What happens if you confuse Red Hot Chili Peppers with a bag pipe band called The Red Hot Chilli Pipers? You may know the famous alternative band, Red Hot Chili Peppers. A client emailed me recently to say she’d been looking at their videos on Youtube. She was looking at one clip that featured bag pipes and thinking Flea and the boys looked a little less gaunt than usual.
But, somewhere along the way, maybe after a video or two, she realized she was watching The Red Hot Chilli Pipers. She had been duped! This wasn’t the band she was looking for. You’ve heard about brand confusion – this was band confusion. And it’s made worse by Youtube’s autocorrect spelling feature that seems to pull up both bands in search results for either name.
My client wanted to know how on earth this was possible. How could there be The Red Hot Chilli Pipers in a world where Red Hot Chili Peppers no doubt trademarked their moniker long ago?
My first thought was maybe that the Peppers never trademarked outside the US, although this seemed unlikely to me. A quick search of the UK trademark database revealed that the RHCPeppers registered their trademark in 2002. (In fact, they made several filings for different intellectual properties related to their name.) The RHCPipers, on the other hand, attempted trademark registration in May 2011.
I thought about this for a bit. It seemed a bit unusual that the Pipers had gone to the trouble of filing, but then withdrew their application. I assumed that the Peppers must have got wind of it and blocked the submission. Some cyber sleuthing reveals that the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lawyers posted about the trademark situation and brand confusion. (Or is that band confusion?) It sounds like the Pipers can call their band The Red Hot Chilli Pipers because it falls under the realm of parody, but that perhaps they are unable to register their trademark or perhaps even sell wares under that name.
Let this be a lesson to all of us. If you go to the trouble of creating and marketing an intellectual property, make sure you can use it. In the case above, there’s no doubt in my mind that a pipe band playing on the name of the Peppers probably got more fame than one with a more bland name. But, with success, they now may be stuck with a name that they can’t legally use on t-shirts or merchandise. And t-shirts and merchandise are the main source of revenue for most independent artists.
If you’re starting a business and you want to be clever with your name, make sure you’re not so clever that you land in legal hot water. Take time to look at registered trademark databases. At the very least, search online to see if your name is similar. Even if you pass the muster of your state or provincial name registry, find out if anyone else is using the name. For your brand to work, it needs to be unique and legal, not just memorable. Otherwise, you may be building and marketing an intellectual property that you don’t even own. (Incidentally, I’ve left all the videos on Youtube, rather than embedding them here…I don’t want to break any rules either!)