A few weeks ago, ‘Be Like Bill’ customised memes crowded our Facebook news feed. This ‘viral’ sensation propelled Bill’s creator into ‘Grumpy Cat’ territory. Hoping to capitalise off the passive aggressive advice given by Bill, others also saw the opportunity to make big bucks from the stick-figure sensation.

Bill’s creator, Eugeniu Croitoru, subsequently discovered that ‘Be Like Bill’ had been the subject of a recent trade mark application in the UK. Two individuals filed the application and covered a range of trade mark classes, including software, printed material, clothing, accessories and kitchenware. He has since vowed to oppose the registration of this trade mark aggressively, stating that others should not be entitled to profit off of someone else’s hard work and ideas.

The ‘Be like Bill’ team had not previously filed a trade mark to protect their rights to use Bill. However, they are now scrambling to protect their rights in various countries where they plan on selling Bill products. Croitoru now needs to prove that these individuals have acted in ‘bad faith’ in their application to have it set aside in the UK.

This clearly highlights the importance of trade marking your name, logo, slogans and ideas early on to protect them from being snapped up by others who see the potential moneymaking opportunities. These days the Internet turns virtually any character, phrase or image into a worthy business venture. The following examples show just how much can be riding on a protected trade mark.

Doge

The unusual rise of the ‘Doge’ meme is based on a photo of a Shiba Inu dog named Kabosu, taken by her Japanese owner, Atsuko Sato. The photo which showed Kabosu with a unique expression and eyebrows raised went viral as a meme with internal monologue phrasing captioning the image. The image was subsequently used as the face of a new cryptocurrency, termed Dogecoin. The coins are currently valued at around 0.42 Australian dollars. In 2014, Ultra Pro, a clothing company, filed a trademark for the work ‘doge’. This saw fans and Dogecoin users in uproar over the fate of their beloved image. Ultra Pro remained adamant they would not take action against other users of the image, however, the name has since been registered to them and only time will tell if they will enforce their rights.

Grumpy Cat

The image of a cat named Tardar Sauce with a very grumpy expression is instantly recognisable around the world. This image has been used in thousands of memes and products, and it has since been reported that ‘Grumpy Cat’ has netted her owner around $100 million in licencing, endorsement deals and filmed appearances. In late 2015, Grumpy Cat Limited issued a trademark infringement lawsuit against a coffee maker who allegedly breached their licence agreement. The dispute is potentially worth up to $150,000.

In Short

Trade marks are critical to protecting the commercial success of your business idea, especially if your business relies on a unique character, name or expression. Registering a trade mark can potentially save you thousands in the cost of disputing ownership or preventing usage later on. As can be seen with ‘Be like Bill’, ‘Dogecoin’ and ‘Grumpy Cat’, trade marks can impact your business extensively.

So take our advice – don’t ‘Be like Bill’ in this situation and apply for trade mark registration as soon as you can. Questions about how to register your trade mark? Ask us on 1300 544 755.

Bianca Reynolds

Next Steps

If you would like further information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please get in touch using the form on this page.