We live in a brand-obsessed and brand-dominated world. The brands we use say all sorts of things about us – we're fun (Kulula), we're politically aware (Nando's), we're environmentally conscious (Woolworths), we're fashionable (Gucci), we can finally afford the toy that we wanted so desperately twenty years ago when we would have looked  far less ridiculous in it (Porsche).

Winning  brands enjoy the sort of loyalty that political parties and even religions can only dream of  - indeed, it has been said that in an increasingly secular world , brands have  taken the place of religion for many people.  This loyalty is in some cases prosaic, being based on nothing more than habit, lack of differentiation, and the sheer hassle of changing – think banking and cell phones. Yet in other cases it is firmly rooted in emotion. Whatever the reason for loyalty, successful brands are extremely valuable. Indeed, for many companies the brand is the most valuable asset. And it has never been truer than now in the post-brick and mortar business world – think Google, Twitter or Facebook.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that the owners of winning brands take their brands very seriously?  And that they involve intellectual property lawyers every step of the way?  For advice on:

  • Brand  generation  - although this  will normally be a name, it can, of course, also be a logo or a slogan. They obtain advice as they know that only distinctive marks can be registered. They know too that, although a weak mark that over time becomes distinctive of one company can be registered, a registration for a weak mark will never be as effective as one for an inherently distinctive mark. So yes, Google or Apple rather than South African Airways.

  • Searching , which is critical if you want to avoid getting slapped with an infringement suit. And no, it does not only apply to new brands, it applies equally to brand extensions and, of course, to exports.  Which itself raises all sorts of issues, such as, what happens when you put your brand on your website, and should you search Chinese translations and transliterations of your brand?

  • Registration, and all the options available, such as combining different brands in one registration, and using regional registration systems like the one that applies in the EU, and the international registration system (Madrid system) which is available to certain South African companies.

  • Enforcement against a host of nasty characters, including chancers, counterfeiters and cyber-squatters.

  • Licensing  and co-branding, where the critical issues are to ensure consistency of product or service, and to avoid reputational damage. Yes, this does include those valuable, but sometimes risky, sports sponsorships!

  • All those difficult practical questions.  Can we use our competitor's brand in a comparative ad? Can we buy our competitor's brand as an Adword?  Are we at risk of being hauled before the ASA if we refer to our competitor's brand? What are the restrictions on ambush marketing in the post-World Cup South Africa?

  • Brand valuation, critical in any commercial negotiation.

ENS is a winning brand in the area of legal services in Africa, and proudly boasts a full-service intellectual property law department. A department that  takes your brand every bit as seriously as it takes its own.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.