In Philadelphia last week, more than 150 executives came together to discuss the changing digital landscape and its impact on trademarks and copyrights at the International Trademark Association (INTA) Meeting. Executives in attendance represented some of the most influential brands and law firms from around the world, covering everything from domain names to mobile apps.
As brands push to become ubiquitous across screens and machines, they are finding it difficult to preserve their reputation on maturing platforms like mobile. Some marketers and attorneys even question whether or not apps are just a fad, a comment I actually heard quite frequently in between seminars at INTA.
I certainly don’t think so, and neither does Gartner. Like it or not, apps are here to stay, and as smartphones and tablets become more and more part of our daily life, so do the associated risks.
During the “Going Mobile: Applications, Marketplaces and More” seminar, Fred Felman, CMO of MarkMonitor, discussed how personal our smartphones are to us. These devices are with us at all times, even next to us when we sleep. Smartphones have become powerful devices with applications that can access your location, contact lists, email, camera and more. And so with this great power inside a device the size of a deck of cards, comes great responsibility as we also know there is an increasing potential for abuse.
However, the privacy and reputation risks associated with mobile apps still carry little weight when compared to managing reputation and privacy online. Brands cringe when they find URLs like “IHateXYZBrand.com” which was a huge focal point at the event, yet many major brands fail to recognize the gravity associated with malicious apps.
Trademarks and copyrighted material are frequently used by developers as a Trojan-Horse enticing users to download malicious apps. In fact, Christine Hsieh, a Trademark attorney for Google, discussed enforcement techniques on app stores, and outlined suggested remedies for infringement. Christine recommended first reaching out to an infringing developer in a friendly manner, and then resorting to the following if communication fails:
- Take Downs – each store has its own take down policy
- Cease and Desist letter to publisher
However, in practice, IP Lasso has found that communicating with a developer can be difficult. App publishers often list phony contact details, making it hard to track down the rogue developers. IP Lasso is very supportive of Google’s efforts to create an open and innovative app store, but suggested to Christine that Google verify contact details and developer websites before allowing an app on Google Play.
At the conference, Sally Abel, of Fenwick & West LLP, gazed into her crystal ball and suggested that domain names systems (DNS) may play less of a part in the Internet of tomorrow. In a room filled with industry experts and purchasers of expensive New gTLDs this wasn’t a popular opinion, but I couldn’t agree more. The number of ways to find content across cyberspace is ever increasing. People use search engines, download apps, find content through Siri, view something Netflix recommends, visit websites shared on Facebook, or check out an email sent from Mom.
In fact, most modern browsers don’t have a strict URL bar anymore, and users are able to type in a query and almost instantly find the content they are looking for. That’s because marketers have turned dot-coms into an actionable experience rather than a fixed destination. Yet, there is still huge clamor to protect Trademarks in the URL space, but with the number of TLDs set to increase over the next few years, I think Trademark owners will need to take a step back and re-evaluate their protection strategies and start thinking about how today’s users finds content.
I would encourage Trademark holders pull in partners and research teams to help make an informed decision to attack these emerging threats in a strategic manner rather than trying to combat everything under the sun. Companies like IP Lasso can put all of the threats in front of you so that you can make an informed decision. A domain name like freeProductXYZCoupons.com may at first blush be a low priority. However if you discover that the page is a phishing site plastered with your Trademark, it becomes a PR risk.
The same goes for mobile apps. An app called ProductXYZ Wallpapers may appear to be free publicity, if reviewers are complaining about viruses or if the app has access to contact data, removing the app should be priority.
Contact us today and see how IP Lasso’s services can help you curb emerging IP threats on mobile apps.