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Rakshana MK- Associate IP Practice

“Rebranding”, seems like a term that’s been buzzing around us largely in recent times right! We are witnesses to Facebook’s transformation into Meta[1] and Twitter’s transformation into X[2], but ever wondered what impact such rebranding has on the Intellectual Properties that the companies own? This article attempts to understand the effects of rebranding from an IP viewpoint and draws out some lookouts for an efficient rebranding process.

What does the term Rebranding mean? A verbatim interpretation of the term simply means to give a brand a new look and projection before its consumers with the intention to reposition itself and make it more attractive and successful. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term Rebranding as “the act of changing the way that an organization, business company, or product appears to the public[3]”.

From the above definition, the interlink between Rebranding and IP can be easily derived, as it is well understood that the essence of Intellectual Property Rights is to protect the elements that make a particular product or service available to the purchasing public. We have seen innumerous successful rebranding while witnessing a number of failures too. One major challenge involved in rebranding a successful brand is to establish a fresh corporate identity. The name of the company or the brand, the logo, its related taglines, etc. are factors with which the public associates with a product or service. Infact consumers associate more with the brands than its emerging company. For instance, the purchasing public and laymen associate more with the brands Alpenliebe, Mentos, Chupa Chups, etc. more than the company Perfetti Van Melle from which these products emerge. Thus, the projection of brands holds and has the potential to accrue more goodwill and reputation to a company. Speaking about brand projection, here comes the role of two important forms of IP- Trademarks and Copyrights.

Once the process of rebranding kicks off, one important step is to decide how it is going to be exhibited before the public which involves adoption of a new name, logo, packaging and in some cases taglines. So, from a trademark perspective, one of the most crucial acts to be done is to undertake a public search to rule out the possibility of adoption of a mark which conflicts with an existing brand/ mark. By this time all of us would have come across speculations in relation to Elon Musk’s brand-new Twitter- the X going to face heavy lawsuits and opposition proceedings in relation to trademarks and copyrights[4]. It has come to light that companies such as Microsoft and Meta, which can be considered direct rivals to the platform, already own registered marks containing the term X as its prominent element. Twitter’s action plan to face such proceedings are to be watched, while this event is a classic example showcasing how important it is to analyze and mint the market to identify existing conflicting brands before adoption of a new brand name. Another factor which is as important as the brand name is the brand’s domain name as it also acts as an identifier of a particular brand/ company or business in the online space. Thus, similar to public searches in relation to trademarks, availability of domain name searches are also an integral part of rebranding.

Now arises the question of what about the Intellectual Property Rights that already exist in the company’s or the original brand’s name? Here comes the need to transfer such IP Rights to the updated/ new brand. For instance, Facebook transferred its Trademarks and Patents to Meta once its process of rebranding kicked off. (Refer Trade Mark Application No. 1436663 in Class 99 for its proprietary mark “FACEBOOK” and Indian Patent Application No. 201647001892). Similarly, the alteration of the name of the proprietor or a transfer process ought to be initiated for better protection of the IP subject matter be it under Trademarks, Copyrights, Patents or Designs. The same principles apply to trade secrets too. The requisite contracts and agreements ought to be enforced to prevent any kind of unauthorized usage of the Intellectual Properties owned by the original brand/ company.

Some of the important things to be kept in mind while implementing a rebranding includes:

  • Protection of the new brand under IPR before being made available publicly or even before its launch. This provides the brand with maximum protection which restrains third parties’ unauthorized usage of the brand in any manner whatsoever. It is also important to make sure that such protections are initiated with a long-term goal, keeping in mind the business expansion plans of the brand.
  • It is not necessary that such IP protections ought to be under conventional forms only. Exploration of different types of protection has always proved beneficial for companies. Keeping in mind the rapid development in technology, it is important for brands to ensure that all the elements of their products are tightly protected, thus barring the possibility of infringement or unlawful usage of the same in the internet space.
  • It is recommended that even after the launch of the new brand, the original one be kept live. It is a well-known fact that for the purpose of a brand to be associated by the consumers, various efforts and monetary initiatives ought to be invested, whereas the original brand would have already accrued such association, goodwill and reputation. Thus, deviating the consumers from the original to the new brand ought to be a deliberate slow process to ensure that the whole base of consumers get transferred leaving none behind.
  • Make sure that atleast one popular element of the original brand is retained in the new brand to ensure that the purchasing public associate the new one with the emerging company.
  • Never leave your IP behind. It is recommended that at each stage of the process of rebranding, Intellectual Property Rights should be taken into consideration. Owing to the fact that IP cannot be viewed separately and distinctly from a business, taking proper steps to protect the same at the appropriate stages is important.
  • Specific efforts ought to be taken to make sure that no unlawful advantage of the original brand’s IP rights are taken by competitors or third parties during the transition period, as the same is a delicate time and one careless mistake during the same could cost the brand a huge loss and it is important to include all aspects of Intellectual Property Rights as elements of the rebranding strategy.

Thus, in conclusion, brands cannot flourish without proper protection of its Intellectual Property Rights. Identification of all aspects that can be protected under the scope of IPR is important and missing out on any of the eligible subject matter, especially during rebranding, has a huge negative impact on the brand’s business. Giving a business a new look becomes useless without taking actions to protect its associated Intellectual Properties, thus recommending identification of the right actions and implementation of the same for a successful rebranding.

[1] https://www.mondaq.com/advertising-marketing–branding/1145100/facebooks-meta-transformation-and-the-complexity-of-rebranding

[2] https://techcrunch.com/2023/07/24/twitter-has-officially-changed-its-logo-to-x/

[3] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/rebranding

[4] https://www.businessinsider.in/tech/news/meta-already-appears-to-hold-the-rights-to-x-it-could-make-twitters-rebrand-complicated-/articleshow/102089466.cms

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