United States: Branding In The Collaborative Economy

United States

Branding In The Collaborative Economy

Even many major brands, like Patagonia, eBay, and Marriott, are venturing into this space. Intellectual property – copyrights, trademarks and patents – are the lifeblood of these businesses.  Will the collaborative economy render such property obsolete? Despite the clash between intellectual property’s monopoly concepts and the collaborative economy, brands can remain stakeholders by fostering messages of trust and embracing consumer connections.

Trademarks may become more critical than ever. In an economy of sharing, trademarks protect the consumer against confusion and ensure reliable quality from a specific source. Whether goods or services are new or recycled, a brand name reassures consumers of a reliable level of quality and performance. At the same time, traditional brands will have to remain vigilant against counterfeit and grey market goods. As always, quality control initiatives and licensing agreements are crucial, but the sharing economy will also lead to certification programs to ensure trademarks’ good will.

The collaborative economy also demands the sharing of copyrighted and patented works and creative application of related intellectual property laws. Copyright law may adapt to collaboration through expansion of the Fair Use and First Sale doctrines. In the meantime, copyright owners can engineer control of the collaborative movement with innovative licenses. Similarly, patent owners will explore different types of licenses including humanitarian licenses, patent commons, and patent pools. All the while, these intellectual property owners can flourish by creating products and services that facilitate collaboration and production.

Brands will also contend with a maze of regulation around advertising and marketing initiatives. With more commercial speech coming from the crowd, it will be harder to detect commercial speech. In a sharing economy and, ultimately, a making economy led by 3-D printing, consumers may be at increased risk for subterfuge. Commercial speech will continue to feel the squeeze of regulation. Individual brands, therefore, must remember to vet their campaigns for legal issues or expose themselves to risk of financial or even criminal penalties. They also have the opportunity to establish industry-wide ethical practices to stave off regulation.

The collaborative economy will undoubtedly change the way companies do business and the expectations consumers have for their lives. While some of our intellectual property and consumer protection laws will evolve, companies need to stay ahead of the regulatory curve. By proactively joining the collaborative economy and using their intellectual property to build trust in products, services and commercial speech, brands have an opportunity to shape the legal landscape and how people share.