Home > Intellectual 'property' > How the Americans stole the Ugg boot

How the Americans stole the Ugg boot

September 14th, 2010

Felix Salmon has a great piece responding to a WSJ puff piece on the American trademark troll company that has stolen the name “Ugg boot” then used “intellectual property” laws to impose the absurd claim that the only genuine Uggs are those made in China.

The world would be a lot better off without intellectual property, or at least with a return to the more reasonable rules of the 19th century (14 years copyright, limited patents restricted to actual inventions, trademarks to identify products rather than to stifle competition) and the attempts of the US government to defend IP monopoly rights are one of the many reasons American “soft power” is such a perishable commodity.

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  1. Factory
    September 14th, 2010 at 22:06 | #1

    I wouldn’t really describe it as a problem with intellectual property, but more of a problem with access to legal proceedings, and quality thereof.
    I suspect that the Decker corporation has won very few cases, and instead relies of threats of legal action or out of court settlements to get it’s way.

  2. SJ
    September 14th, 2010 at 22:45 | #2

    The world would be a lot better off without intellectual property…

    I strongly disagree. A trademark is one of the more innocuous types of intellectual property. I see no harm in laws preventing companies selling, say, Pepsi, or Rolex branded stuff if they aren’t licenced to do so by the brand owner.

    The case that Felix Salmon discusses is exceptional, where a generic name has been appropriated by some US jerks. The law isn’t supposed to allow this, you really aren’t allowed to trademark things called, say, “milk” or “water” or “ug boots”.

    I think that the world would be better off if it formulated its IP policy without any acknowedgement of or input from the US, which has become corrupt beyond belief.

  3. john
    September 15th, 2010 at 00:28 | #3

    This is just another tool the US has in controlling the rest of us. It’s a private taxation system, and it’s just wrong. Especially when we look at these examples, and things like the patenting of genetic sequences, that are clearly just discoveries, rather than inventions.

  4. September 15th, 2010 at 05:48 | #4

    Have to agree with SJ. Opposing such laws shouldn’t be limited to companies but to all originators of a product or service. I know I wouldn’t want my invention misrepresented by people wanting to make a quick buck off my hard work.

  5. Alice
    September 15th, 2010 at 06:47 | #5

    I would have thought Uggs have been around for so now long in Oz the name was generic.

  6. Fran Barlow
    September 15th, 2010 at 17:09 | #6

    I haven’t a problem with the principle of IP. Producers of products are entitled not to ahve their reputations and goodwill trashed by con-artists. In large parts of the developing world, fake medicines are passed off not only ripping off the purchasers, but putting their health at risk. Procedures are no being rolled out to prevent tampering.

    If a business has expensive and robust quality procedures, pays fair wages, observes OH&S, doesn’t employ child labour, and people buying their stuff take this into account when sourcing stuff, I think it serves no good purpose for someone to rip off their trademark.

    On the other hand, some forms of IP are a lot more dubious. Whether someone calls something an Ugg boot or Champagne or a PC when it isn’t is not something that bothers me greatly.

  7. Chris Warren
    September 15th, 2010 at 19:05 | #7

    Intellectual property rights need to be qualified or means tested, as they automatically create a monopoly power including a right to restrict the rights of others.

    Presumably intellectual property rights should provide for recovery of all costs and some reasonable return in addition, but it is hard to concede much beyond this.

    Monsanto plant genetics and bio-tech companies have used intellectual property rights to exploit and monopolise, to the detriment of many.

  8. Alice
    September 15th, 2010 at 19:13 | #8

    @Chris Warren
    Chris – as we speak Murdoch is pursuing Skype because it says itb owns the “sky” in skype.
    So News ltd owns the “sky”?

  9. Hal9000
    September 15th, 2010 at 19:40 | #9

    Deleted – sorry, this is a PG blog

  10. ken n
    September 16th, 2010 at 05:52 | #10

    “The world would be a lot better off without intellectual property”

    Just a point of clarification – do you mean that there should be no protection of patents, trade marks and copyright?

  11. ken n
    September 16th, 2010 at 06:27 | #11

    “as we speak Murdoch is pursuing Skype because it says it owns the “sky” in skype.”
    Not quite. BSkyB is objecting to Skype broadening its trade mark registration to include provision of television and internet. Skype’s registrations for its VOIP services are not affected.
    And almost certainly Murdoch knows nothing of the objection which would have been made by an IP lawyer somewhere is Europe.

  12. jquiggin
    September 16th, 2010 at 07:07 | #12

    Ken N, my preferred position would be to return to the 19th century situation – 14 years of copyright and patents limited to actual inventions. But, compared to the current situation, we would be better off scrapping the lot.

  13. ken n
    September 16th, 2010 at 07:29 | #13

    I don’t disagree JQ that patent protection is too wide but total abolition would discourage innovation in some fields. And you are much more likely to get modification than total abolition.
    I surprised that you would be happy to see abolition of copyright.

  14. Chris Warren
    September 16th, 2010 at 08:11 | #14

    This is not a useful argument…

    ken n :

    And almost certainly Murdoch knows nothing of the objection which would have been made by an IP lawyer somewhere is Europe.

    Murdoch rents hirelings to run these efforts, in the interests of Murdoch. Many actions by capitalist mega-corps are not known by the CEO.

  15. Alice
    September 16th, 2010 at 08:22 | #15

    I always find it interesting when the right argues for retention of protection on intellectual property and deregulation of everything else…

  16. Chris Warren
    September 16th, 2010 at 10:13 | #16

    Alice :
    I always find it interesting when the right argues for retention of protection on intellectual property and deregulation of everything else…

    Yes, its

    - protection and regulation for wealth accumulation, but

    - open slather deregulation for wealth expropriation.

  17. Alice
    September 16th, 2010 at 19:43 | #17

    @Chris Warren
    Chris – I agree. The right also argues for stong border protection and against the free deregulated movement of labour. Its so blatantly hypocriticral – especially when labour is such a major component of any price effect. Yes, capital must be freed according to the right – but labour must be bashed senseless (unions derailed) and restricted within borders.
    The entire free de-regulated markets ideology may as well have a big sign on it saying “bunkum and codswallop”.

  18. Hal9000
    September 16th, 2010 at 19:55 | #18

    @Hal9000
    Sorry, Prof Q. I thought it didn’t offend your policy, but then you’re the interpreter here. If I may be allowed to refer the curious to my reference, it was to Letters to the Editor, Private Eye no. 1269, August-September 2010.

  19. 2dogs
    September 18th, 2010 at 11:51 | #19

    Q: If IP is bad, and tariffs are bad, would tariffs on IP be bad?

  20. September 18th, 2010 at 13:32 | #20

    IP is strongly anti-free-market, for those claiming otherwise. And those on the Right who want heavily-regulated movement of labour aren’t free-marketeers, and are instead making an argument from a completely different angle. Also, please recall the many arguments put by the Left against immigration, importing workers, etc.

    I shouldn’t have to remind people that the Right isn’t monolithic, and isn’t a set that is equivalent with the set of those who want free markets. As a free-marketeer (of sorts), please stop ascribing views and policies and motivations to us that are actually held by corporatist governments and xenophobes.

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