To celebrate the New Year, I journeyed from New York to Accra, Ghana for “Detty December”, a pilgrimage of Black people from all over the world to celebrate all things Black and beautiful through cultural events, sightseeing, eating good food, and lots and lots of partying.
When I tell you everyone was in Ghana this past month, I mean EVERYONE.
My girls and I checked out a popular hotspot called, “FrontBack” where we ‘casually’ partied alongside some of the greats like Jidenna, Masego, and none other than Wizkid, himself. We also grabbed dinner where we spotted Chance the Rapper and the extremely talented Michaela Coel.
The energy was so exhilarating that I watched the sun come up on more than one occasion while dancing to Afrobeats. To say we had a time is an understatement!
While in Accra, I attended Afrochella – a 2-day festival celebrating Africa’s diverse culture and the vibrant work of African creatives and entrepreneurs. The people were beautiful and the vibes were unmatched. There’s nothing like hearing your favorite Afrobeats and Ampiano artists singing and dancing to your favorite songs along with thousands of other beautiful Black people!
Although I was having an amazing time on my vacation, it’s often hard for me to turn off the “lawyer” in me and I caught a few things that had me thinking.
First, I noticed that there was a huge banner at the festival that stated, “Afrochella is…AfroFuture.” Then shortly after Burna Boy’s electric closeout performance, one of the showrunners thanked the crowd for their support and stated, “This will be the last Afrochella you will attend,” which left everyone a bit puzzled.
Then I remembered that Goldenvoice – the organizer of the Coachella Music Festival – filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in an attempt to block Afrochella from promoting its festival because it caused a “likelihood of confusion” with Coachella.
Upon hearing the news, I hoped that the parties would come to an amicable agreement that would allow Afrochella to continue the amazing work it has done for the African diaspora without going bankrupt with legal fees.
Thus, when I learned that Afrochella announced its official rebrand to “AfroFuture” and its commitment to continue producing amazing events in the name of African culture, I was relieved.
Though it is safe to say that Afrochella built an amazing brand in its own right, when the name of your brand can be considered “confusingly similar” to other brands that were in the marketplace before you, it is extremely risky business to proceed.
Here are a few lessons we can learn from the rebrand of Afrochella:
1. Conduct a Comprehensive Clearance Search BEFORE Launching Your Brand
The very first thing I ask my clients when they tell me the name of their brand is if they’ve done a search to make sure no one else already has their name. Before investing all of your time, energy, and money, make sure there is no one else that can stake a claim to your brand. And I’m not talking about a simple Google search. This search is best left to an attorney who understands the way intellectual property protection works.
2. Consider Rebranding Sooner than Later
If you conduct a comprehensive clearance search and find that there is another brand already using the name you chose for similar goods, it would be wise to consider rebranding before you’ve made those hefty investments we talked about. An alternative to rebranding would be to reach out to the brand owner and see if you can buy the brand from them. If you have the means to do so, then it’s worth a try.
3. OWN Your Brand
It may come as a surprise, but you don’t legally own your brand until you have a registered trademark that says so. A trademark is anything that you use to associate your brand with your goods or services. So, a trademark can be a word, slogan, tagline, hashtag, or even a color or smell. Once you register your trademark, you will receive a certificate from the federal government that states you are the exclusive owner of your trademark.
4. ENFORCE your Rights
Having your registered trademark will not, on its own, stop others from using your trademark for their own purposes. This is why you must monitor the market and make sure that you reach out to those who are using your trademark without your permission. Some websites and social media platforms even allow you to file a takedown request but only if you can show that you have a registered trademark.
Though I learned so much about my people and was reminded of how amazing and resilient we are while in Ghana, it was made clear to me how important it is for us to ensure that we own and protect what we create. At the end of the day, we are the culture and the culture must be protected at all costs.
Ashley is the founder of The Cloud Law Firm, servicing creative entrepreneurs in all 50 states. You can visit thecloudlawfirm.com or follow @thecloudlawfirm and @yourfashionattorney on Instagram for more information.