Since the beginning I’ve been blogging about the attempts by Gibson and Fender, the makers of fine guitars, to avoid copycat competition via the trademark and litigation route. My most recent post on the progress of that campaign is here, where I wrote:
[T]he main reward for a great, original product is a successful business based on that product. Intellectual property notwithstanding, the best way to protect most great ideas is by consistently excellent execution, high quality, responsive customer service, continued innovation and overall staying ahead of the competition by delivering more value. . . . [I]f an enterprise can’t fathom protecting its value proposition without some kind of gaudy trademark protection, ultimately something has to give.
Fender, according to the record in this opinion, understood the truth well for decades. It warned consumers to stick with its quality “originals” and not to be fooled by “cheap imitations,” and it flourished. But for all these years, Fender never claimed to think the sincerest form of flattery was against the law. Only in the feverish IP-crazy atmosphere of our current century did the company deem it “necessary” to spend a fortune that could have been used on product development, marketing or any darned thing on a quixotic quest for a trademark it never believed in itself. That is more than an impossible dream — it’s a crying shame.
Gibson is beginning to make its arguments to consumers on the merits, now, instead. Via @megLG (Megan Langley Grainger), Gibson is now online with what looks like a blog post that shows you, with words and music — well, no, that would actually have been really compelling, but at least with words and pictures — how to tell the difference between a counterfeit Gibson and the real thing.
The piece is pretty interesting, especially for a former guitar player, although it is entirely about counterfeit Gibson guitars (bearing the GIBSON name and trademark), which are clearly a trademark infringement. That’s not the same as knockoffs — copies of unprotectible elements of the guitar style meant to evoke the Gibson (or Fender) “look” — which is what I’ve written about in the past.
Unfortunately for Gibson, they hired someone out of the RIAA copywriting program and gave this very cool, informative and interesting post the leaden title, “Gibson Leads Industry Fight Against Counterfeit Gibsons,” instead of “Is Your Gibson the Real Thing?” or “How to Spot a Fake Gibson.” This is not only a clunker of a title, but:
- What it states is mainly irrelevant to the article, because most of the post is about how to spot the difference between a Gibson and a Gibson fake, not about Gibson’s enforcement efforts, notwithstanding the eyes-glazing-over press-release fodder at the bottom of the article;
- Consumers don’t really care about Gibson’s enforcement efforts, per se; and
- There can be no more “dog bites man” statement about the “industry fight against counterfeit Gibsons” than “Gibson Leads Industry Fight Against Counterfeit Gibsons.” Who else would lead that “industry” fight? Bob Gibson?
Having said that, Gibson is demonstrating the importance of explaining to consumers why they would, in fact, want a real Gibson (and yes, add some music! show me in sonic and graphical form how a Gibson sounds better!), and that is a great start. They can and should do the same thing with non-counterfeit knockoffs as well, some of which are prominent brands in their own right. Do they dare?
Folks, get this: Ironically, yet not a laughing matter, the above two links lead to stories about product counterfeiting and the Google advertisement placed on the right on both sites leads to the same website selling counterfeit watches!!!
Rob Holmes is not nearly as surprised as all that punctuation makes it sound… but hey, it’s Google, right? What does Google know? Whaddya want them to do, turn down revenue or something?
UPDATE: With the following link, it appears that, perhaps, nothing more need be said: Jeffrey Davidson’s “Three Chords and a Lawsuit: A Brief History of Guitars and Trademarks.”