Stop Laughing and Listen

Cease and desist letters are no fun.  They are no fun to send, and they are certainly no fun to receive.  They are usually the first shot across the bow when a trademark owner believes that someone is using a mark that is just a little too close for comfort.  Instead of jumping straight into a lawsuit, the trademark owner reaches out the other party and says – depending on style – stop using our mark.

The traditional cease and desist letter looks something like this:

It starts off with who is writing the letter, and gets down to brass tacks pretty quickly:

  • What’s the owners mark
  • What’s the infringing mark
  • Claims of priority or ownership (especially if there is a federal trademark)
  • Why does the owner think this is a problem
  • What the owner wants to happen
  • Deadline for action.

It isn’t fancy, but it gets the point across.  Sometimes they are a bit more forceful, sometimes nice.  However, it is pretty clear that there is a problem and what the writer wants to happen.

However, there has been a new trend as of late from some trademark owners.  They have been taking a more lighthearted approach including writing in different styles or even a personal reading of the letter.  Why?  Well, hopefully, it is better received and, thus, better compliance.  And with the Bud Light demand, there is clearly a strong marketing angle.  I am sure it wasn’t accidental someone was there to record the whole thing.

So how do you know which approach to take?  First, it depends on your business.  If you are a straight-laced business, then you probably want to stay with that approach. If you are a bit zany, well, then you may want to carry that through.  However, it depends on who you are sending it to.  If you are sending it to another irreverent company, then it may go a long way.  If they seem pretty stuffy, then your “fun” letter may be disregarded, and that is the last thing you want.  You are trying to get them to comply.  If all they do is look at it cross-eyed and throw it away thinking it a joke, then you have not met your ultimate goal: Getting them to stop.  So be silly only after seriously weighing the risks and rewards.

Then have others read it before it goes out.  One person’s funny joke is another’s insulting comment.  You may want it to go viral, but not for being an insensitive jerk.

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