I’ll Take Trademarks for $200, Alex

One of the books that I read this summer and enjoyed immensely was Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, by Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard. The first half of the book is a fascinating personal history, with the second half devoted to exploring the business philosophies of Chouinard and Patagonia.

In my ongoing quest to drive readership of this blog to zero (somehow, people still read this), I’m going to base my introduction on the least exciting concept yet … the trademark search function on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website! Let’s do this.

So here it is. You too can hop on the interwebs and find out if someone has already thought of the amazing name you just came up with for the business you will probably never start.
 
For instance, I just thought up an idea for a new popsicle company called “Whimsicle.” Survey says…….urnt (or however you type the buzzer sound from Family Feud). Turns out some folks in Philadelphia beat me to that idea by about six years.
 
How about a coffee shop named “Et Tu, Brewte?” Searching…searching…no results! Bam, we are in business! I bet all the coolest Roman history nerds like me will hang out there.
 
Occasionally, when you do a trademark search, you might find that a mark has been “cancelled.” This isn’t terribly common, but it can arise when one company successfully disputes another’s mark. One example of a cancelled mark is “Fratagonia.”
 
From what I can tell, someone tried to start a clothing line called Fratagonia that completely ripped off the Patagonia logo. If you aren’t familiar with the term, Fratagonia is a bit of slang meant to suggest that a lot of fraternity and sorority members at American universities wear Patagonia (a similar slang term is “Patagucci”). I have no idea if that stereotype holds water, but regardless, Patagonia took issue with the infringement on their intellectual property. It appears that they got the mark cancelled after filing suit against Fratagonia LLC.
 
None of that has anything to do with anything. It was simply my elaborately contrived angle to talk about Patagonia (which I happened to blog about exactly a year ago, coincidentally). Plus, I think Fratagonia sounds funny. College kids are clever these days.
 
Anywho, one of the books that I read this summer and enjoyed immensely was Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, by Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard. The first half of the book is a fascinating personal history, with the second half devoted to exploring the business philosophies of Chouinard and Patagonia. Those philosophies include things like designing garments for repairability and emphasizing the quality of their products, even if it means customers don’t need to buy another product from them for years.
 
So much of the book’s contents match perfectly with Ray Anderson’s own philosophies. For instance, on page 151 Chouinard writes, “Our mission statement says nothing about making a profit. In fact, our family considers our bottom line to be the amount of good that the business has accomplished over the year. However, a company needs to be profitable in order to stay in business and to accomplish all its other goals, and we do consider profit to be a vote of confidence, that our customers approve of what we are doing.” That is right in sync with Ray’s belief that business doesn’t exist to make a profit, but that it makes a profit to exist (and hopefully pursue a higher, nobler purpose).
 
It’s worth a read, and there’s a huge bonus if you go for the physical version of the book instead of the audiobook. The photography is just spectacular.
 
Next week, I hop off the book-review train and muse on recent events. In particular, if you didn’t know, there’s a bit of a climate conference going on in San Francisco right now. It’s kind of a big deal. Until next week, cheers! 
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