Corporate Eye

When Trademark and Patent Litigation Damages a Brand

Trademark and patent protections are vital to brands, but is there a time when too many lawsuits (or threats of lawsuits) over trademark and patent infringements can start to negatively tarnish consumers’ perceptions of a brand and damage the brand? If you look at the history of Apple’s patent suits, the answer is yes.

Matt Assay of The Register shared the graphic below from Verizon (published by Forbes) that depicts the “insane” number of smartphone competitor patent lawsuits. However, from the average consumer’s perspective, most of these lawsuits go unnoticed and don’t affect their perceptions of the brands behind them.

Click the image to view it at full size.

smartphone patent lawsuits

For the average consumer, brands like Apple, Google, and Microsoft dominate the buzz about mobile tech lawsuits with short-term buzz about associated brands like HTC and Samsung popping up occasionally. Consumers hear about the big brands hiring employees to focus on trademark and patent litigation, and a natural progression of human emotion ultimately follows – when people start to root for the underdog. That’s where smaller tech brands can position themselves to carve chunks out of mobile tech market share.

When does trademark and patent litigation shift from protecting a company’s assets and brand equity to bullying and arrogance? Fortunately, social media buzz can help brand’s identify reputation shifts, but operating from a position of brand dominance and leadership often leads to brand arrogance, a topic I’ve written about before for Corporate Eye.

We’ve seen brand arrogance hurt brands in the past with Microsoft offering one of the best examples, but Apple has been heading down the same path of brand arrogance in recent years. Will consumers’ perceptions of the Apple brand (or other brands heading down a similar path) be so tarnished by perceived arrogance that they’ll turn to another brand? Will Apple (and other brands heading down the same path) recognize the problem and fix it before it’s too late?

Only time will tell, but demise by brand arrogance isn’t a new phenomenon. What do you think? Which brand do you think is too far down the path of brand arrogance to save itself? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.