Trademark Camp: Relationships First, Profitability Later

Last month, I had the pleasure of chaperoning my oldest son’s Boy Scout troop at summer camp.   That’s right, a full week in the woods of North Carolina … sleeping in a hammock!   Besides a little rain and chiggers, the week was a great experience and much more enjoyable than my last summer camp stint decades ago!

Flags, Patches, Emblems, & Badges!

As a trademark lawyer, encountering many of the distinctive symbols and flags associated with the Boy Scout organization and its traditions was fascinating.    The scouting community operates using an enormous number of symbols.  Click here to see examples of troop flags and here for uniform examples.

Like trademarks, the many Boy Scout uniform patches, emblems and badges serve various identifying purposes that facilitate running the organization and carrying on its traditions.   Different patches identify each troop, each patrol within the troop, each council to which the troop belongs, and each rank earned.   There is a scouting patch for virtually everything – leadership positions held, geographic locales, events completed, skills learned, courses studied, trails hiked, mountains climbed, and many other accomplishments.

Seasoned scouts and leaders recognize these symbols easily and ascribe important significance to them.  For the novice like me, however, the symbols and patches serve mainly as topics of educational and entertaining conversation.  The glowing Nuclear Panda and the Bacon Ninja patrol patches made me smile.   (Click on the names to see them.)

The 2014 Polar Bear Plunge patch is my current favorite:


Symbolizing our daily 6 a.m. hike and plunge into the lake, which has now become a small source of pride (and bragging rights)!















The Flag Retirement Ceremony

One particularly meaningful event that took place was a flag retirement ceremony around our campfire.   For years and as a community service, Troop 463 (Sandy Springs, Georgia) has collected old, worn, tattered, frayed or faded U.S. Flags, and the scouts carry them to campouts for proper retirement and disposal.  On this trip, we brought a dozen or more flags.  In contrast to other camp events like water balloon launching (hundreds of yards!), zipline rides, hilarious staff skits at bonfires, and the polar bear plunges, the ceremony was a solemn, meaningful memorial service for American Flags that had completed their service.

Flag retirement ceremonies are conducted pursuant to the U.S. Code.  In particular, 4 U.S.C. § 8, entitled “Respect for Flag,” sets forth terms and conditions for caring for American Flags.  Section 8(k) provides:

The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” 4 U.S.C. § 8(k).

We prepared about a dozen flags for the ceremony one evening near our campfire.   Using pairs of scissors, scouts and leaders cut the blue fields away from the red and white stripes, and then separated the stripes from one another.  The separated blue fields and red and white stripes were then collected and taken to the campfire to be placed respectfully piece-by-piece into the fire.

A script was read by scouts and leaders to memorialize the lives of the flags.  The script began by explaining the significance of the elements that make up the flag.  For example, the field of blue remains intact symbolizing that the union of states is not to be divided and the red stripes remind us of the lifeblood of those who died for our freedoms.  Click here for an example of scripts.

Then, important historical events witnessed by the flag were recalled while pieces of the flag were placed into the fire.   Some of the historic events were recalled through phrases such as:

  • “One if by land, two if by boat.”
  • “Give me liberty or give me death.”
  • “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth to this continent a new nation.”
  • “I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.’”
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
  • “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
  • “Tear down this wall.”

Some were recalled through the mention of battles such as Valley Forge, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Normandy, Berlin, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.   Other events mentioned included conditions that led to Amendments to the Constitution and tragedies such as the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing, and September 11, 2001.

After each event or phrase was read and recalled, another piece of flag was placed respectfully in the fire and we discussed the extraordinary events and people involved in the events.

This experience of caring for these flags was patriotic and significant for scouts and adults alike.   Taking our time and giving our attention to these flags was a dignified, meaningful way to retire these flags.   None of us who participated in the ceremony that night will look at an American Flag the same way again.

What Stories Will Your Trademarks Tell?

Whether as trivial as a Polar Bear patch or as historical as the American Flag, every symbol has stories to tell.   When those stories are told, relationships with the symbols are formed or strengthened.

Businesses sometimes forget that trademarks are about relationships with consumers, not simply for profitability.   They have put the cart before the horse.  Businesses need to remember that trademarks that enjoy strong consumer relations and loyalty not only tell better stories, but they will render strong financial performances.

Interestingly, Proctor & Gamble recently announced it is shedding 90 to 100 of its product brands.  See, P&G to Shed More Than Half Its Brands.  Apparently, P&G began overbuilding its brands 10-15 years ago and is now disposing of most of them to focus on its core brands.  See, Too Little, Too Late? The Challenge of Fixing P&G.   In other words, P&G has spent many years investing in disposable trademarks and its financial performance is poor.  It is amazing to me that the financial analysts do not see the correlation.

If businesses want genuine, lasting relationships with consumers (and the financial rewards that come from such relationships!), their trademarks need to be genuine and lasting, not disposable.  Had P&G invested the time and resources into its core brands rather than disposable brands years ago, its trademarks would tell a different, much more productive story.

Michael J. Powell is an intellectual property lawyer and registered mediator.  With 23 years’ experience, Mr. Powell helps clients navigate the complexities and costs of intellectual property in transactions and litigation.  For his work in intellectual property, Mr. Powell has been recognized by Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers In Business, Best Lawyers in America, Georgia Super Lawyers and Georgia Legal Elite for many years.   To learn more, schedule a mediation, or reach Mr. Powell, click