We all are familiar with the word “bullying”, but how many of us are aware of trademark bullying? Which apparently has created quite a ruckus in domain industry in past decade. As the name suggests, trademark bullying is an act in which a trademark owner tries to exert its hegemony over other entity regarding rights to use trademarked expression, design or logo.
Trademark bullying was rather a vague term, until the United States Patent and Trademark Office defined the amorphous term which is also sometimes referred by Trademark Trolling as the exasperating practice of a “trademark owner that uses its trademark rights to harass and intimidate another business beyond what the law might be reasonably interpreted to allow.”
Famous groups and companies such as Victoria’s secrets, Apple, Groupon and Starbucks have been known to be involved in trademark bullying, but the most notorious examples of trademark bullying are cases involving word “virgin”, which has been trademarked by none other than flamboyant Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which ironically made the use of sacred word, a blasphemy.
In 2004, Richard Branson sued a number of websites, including the fashion-related Virgin Threads, for encroaching Virgin’s trademark and diluting its brand by putting it in a bad light.
Similarly by using uniform domain name dispute resolution policy (UDRP), Virgin group was able to thwart an olive oil producing company to use “virgin” in their domain name. Umiya Poly Plast Industries, a PVC pipe maker in India which uses VirginPVCPipe.com, is also set to meet the same fate owing to aggressive trademark protection strategy of Virgin’s Group.
There are many more cases in which big brands and organizations have proactively over reached their protecting rights and have exploited the loop holes in policies to mark their dominance over small scale groups and owners.
There is a fine line between legitimate enforcement and exploitation of UDRP, the latter of which is trademark bullying. The big shots should use their discretion before proactively dragging domain owners in to legal battle, otherwise a day will come when for other people and groups, trademarks will be metaphorically congruent to forbidden fruit, for one shall perish if one shall use it.