Welp, I've been preaching it forever folks (see examples here, here, and here) and now here is a recent example that hits close to home and allows you to see yourself in this scenario.
For those too lazy to read this whole post, here' the gist: Take the work you create seriously & take steps to protect your intellectual property. The story of @80worldjobs explains why. #80jobs (click to tweet that and educate your friends).
For those that want a little more edumacation (yes, that IS a word!) on intellectual property (defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization as “creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce”) and the value it has within your company (however small your company might be!) when properly protected, read on.
Two years ago Turner Barr started a blog called Around the World in 80 Jobs (site is currently down due to the huge amounts of traffic following this story; you can see a cached version of the site along with Turner Barr sharing his story here).
The goal of Turner's blog and website is to:
“1-To find [his] muse (gainful employment)
2-To travel abroad & live overseas
3-To fund these escapades by doing interesting travel jobs abroad and chronicling what happens when you give the road map the finger
4-To show other people travel job opportunities abroad so that they too can give the road map the finger.”
(quoted from Turner's About Page).
Sounds like an inspirational venture that Turner says he “poured [his] blood, sweat, tears, energy and money into for almost 2 years.”
How many of us can relate to that?
I'd say all of us. No matter how small your venture, building a business is really hard work and requires a commitment almost as intense as parenting (I'm a parent and I currently have two babies under 2 at home so there's my street cred for that statement).
So needless to say, when another company comes along, rips off your intellectual property and begins to profit from it, disheartening does not even begin to capture what that feels like.
That is exactly what happened to Turner. A very large corporation, Adecco USA, who is, according to them, “the world leader in workforce solutions” (which highlights what a large corporation it is) started a youth initiative designed to “inspire young people to find a way to work” and address the issue of youth unemployment around the world. Which, frankly, would be applaudable if they hadn't hijacked one of those youths who found a way to work's trademark and possibly other IP in the process.
The name of Adecco's new initiative is (yup, you guessed it!) Around the World in 80 Jobs. And according to Turner Barr his “entire brand, image and web personality was swiped.” Adecco even went so far as to hire a paid actor who was, according to Turner Barr, creepily similar to him in age and personality to do the marketing video for this new initiative.
Turner Barr has started a social media campaign to call attention to this situation using hashtags #80jobs and #makeitright. And it's getting some serious traction around the web. Adecco's response, which you can read here, goes something like this:
“We’re sorry for some recent negative comments. We’d like to make something clear.
The intention of Adecco's youth initiative was to give perspective to young people so they can better prepare to enter the workforce and achieve their ambitions. Youth unemployment throughout the world is an at all time high. This can not stand.
We understand there is concern with the use of the term “Around The World In 80 Jobs” and we take this seriously. We've worked to resolve this and to create a mutually beneficial solution. We will continue to do so. In the meantime, our only goal is to inspire young people to find a way to work. We invite you to join us.” (emphasis mine)
Unfortunately, Adecco didn't take Turner Barr and his IP seriously or “work to resolve this” before this social media campaign began. They clearly knew that he and his blog existed because back in April they filed a trademark application for the mark ‘Around the World in 80 Jobs‘. And I find it hard to believe that their very expensive attorneys over at DLA Piper were unable to find his blog in a trademark search before filing the application (which is standard procedure).
This is not something new. And Turner is certainly not the first victim. In fact, I have been talking with a business owner who has built his business over 7 years and just got his IP ripped off by a behemoth (and beloved by many) corporation this summer as well.
I've heard these stories many times, but as I am not at liberty to share the details of my client's legal situations, all I can do is give vague examples in hopes of educating the young entrepreneurs I serve.
Now, we have a real, live, public example from a guy known by the community I serve. And I am hoping this will be a wake up call for many small business owners who don't know or don't bother to protect the intellectual property they have poured “blood, sweat, tears, energy and money into.”
The reality is, if you do the necessary preventative legal work, these circumstances can be prevented.
So What Could Turner Have Done to Protect the ‘Around the World in 80 Jobs' mark?
So, of course, being the professor that I am (at least in my mind – ha!), I'm not gonna tell you a story like this without providing actual tangible takeaways. So here is my step-by-step that can help you avoid becoming the next Turner Barr:
Step 1 – Recognize the value in your work and ideas. So that teeny weenie little biz you're building? It has value, believe it or not. This is step 1 in protecting your work. If you don't recognize the value you are creating then you won't bother to capture the intellectual property in your biz and protect it.
How do I know?
Because damn near every week I have annoying conversations like this:
Business Owner: “I am wondering if I need to trademark the name of my [business, product, brand]. Its starting to become pretty popular and we have a pretty decent [following, customer base, etc.]”
Me (aka Lawyer): “Yes, if you are committed to that [business name, product name, brand name] and spending money to develop it, its definitely worthwhile to protect it.”
Business Owner: “Well, I don't know … can't I just do it later? And how much is it going to cost …?
Me (aka Lawyer): “The whole thing will cost you less than $2,000 (that's my fees and USPTO filing fees). You can certainly do it later but I don't recommend it. If someone else registers the mark first at the very least you'll have a fight on your hands and at the most you could lose the rights to use your [business name, product name, brand name]. That would be pretty devastating after spending so much “blood, sweat, tears, energy and money” developing it, right? Plus a legal fight is always going to cost you a lot more later than protecting your work now will.”
Business Owner: “Um … I'm still not sure its worth it … let me think about it …”
Me (aka Lawyer): “Good luck with that!”
So obviously that is a way over-simplification of the conversations I have with my potential clients/clients (and I am using sarcasm which I don't actually do with my clients) but it gets the point across. You, Little Guy/Gal Entrepreneur, need to recognize the value of your creative work, otherwise, you could end up with a crappy situation on your hands like Turner Barr. And sure, he's getting lots of attention for it at the moment but not everyone can pull that off.
And not every small business owner can afford to feel like this and not have their business take a hit:
“My creative energy has been zapped … I’ve turned down work opportunities and put on hold any future travel job plans to deal with lawyers, long distance phone calls, corporate executives and other such nonsense — all along feeling misled and patronized.” – Turner Barr
Step 2 – Talk to an IP lawyer who understands how you do business and can evaluate your IP portfolio and help you take steps to protect it. So this pretty much goes without saying. Half of the entrepreneurs I talk to can't correctly explain the difference between a trademark and copyright. If you can't even explain what it is then you probably can't figure out how to properly protect it yourself. And you know? You shouldn't have to! You can't possibly know everything about everything! You are running a business which is all consuming! You have your expertise and I have mine. That's why we hire professionals.
You think I do my own taxes? Hell no!
You think I had anything to do with building this website? Nope!
Hire the people you need to run your business the right way and that includes getting the help of an IP lawyer to protect your IP. Duh, right?
Also, here's a video and a webpage with more detail about why you shouldn't try to do it yourself.
Step 3 – Protect it! So this is self-explanatory. Hire the lawyer to figure out what needs to be done to protect ya neck (or IP, you know what I mean!) and then have him or her do it.
Step 4 – Police it! Once you register your intellectual property and take steps to protect it, you have to police it. That means, you can't go around letting people use and misuse your brand without your permission. If you do that enough, you'll lose your exclusive rights to profit from it, which is the whole point, isn't it?
The Moral of the Story
Please, please, please start taking the work you create seriously and start taking steps to protect your intellectual property. It is far, far more valuable than you probably even realize. Turner Barr's story gives you a clear example of how and why.
Had Turner taken these steps early on, he probably wouldn't be dealing with this situation. Instead he would have had a registered trademark which Adecco would have been statutorily on notice of and would have had to approach him to discuss licensing its use (ie, Turner gets a pay day) or possibly purchasing the mark (ie, Turner gets a pay day) and/or possibly hiring him to be the guy in their marketing video (ie, Turner gets a pay day) and/or going with another brand name altogether (ie, no pay day, but also no one's stealing his shit!).
Now don't get me wrong, registering your IP will not save you from all would-be infringers but it is a HUGE deterrent and provides for statutory damages in the instance where someone blatantly, knowingly infringes on your trademark rights.
Luckily for Turner Barr, the trademark application for ‘Around the World in 80 Jobs' hasn't been approved yet, which means he has the opportunity to oppose the mark when it comes up for publication (there is a 30-day period in which the public may object to the registration of the mark by filing an opposition).
Did this post scare the daylights out of you? Are you a small business owner? Click here to enter your email address for access to my free legal clinic for small business owners, starting July 8th.
Correction – July 10, 2013: Originally, I listed Adecco USA's law firm that had filed the trademark application for Around the World in 80 Jobs to be Paul Weiss. That is actually incorrect. The firm that filed the trademark application is DLA Piper. My apologies to Paul Weiss for my error.