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Most of the marketing or public relations professionals I know have a reasonably firm grasp of branding. They know how to develop a brand identity and promote it through a variety of communications channels, from advertising and traditional media relations to social media. Further, they understand the importance of presenting a brand – and delivering a positive customer experience – on a consistent basis.

But few seem to know anything about protecting a brand from those who might misappropriate, misuse or abuse it. And those familiar with the concept seem to think that brand protection is the exclusive responsibility of the legal team.

I think PR and marketing folk should recognize the myriad ways brands are misused and abused on the Internet:

  • Marketing partners post outdated or unauthorized logos or images.
  • Resellers distribute products through sales channels explicitly prohibited in their sales contracts.
  • Companies having no relationship with a well-regarded organization falsely claim affiliation with it.
  • Counterfeiters misappropriate prestigious trademarks and brand imagery to push knockoff products.
  • Cybersquatters buy domains that infringe on popular brand and set up phony websites to redirect web traffic or even phish for confidential personal data.

Such abuse not only diminishes brand equity; it also costs companies thousands or even millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Again, many marketers consider it the legal department’s role to combat brand and trademark infringement. But marketers and brand managers – especially those wanting to increase their influence with senior management – would do well to understand how their brands can be compromised on the Internet, and the steps that can be taken to combat such abuse.

Fortunately, awareness seems to be increasing. For example, Lawrence Ragan Communications, a major provider of insights and information for the public relations industry, is hosting a webinar (“How to guard your company blog, intranet and social media posts from copyright infringement”) addressing an aspect of the problem.

In addition, the Orange County (Calif.) chapter of the American Management Association will examine the issue during its next “Signature Speaker” event, which will be held on Feb. 20. David Duckwitz, president and chief executive of brand protection and enforcement firm CitizenHawk, will talk to attendees about “Protecting Your Brand in Today’s Online Environment.”

In many companies, the legal team and its outside counselors will maintain responsibility for protecting brand assets and other intellectual property (IP), including on the Internet. But communications professionals – at least those who want to be viewed as strategic counselors or brand advocates – need to gain some familiarity with this increasingly important issue.