A common refrain in this space is that intellectual property law is meant to protect, both in deterring would-be violators from messing with your IP and in instances where defending means taking an offensive approach against infringers. It’s a measure of power, and for small businesses, it can be the most considerable power afforded in those earliest days before there’s a customer or client to speak of.
It’s also a truism that power corrupts, or can be corrupted or misused, particularly by those aiming to accumulate more simply for its own sake. That all sounds a bit Machiavellian and overwrought when talking about business IP, but consider the many cases of trademark bullying covered here over the past few years, too great in number to link to all of them. And there’s always commonality between the stories: a corporation wants to be the only owner of any mark even vaguely similar to their own, and so they systematically go after small businesses in the hope they’ll fold because they don’t have the resources to fight as an international conglomerate might.
The latest example comes from a story by Joe Rubino in the Denver Post, about a Denver-area roofing company called Skyyguard that is locked in a trademark fight with the makers of Skyy Vodka over the roofers’ logo. A quick Google search of both entities turns up little to further the case of Campari America, the division of the Campari Group brand that is pressing the trademark objection. And it’s rote at this point to remark on the difference between the two ventures; no one is confusing a roofer and a vodka brand, and no party on either side of the fight can earnestly believe that would ever be the case.
What is interesting is how Chase Baron and Sean Smith, the founders of Skyyguard Roofing, are fighting back against what they so clearly see as an attempt to bully them into submission. In speaking to Rubino, they are clear-eyed and honest about what they’re up against: a concerted effort to bleed them dry through years of legal action that Campari can afford and they almost certainly can’t. It’s not a stretch to say that Campari has no legitimate grounds upon which to object, and this no case, but the matter was never meant to make it you court in Campari’s version of events.
The proliferation of this tactic means that there exists a system outside of our courts, and like other aspects of American life that exist in the spaces civic governance does not, money dominates and perverts objective notions of fairness and justice. Skyyguard is sadly neither the first or even hundredth case like it, nor is it even close to the last, and that’s all the worse for small businesses everywhere.