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As a company that enhances environmental protection as much as its profits, apparel brand Patagonia has adopted some innovative ways of dealing with trademark infringement. IP Counsel Robert Tadlock talks to Ed Conlon.
U.S.-based outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, is devoted to fighting issues such as climate change, and spent much of 2016 doing exactly what many have come to associate it with: promoting environmental protection.
The clothing company’s Environmental & Social Initiatives 2016, published in November last year, reported a busy 12 months.
In Washington, D.C, it hosted a surfboard-signing event in protest at offshore oil drilling; and stores in Chicago, Illinois, and Saint Paul, Minnesota, supported activists opposing Line 5, an oil pipeline running through the United States’s Great Lakes.
Further, various store managers spoke at an activist event encouraging environmental awareness and climate change sensitivity. In 2016, Patagonia donated US $7.1 million to more than 800 nonprofit groups.
Towards the end of last year the company announced it would be giving 100 percent of its global retail and online Black Friday sales to environmental charities.
According to Corley Kenna, Global Communications Director, this was a way of keeping climate change issues “top of mind.”
IP at the Forefront
Patagonia uses its IP as a way of promoting its message.
According to Robert Tadlock, Patagonia’s IP Counsel, its environmental work is as important to the company as making a profit, and IP is at the forefront of these efforts.
“We are as much an environmental and corporate social responsibility advocate as a business trying to make a profit,” says Mr. Tadlock. “It’s fundamental to who we are, and it permeates every part of the business.”
One way the company has been environmentally aware is through its IP enforcement strategy.
Mr. Tadlock explains that Patagonia’s approach involves a “little more creativity” than simply seizing infringing items or sending cease-and-desist letters.
“When we reach out to those who we think are infringing our rights, we may have more options in what we ask them to do,” Mr. Tadlock adds.
“Usually we try not to destroy products—we opt for more productive results that make use of products and don’t waste goods.
“For example, we ask people to donate products, or we will take the product and try to recycle it,” he says. “The company is aware of the harm that’s done when things are made and then destroyed.”
This approach is not limited to enforcement: environmental concern also plays an important role when the company creates products.
“We have a large group of people who vet our supply chain partners in order to ensure they are doing whatever their job is in a way that minimizes harm to the environment and that they are treating workers well,” Mr. Tadlock explains.
Although influential from a social and moral standpoint, Patagonia is under no illusions about the business element of running a company.
Discussing what brand value means to him, Mr. Tadlock says that there are several considerations.
“When consumers see our name, product and logos, what are they thinking? Are they engaged in the quality of the product, the reasons they are buying the product, how it was made, and the fact it’s coming from a company that’s doing more than just turning out another product to make a profit?”
It may be a time of uncertainty for large parts of the world, but Patagonia is committed to continuing where it left off in 2016.
“Our mission is really central—it does differentiate us. We find that caring about these things is part of the DNA of the business.
“Our brand value is built on those beliefs, and also the follow-through. We have a voice on these issues and we try to use it effectively,” Mr. Tadlock says.
Patagonia: Fast Facts
Founded: Yvon Chouinard in 1973
Headquarters: Ventura, California, United States
Commits: 1 percent of sales or 10 percent of profit (whichever is higher) to environmental causes
Number of U.S. stores: 30
Patagonia, environmental, product, Counterfeits, infringement, apparel, Design