The Case for An Effective Intellectual Property Strategy

Innovative companies understand the value of intellectual property and the advantage of having a solid IP strategy for a succesful marketing and growth plan to remain competitive.




At Harley Davidson went to great lengths to use intellectual property, particularly trademarks, to enhance its market position and profitability. The fact that Harley Davidson is now a household name, is largely credited to its in-house Trademark attorney, who led the company in staking an expanded claim to intellectual property ownership and extending the Harley Davidson brand to complementary goods coextensive with the expanding claim it had staked out.


While a company may primarily be a motorcycle company, they may also extend their brands to related goods, such as helmets, jackets, pants, t-shirts, coffee mugs, stickers for automobile windows, license plates, and the like, which will enhance the visibility of the company in the marketplace, thus leading to increased goodwill, customer loyalty and sales of motorcycles.


Has Harley Davidson protected its staked-out claim and brand?


Just try and sell so much as a bicycle with Harley Davidson brand on it, and see how far you get before you are looking down the barrel of a trademark infringement lawsuit you are very likely to lose.


Part of Harley Davidson's IP strategy is to aggressively enforce its IP rights.


Though acquired by Chase, Washington Mutual is an another example of effective use of trademark, trade dress, and copyrights to protect WAMU's interests in its creative works.  In 1999 to 2002, the bank grew from a local savings and loan to a leading national bank, in part due their branding, marketing and advertising.


WAMU would stake its claim for expansion of its business by identifying a key differentiator relative to a "pain point" in the marketplace, like free checking, in response to the pain of annoying teller at other banks. They created funny, memorable ads, coordinated with images, slogans, and color schemes, all protected with trademarks to .  bring the differentiating concepts home to their intended market - young, upwardly mobile individuals.


No one would have guessed a bank could be funny and grow market share by leaps and bounds doing it.


Who doesn't still laugh at the ad about the guy who opened a Washington Mutual free checking account, and thereafter, even when he got hit in the private parts by a bowling ball, fried himself in the toaster, still had a goofy smile on his face because he remembered opening his free WAMU checking account earlier that day!


The message was, this is not your father's bank.  Why pay those fees for bank services if you don't have to?


The marketplace response was predictably, wildly successful, leading to national expansion of WAMU overnight. Other banks would have been hard-pressed to duplicate this overnight success because of copyright, trademark, and trade dress protection. Washington Mutual secured for itself in accordance with its IP strategy.




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