.

The Medina Railroad Museum has two annual events that are great examples of working with a brand. Right now they are working with Mattel on A Day Out with Thomas. At the end of the year, they work with Warner Bros. to put on Polar Express train rides. With both brands, there are specific images to use, and language around the brands. It’s a lot of getting approvals and working within the brand guidelines. I’ve really enjoyed working on these projects because following the guidelines isn’t difficult. They provide nice photos and copy. And the railroad gets to use the power of the bigger brand to attract new visitors.