On Monday night, June 15, the Chicago Blackhawks won the NHL Stanley Cup for the third time in six years.
On Thursday, an estimated 2 million people swarmed the Chicago Loop for a parade and rally to honor the Blackhawks.
I was there. I was in the crowd. I felt the energy in a sea of red.
Probably 3 of 4 people were wearing Blackhawks gear: $200 sweaters (“jerseys” to the casual fan), $30 T-shirts, $25 caps. If the average bedecked fan wore $30 of trademark goods, that’s $45 million shelled out, much of it this week.
Blackhawks gear, of course, features registered trademarks and copyrighted artwork. Intellectual property is huge in professional sports. Revenue to sports teams from royalties on licensed goods rivals income from ticket sales and TV broadcasts. And those revenues are shared with players under collective bargaining agreements.
Not all of the goods sold are legitimate. Some are counterfeits a/k/a fakes. When fakes are sold, consumers are duped with shoddy goods, and money is taken out of the pockets of owners and players. It’s a crime, literally, and the marketplace is policed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In cooperation with federal authorities, Cook County sheriff’s police arrested Jeff Huang, 61, of Mount Prospect, on five counts of unauthorized use of a trademark after finding over 130,000 fake glass pieces with team logos from the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB at his business, according to the Chicago Tribune. Homeland Security said Huang was charged with felonies.
Homeland Security puts the hurt on sellers of fake goods by seizing and destroying the fakes. This week, it was $180,000 worth of fake Blackhawks goods that were seized in the “crackdown on intellectual property rights (IPR) violators,” according to the Department’s June 19 news release.
This isn’t the first, but only the latest in a long line of Homeland Security stings against pro sports trademark counterfeiters in “Operation Team Player.” Last year, the Feds seized over $20 million in fake NFL goods, arresting 50 offenders and seizing 163 offending websites, reported the Department in a January 30, 2014 news release.
Businesses worldwide lose an estimated $600 to 700 billion annually due to counterfeiting, while consumers shell out hard-earned money just to learn that they have bought fakes. Homeland Security has established an active IPR Center to bring the considerable resources of the U.S. government into the fight to stop counterfeiting, but vigilance is still needed on the part of trademark owners, otherwise, how will investigators know about fakes?
Consumers: 7 ways to avoid fakes!
The Better Business Bureau of Rockford has issued tips to the wise purchaser of NHL goods. Here are seven tips for buyers of NHL-licensed merchandise.
- Buy from NHL.com or a reputable store
- Look for the NHL hologram
- Inspect the stitching
- Watch for discolored or fuzzy logos
- Beware snipped tags
- Avoid unlicensed websites
- Is the price too good to be true?
The same kinds of considerations apply to purchases of other sporting goods—whether they feature your favorite teams from the NFL, NBA or MLB—or other leagues or conferences. Collegiate licensing is big business, and it attracts many counterfeiters. Brand name fashion labels—such as for women’s and men’s clothing, jewelry, and luggage—are big targets for counterfeiters. In each case, “buyer beware” is a good motto, both legally and practically speaking.
In some countries, counterfeit goods are sold openly on the street. The prices are too cheap—there aren’t any good buys in fake goods. Discriminating buyers everywhere know the value of genuine brand name goods, and they’re willing to pay more for them, often going to great lengths to obtain the real goods from reputable sellers in the U.S.
Businesses: 4 tips to protect your trademarks
If you’re a business owner, be a winner like the Blackhawks! Your valuable trademarks and other intellectual property (IP) can be major contributors to your revenues and margins. When you value and protect your marks, you’ll see results, both online and at the cash register! See my photo, attached, of the cash registers at the Official Chicago Blackhawks store on Saturday morning, June 20th. There was a long line of people waiting outside the door, snaking down the stairs and out the door, just to get in the store! And inside there was a line of people queued to make purchases, as shown in my photo.
Here are four trademark tips for businesses: (1) Clear your trademarks before you start using them; (2) register your trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and internationally; (3) police the marketplace for infringements; and (4) take action against infringers.
At a recent presentation in Chicago, the USPTO Commissioner for Trademarks observed that everybody has a business plan, but almost no one addresses trademarks or other intellectual property in their plans. The time to clear your trademark is before you invest a lot of money in promoting it! Before you get a notice of infringement and a cease-and-desist letter. Before Homeland Security raids your operation.
The Trademark Commissioner reports that many people try and fail in do-it-yourself (DIY) efforts to clear, register, and enforce trademarks. That’s why the USPTO recommends that trademark applicants should consider retaining a lawyer to aid in the process, before, during and after registration.
After you’re cleared and registered your trademarks, don’t sleep on your rights and forfeit your valuable intellectual property (IP). Instead, protect and enforce your IP rights. A small investment in protecting your trademarks and other IP can pay handsomely.