The digital environment is evolving very quickly. Is your brand well protected in this new environment? The Board Members must be able to understand the actions planned by management, but also support the approach – which requires a budget.
The brand is the name the company has given to its services and products. A strong brand helps to distinguish the company from its competitors and to increase the visibility of its products and services. The brand is not only physically attached to the company’s offering, it will also be the sign sought after on the Internet by customers, potential buyers and cybersquatters.
Examples include Tesla, Uber, Netflix or Spotify, which started out communicating to a target audience before evolving into global brands, which have become strong brands as a result of demand and an increased internet presence.
Investing in actions to support a brand’s online visibility is a must. The amount to be allocated will depend on various factors, such as product evolution (e.g. via NFTs), digital marketing and the positioning of the competition. The purpose of this article is therefore to consider the elements that will determine the need to commit additional budget and costs to ensure brand protection online.
The importance of updating your rights portfolio
Intellectual property rights, including trademarks, patents, designs and copyrights, create a company’s portfolio of intangible assets. The creations on which these rights are based evolve: a logo changes, new products are launched under the same name. In the digital world, the evolution can be drastic, especially with the arrival of what we call the parallel world: bitcoin and new domain name extensions (e.g. .eth) or cryptographic tokens (token or NFT) that act as property in purely digital environments such as the blockchain and the metaverse.
The trademark is registered for specific products and services. Over time, the protection coverage will need to be reviewed in light of new applications of this mark. Suddenly a physical bag turned into a digital object will eventually require protection as software and not as a bag. This obviously has an impact on the resources that will be invested to protect these innovations.
An evaluation of the trademark as registered will be necessary and questions such as:
- Is the existing trademark available for new products and services, such as software?
- Is extension into new territories planned?
- What are the risks of not extending protection, given the current (limited) case law in relation to new technologies?
- When to invest in new marketing approaches?
In addition to the costs of this initial assessment, there will be trademark search, registration and procedure costs, if any. One can certainly start with a budget of CHF 2,000 to 3,000, whereas searching and registering a new trademark in 4 countries requires a budget of at least CHF 6,000.
It is interesting to note the results of a joint EPO/EUIPO study from 2019/2021* that SMEs that own at least one IP right are 21% more likely to experience a period of growth. It was also revealed that less than 9% of SMEs owned one of the three main IP rights (patent, trademark and design), while this figure was around 60% for larger companies.
Ensuring the brand’s online presence
The brand must be visible online, even if the company does not operate an e-commerce site. Clearly, resources are needed to ensure that the brand is found and can lead to the purchase of goods and services.
The term “online” encompasses various assets, such as a dedicated company website, pages on social networks, offers on marketplaces, references on specialised forums, or optimal referencing via search engines.
These assets will help to illustrate the use of the brand in a commercial way. Serious and constant use increases the distinctive strength of the brand (“the strong brand” mentioned above). This will demonstrate the efforts invested in the communication and marketing of the products under this brand.
It is therefore clear that these investments will add value (admittedly intangible, but nonetheless accounting value) to the company.
Is more budget needed?
Is it necessary for the Board to allocate additional budget to the protection and defence of existing brands to support the digital presence of the brand?
Yes, without a doubt. This presence needs to be thought through and above all acted upon in time:
- Open pages on social networks without delay, and moderate the content;
- Extend trademark protection to new forms of goods and services;
- Monitor the registration of similar signs, such as domain names, as well as similar trademarks in more “digital” categories, such as software development;
- Decide which unauthorised uses of the mark may significantly damage the reputation of the mark. If so, identify what actions are available to monitor and take action on such harm.
- Management and the Board Members will be the entities that approve the budget to carry out these expansion activities.
Conversely, if trademark use is interrupted, costs should be reduced by ceasing to monitor the trademark or domain names. One might also consider selling these rights to third parties, which could result in a monetary gain. Examples include Apple’s acquisition of Siri and Procter & Gamble’s acquisition of Gillette, both of which had benefited from regular investment to protect them globally.
An updated and up-to-date portfolio will consolidate the value of intangible assets and thus increase the value of the company.
The integration of digital strategies definitely has a cost that must be evaluated in the light of the brand’s positioning, and also of its audience. When approving a budget, the Board Members will take into account the various parameters so that the brand’s online presence is strengthened and has strong rights to defend it.
This article has been written by Caroline Perriard for the series of articles proposed by the members of the Swiss Association for Women Board Members in Switzerland.
It is directed to the Board Members of companies and explains the ins and outs of an intellectual property strategy specifically covering the brand’s online presence.
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