What makes certain logos — like the Nike swoosh or Apple’s iconic partly eaten apple — so powerful? In short, they transcend the meaning of the symbol itself. “In the case of Nike and Apple, those logos signal a certain level of quality,” says Alison Hayman, a partner at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP. So those pictures wouldn’t mean much if the businesses behind them didn’t make great merchandise.
But those logos are valuable for another reason: no other companies can use them. If a shoddy shoemaker sold footwear with the Nike swoosh, the symbol would no longer mean high quality. Fortunately, global trademark laws prevent such things from taking place. And so do lawyers like Hayman.
Hayman is an intellectual property lawyer, whose practice focusses on trademarks in retail, sports and fashion. Companies rely on her to protect their brands, and to make sure they’re not infringing on the trademarks of other businesses. Here, Hayman breaks down how she does all that.
How do you protect a company’s trademarks?
In extreme cases, Hayman says she takes legal action against businesses whose logos or taglines resemble those of her clients. “I don’t stand up in court,” she says. “But I’ll review the documents that my colleagues in the litigation group prepare and attend court with them.”
But that’s a last resort. Most of the time, she can reach an out-of-court resolution.
In one case, a yoga business applied to register a logo that looked a lot like the logo of one of her clients, an American fashion brand. Hayman wanted to resolve the case without a lawsuit. So she offered the yoga company a deal: it could use and register the logo, but not with products that her client also sold, like clothing or bags. “We had to negotiate with them to carve back what they applied for,” says Hayman. In the end, both sides agreed.
How do you make sure your clients aren’t infringing on the trademarks of other companies?
It starts when a client comes up with a new product or marketing campaign. Hayman reviews the proposed taglines and logos. Then she runs a trademark search to see if the mark is available for use and registration. If it is, she files a trademark application with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). It takes about six months to get a response. At that point, the application has either been accepted or CIPO will raise any objections. If there are issues, Hayman will work with the client to revise its application or she will work to persuade CIPO to accept the application.
What is most challenging about your job?
“It’s a very deadline-driven role,” says Hayman. “We have to move so many files through the registration process. We live and die by our deadlines list.” On a typical day, Hayman has carriage of hundreds of files and does work on five to 20 of them.
What are the hours like?
“My hours are nine to six and evenings as necessary,” says Hayman. “I try to avoid the weekends, but if you’re on something that’s time-sensitive, you have to deliver.” On average, she works 55 to 60 hours a week.
The good thing is, she can plan her time well, since the trademark office sets specific deadlines. “That’s attractive to people who are looking for a field that’s not so boom and bust — like mergers and acquisitions — but very steady.”
What sort of person would be well-suited to trademark law?
“Someone who’s a creative, critical thinker,” says Hayman, “who really enjoys going deep into a problem and finding ways to solve it. But also someone who can easily move between tasks, as there are usually numerous files requiring attention all at once.”