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IP Lawyer Maria Ojala: “The advertising value of a trademark is often even more important than the product”

06.10.2017
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During the summer, IP Lawyer Maria Ojala (Master of Laws) completed the Master’s Degree programme in Intellectual Property Law at Hanken School of Economics undertaken alongside her work. The degree focuses on intellectual property rights from the legal and business perspectives.

- The degree and the related thesis on the advertising function of trademarks also widened my perspectives on working with trademarks as an IP lawyer, Maria explains.

EMOTIONS AND ATTITUDES ARE STRONGLY ASSOCIATED WITH TRADEMARKS

In her master’s thesis, Maria examined the advertising function of trademarks from the legal, economic and brand perspectives.

In addition to indicating the commercial origin, a trademark has also an advertising function which indicates the use of a trademark with a purpose to inform and attract consumers. A key finding of the thesis was that trademarks play an important role as part of brands, when affecting the feelings and attitudes of consumers. 

- It is traditionally considered that the main and principal function of a trademark is to indicate the commercial origin of goods or services. However, trademarks are no longer viewed only as neutral indicators of origin, but increasingly as independent ‘personalities’ with a certain image and the ability to attract consumers.  

- Trademarks convey a range of meanings and messages through advertising. Consumers learn to associate a particular trademark with an attitude, feeling or lifestyle, for example. When making a purchasing decision, the story related to a trademark may even be more important to the consumer than the product itself, Maria explains. 

This means that the scope of trademark protection needs to be wide enough to meet the challenge of the changed role of trademarks. Defining the scope of protection involves both a balancing act and the weighing up of various interests, taking account of the situation and resources of the trademark holder, the position and IP rights of competitors, and consumers. 

MONITOR AND DEFEND YOUR OWN TRADEMARK – AVOID INFRINGING THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS 

At Kolster, Maria manages the protection of trademarks, and issues related to enforcement in particular. She is also an expert in areas of marketing law such as comparative advertising and other unfair business practices.

- Trademark infringements and so-called unfair competition occur with unfortunate regularity, particularly on websites, the social media and advertising. Trademark holders should be vigilant in monitoring and defending their brands and trademarks, to prevent their brand building investments from going to waste. 

- In my work, I have found that it is by no means always the case that marketing and advertising professionals have the information they need on the legal framework defining how products can be advertised: for example, can you refer to the trademarks of competitors, and what constitutes the unauthorised use of another party's trademark. International brand owners, in particular, often have a zero tolerance approach to infringements of their rights. Infringements of rights can pose a major business risk for small companies. It is worth turning to IP professionals for advice, Maria hints.