Thanks to an arcane trademark-law loophole, Australian companies are ripping off American brands – name, logo and slogan – according to a syndicated September 9 Minneapolis Star Tribune report.
Whose Target is it, anyhow?
For example, there are 300 Target stores, doing $3.7 million in revenue, throughout Australia. Each has the same name, the same red bulls-eye logo and the same "Get More. Pay less." slogan as the 1800 Target stores across the US. But there the similarities end. In addition to different merchandise, each set of Targets has completely different ownership.
Target – Dayton Hudson's original, American Target – opened its first store's doors in Roseville, MN, in 1962. In 1966 it filed its first trademark – for the name – with the US Patent and Trademark Office, followed by another, in 1967, for the logo.
The very next year, an Australian subsidiary of the Wesfarmers retail conglomerate incorporated as Lindsay's Target Pty. [proprietary] Ltd. And since they were taking the name, they figured they might as well grab the logo and slogan as well.
Targeting a legal loophole
Thanks to a quirk in intellectual property law, they had every legal – though not necessarily ethical – right to.
You see, trademark protection stops at the water's edge. So if an American company wants to do business under its own name and with its own logo in another country, it has to trademark both there as well.
"In a global economy, these are very arcane laws," intellectual property attorney Maria Savio said. And under these "arcane laws," a company like Apple, which does business everywhere, has to file for separate name and logo trademarks in each and every country where they do business.
Otherwise, they'll be at the mercy of outfits like Wesfarmers, which make a habit of ripping off American intellectual property – say, their chain of Kmart stores, which, like their Target stores, use the American originators' name and logo without so much as a "thank you, mate."
Now that Target (the real Target) is expanding beyond US borders – opening 180 stores in Canada this year to start with more countries likely in the future – they may find other companies like Wesfarmers just waiting to steal their brand equity.
More than 'a strange coincidence'
Virginia trademark protection attorney Erik Pelton thinks it's "a strange coincidence they came up with the same name and logo," but that's because he doesn't know Australians.
When I worked there in 1986, the talk of the Melbourne advertising community was a television campaign for an Australian overnight-delivery company. The way it was "created" – and you'll note the scare quotes – was that the company's advertising agency sent a team to the US to monitor and tape the classic Federal Express commercials running at the time. They then replicated the Fedex spots – casting, direction, logo, script and campaign line ("When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight"), with the only changes being the brand name, the different job titles and the accents.
So if you plan on doing business overseas, make sure to protect your valuable intellectual property by trademarking and copyrighting everything first. Particularly if you're doing business in Australia.