The true value of a trademark may not show up on a company's balance sheet, but in the real world, it can mean everything. Trademarks protect a company's name and products, the building blocks of potentially powerful brands. The more our consumer products become commoditized, the more important brands become in sustaining pricing power and securing customer loyalty. Without brands and trademarks, a Starbucks
The chocolate company claims that a new book has violated its trademark rights. It wants a federal court to stop the publication of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire and Utopian Dreams.
The problem? Well, if you check out the book's cover on Amazon.com
That reasoning seems a bit hard to swallow. The book's initial print run is 18,000 copies -- a very limited market. Will readers truly believe that the book is Hershey-approved? Will it truly detract from the Hershey brand?
Joy R. Butler, the author of ThePermission Seeker's Guide Through the Legal Jungle, believes that Hershey will have a tough case, pointing to several major cases regarding similar conficts. Caterpillar
Betty Morgan, an intellectual property attorney at Hunton & Williams LLP, also thinks Hershey is on shaky ground. "Typically, the First Amendment protects publication of even unauthorized biographies," Morgan said. "It would seem to follow, then, that the law would allow use of an image of a product in a book about the product, assuming that is in fact is part of the story."
The publisher's defense in this case will probably concern the doctrine of fair use, which allows an author limited use of someone else's trademarks or copyrighted material. For example, if a journalist writing about the new Hershey book wanted to print an excerpt from its copyrighted text as part of a review, she'd be allowed to do so under fair use.
As an investor, it's good to see companies like Hershey vigilantly protecting their valuable brands. Nonetheless, the most likely outcomes of this case are higher sales for the Hershey book, and perhaps a bit more national publicity for Hershey itself.