Trademarks and Oil Spills

The Twitter account @BPGlobalPR has more followers than the real BP Twitter account. Yes its fake and they use the BP name and logo. The tweets are both biting and funny, at least to people who don’t work at BP. But is it trademark infringement?

If trademark law exists primarily prevent confusion in the marketplace and to let companies control their own reputation, then probably not. Does @BPGlobalPR tarnish BP’s brand? Probably, but it seems as though everyone knows its a parody, and how could you not with tweets like:

“We feel terrible about spilling oil in American waters, we’ll make sure the next spill happens where the terrorists live. #bpcares”

“Please help us with rebranding. We’re not calling it an “oil spill” anymore, now it’s a “Southern Fun Party”. #bpcares”

So, if a decent trademark infringement or dilution claim could be made, BP might ask themselves, “should we?” The answer to that might be “no.” The fallout from a trademark lawsuit now could be worse than the tweets. (See Streisand Effect) It might make it seem like BP is trying harder to plug the word leak than the oil leak.

The value of a trademark is based in large part on the reputation of the company. To BP’s credit, it seems as though their tweeting has been pretty focused on keeping people updated about the oil spill. This might be one time where protecting a trademark might be done best by letting people vent and take a few jabs.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: I am pretty sure that this wouldn’t be a good trademark case for BP anyway. It is such a clear parody as well as a non-commercial, non-competing use. However, there have been some inconsistent results in the area of trademark parodies. Sometimes judges as well as brand owners just don’t have a good sense of humor. Thanks to @cathygellis for the reply tweet and comment.