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A report in Monday’s Wall Street Journal discusses how Staples – a real office supply company selling real printer paper – is now selling “Dunder Mifflin” brand paper via its online division Quill.com. Dunder Mifflin is (was?) a fictional paper company on the television show “The Office.” Even better, according the article, “the Dunder Mifflin packages will be emblazoned with slogans such as “Our motto is, ‘Quabity First’ ” and “Get Your Scrant on,” well-known phrases from the comedy series.”

This is part of a trend called “Reverse Product Placement” wherein brands that began as fiction become reality.

The concept is fascinating… and if Staples sells more of its paper because of it – even if they are paying a commission to NBC Universal – it will be a win-win I presume. However, the trademarks in the arrangement have not been well executed.

Here are the specifics of why this constitutes poor trademark management:

- No trademark notice with use of “Dunder Mifflin” name or logo on the paper packaging (see image below)

- No trademark notice in the online product listing for the paper (see below):

Dunder Mifflin Copy Paper; 8-1/2×11″, Letter Size

- No USPTO trademark filing from NBC or Staples for “Dunder Mifflin” name for paper

- No USPTO trademark filing from NBC or Staples for “Dunder Mifflin” name for paper

- No USPTO trademark filing from NBC for “Dunder Mifflin” name for television programming

- No USPTO trademark filing from NBC for “THE OFFICE” for television programming

- No filing from NBC or Staples for any of the great slogans mentioned in the article (“Get Your Scrant On!”)

For example, see the advertisement below – it features at least four trademarks (The Office, Dunder Mifflin, Quill.com, NBC) and zero trademark symbols next to any of them. It has a generic trademark notice in the lower left corner, but this is not very useful and does little if anything to help identify the “Dunder Mifflin” as a protected trademark. (Also, the * next to Oscar’s head noting that the ad does not constitute celebrity endorsement is quite interesting. Does this mean that the actors are not standing to gain in any way from the sales of the paper? I wonder!)

In short, NBC Universal Staples have invested money and risked their brand in part to launch this product. They stand to potentially make a lot of money. And they have completely overlooked protecting the names properly! If I was hoping to make millions of dollars off of a product name, I would certainly spend a few thousand to enhance the protection of that same! Why wouldn’t NBC Universal?

DUNDER MIFFLIN, INC

from Quill.com

image from Quill.com

One Response
  1. Reid Morris says:

    Wow, NBC seems to have really dropped the ball on this one. There’s clearly plenty of value in the Dunder brand. I can’t see why they wouldn’t treat it like they do any of their other IP. I didn’t see any Wernham Hogg paper from the BBC version, but maybe there’s another branding opportunity abroad.

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