If you run a billion (or even million) dollar brand, does it make sense to spend a few thousand dollars to protect your mark from copycats? Or if you are a songwriter, does it make sense to spend thirty-five dollars to register a copyright on your song? The answer is yes. But the recent “SUPREME” trademark drama shows why this answer isn’t so obvious to all.
“SUPREME” is the trademark of a street wear brandname that has been operating in New York City since at least 1994. The company who originated “SUPREME,” however, never registered its trademark. This was a fatal mistake. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Michele di Pierro started a rogue version of the “SUPREME” brand in Europe in or about 2015. Since then, Mr. di Pierro has filed dozens of trademark registrations over “SUPREME” in dozens of countries.
While the New York company has priority rights to the “SUPREME” mark in the geographic region of its use, which would certainly include New York City, a first to filer often has priority in every region in which the trademark isn’t being used. Had the senior “SUPREME” user filed its trademark in the United States and then extrapolated to other regions, it would have avoided this distasteful and costly dispute with copycat junior user Mr. di Pierro. The same lesson applies for copyright. Say Bob Dylan writes a song, say All Along the Watch Tower, but doesn’t register the copyright. Someone files a copyright first. Then the copycat is the presumptive owner of the song — not Mr. Dylan. He would then need to move to cancel the copyright.
The lesson is that a simple registration today can save you millions of dollars in legal fees tomorrow fighting a copycat.