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Don’t mess with the Seal of Cotton

Recently, some enterprising, and somewhat misguided entrepreneurs placed the Seal of Cotton logo on pairs of socks that were woven, incredibly enough, from bamboo. They offered them for sale on the retail market.

Shouldna done that.

Someone took a picture of the socks and e-mailed it to Cotton Incorporated, Cary, N.C. They immediately slapped a cease and desist order on the would-be logo lifters.

Most of the time, trademark violations like these end up on the desk of Colleen T. Sullivan, director, Intellectual Property and Contracts, for Cotton Incorporated. You don’t want to mess with Colleen. She takes protecting Cotton Incorporated trademarks seriously.

She has to. “When consumers see cotton products with the Seal of Cotton and other trademarks, they see good quality and all the things we try to instill in them from our advertising and promotion,” she said. “It reflects back on who we are as a company.”

Cotton Incorporated uses the Internet to track down trademark violations and has registrations with U.S. Customs, who can seize goods bearing unlicensed marks. In addition, Cotton Incorporated employees from all over the world are trained to recognize trademark shenanigans.

Some of these marks border on the ridiculous. Colleen has seen the Seal of Cotton altered to resemble the horns of a Longhorn steer or a marijuana plant. A graphic artist once emblazoned the words “100 Percent Rotten” over the seal, another no-no.

This kind of encroachment goes on a lot, which provides Colleen and three others in her department with employment as watchdogs for brands belonging to Cotton Incorporated.

Violations can take place anywhere in the world. For example, a textile mill in China recently attempted to register a trademark which illegally incorporated the Seal of Cotton. A search engine directed the attempted registration to Colleen, who put the clamps on the attempted brand burgle.

Most people are surprised when informed they’ve violated a registered trademark. “Most of the time, they’re amenable,” Colleen says. “Sometimes it’s a little more difficult to take the next step.”

In some situations, the financial loss for violators can be substantial. Some goods may have to be re-manufactured or relabeled after a trademark is obliterated.

The Seal of Cotton is licensed at no cost to companies wishing to display it on materials made from cotton. But rules must be followed, Colleen says. “When you register a mark, that image is how it has to be used. If you change it up too much, or allow too much artistic interpretation, you can end up losing the mark.”

That’s why Cotton Incorporated takes any violation seriously, and can’t afford to be slack on the rules.

And that’s why Colleen – who actually is a very nice lady under most circumstances – has to be tough.

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