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What is the value of a brand, trademark or insignia?

When visiting the “Voyeurism” exhibit by Andy Warhol at the Muscarelle Museum, I was reminded about the power of name brand recognition. Warhol is sometimes attributed as having coined the term “superstar”, and in the 1970s, Warhol forecasted that “everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” That same analogy can be used for start-up businesses trying to figure out how to create a mob-like demand for a product or service. Remember, the ThighMaster or the Pet Rock? If you do, then you recognize the “sizzle” and lasting impact that the mark associated with the product (or producer) acquires, even if the product itself is no longer offered for sale. Now, think of mark for a new product or service associated with an established business, such as, for example, the iPhone or Google Ventures. I tend to compare these brands with the “pop culture” art work surrounding Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley compared to Warhol’s work transforming the ordinary person. That is, the ThighMaster, the Pet Rock, the iPhone and Google Ventures (and Apple and Google) are all “superstar” brands, but the market value of each trademarked brand is drastically different.

Brands in the field of mass-marketing originated in the 19th century with the advent of packaged goods from local businesses to centralized factories that wanted to establish trust in non-local products and sell their products to a wider market. As mass-marketing matured, manufacturers and large businesses began experimenting with slogans, mascots, and jingles that were promoted on radio and early television. By the 1940s, businesses recognized how consumers responded to social, psychological, and various other stimuli. From there, businesses learned to build their brand’s identity and personality, such as youthfulness, fun, luxurious, healthy, environmentally-friendly and organic in which the consumer buys “the brand” instead of the product.  Think about brands such as NASCAR, Sponge Bob and Paul Newman.

OK, now let’s take that mass-marketing appeal and revisit my recent Voyeurism experience. As it turns out, most businesses would be quite happy owning a “superstar” brand, even if it is a ThighMaster and not a Marilyn. So, how much is that brand worth? How much money can a business sell the “sizzle” and what is needed to maximize a return on investment (ROI)?

1. The brand needs to be a registered trademark. Trademarks are territorial, so think about the geography of your marketplace, but also think about the reach of the Internet. For most businesses, having a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark (USPTO) is enough. However, sometimes, that protection needs to be expanded to other countries.

2. The business also needs to own or control a URL that includes the brand. Sometimes, this is so important, this should be #1. For example, if the brand is Pepsi, then the corresponding URL should be www.pepsi.com.  On a personal and subjective note, I do happen to think that THROWBACK PEPSI is awesome and the brand has mass appeal to quash concerns about corn syrup and alternate sweetening products.

3. Know the history of use of the mark by others that came before you as well as translation of the mark in other languages.

4. Start to get some feedback on the brand. Online surveys can be helpful and easy, but there is also a potential for harm, so be careful. More to come on that later.

5. Due diligence on potential buyers. Have they purchased marks before? If so, how much? Do you know the identity of the buyer? If not, consider a worldwide search to find out information.

6. Seek out recorded assignments with the USPTO to see if they include sales data of similar marks. Compare this to selling a home and getting comps of similar homes. That is exactly what is going on.

7. Look to online auction sites, such as Ocean Tomo, and foreign trademark offices that list sales prices of similar marks, such as the Danish Patent and Trademark IP Marketplace.  Also, do a search for reliable valuation and informational sites, like the International Trademark Association’s (INTA’s) brand valuation page on its website.

8. eBay is not reliable, but it does make for some late night snacking that is fun when taken in the right context – that is, eBay tends to allow sellers to make their own representations or misrepresentation, and eBay allows sellers to post marks that likely infringe well known brands.  For example, VerizonWirelessSales.com was listed for $10 Million Dollars and VERIZONWIRELESSBLACKBERRYSTORM.COM was listed for $1 Million Dollars.

So, with so much chatter, what is a realistic price for a registered mark that includes the URL and that has potential for generating volume online search engine results?  I would conservatively start at $5K on the low end and $25K being a more realistic starting value that likely increases with the power and strength of the organic search terms in the URL. For example, the URL www.drive.com is the subject of at least one federal lawsuit, and more than likely, drive.com has a price point in the millions with significant room to increase in value.  Let’s just say that if the owner (or an investor) figured out how to register for U.S. trademark protection to “compliment” the URL and associate a source of goods or services that sold like hotcakes, well, it’d probably being a considerable return on investment.  Not bad for what one might consider an “ordinary” URL rocked to “superstar” status.  For more information, please contact the law firm of Bambi Faivre Walters, PC for more information — 1-888-388-9614 or contact Bambi directly at bambi@bfwpc.com.