Toronto’s world-famous Caribana festival has just been rebranded as the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival.  Or…there is a new multi-ethic festival slated for Toronto this summer, named the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival and the Caribana festival is no more.  It depends on whose lawyer you ask.

The name Caribana was the subject of a trade-mark dispute between an entity known as the Festival Management Committee and the Caribbean Arts Group.  The latter group founded and named the festival but has little involvement in organizing it in its current manifestation.  The former group are currently involved in the festival’s organization.

Last week the Ontario Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Caribbean Arts Group and that led to the decision to rebrand with the corporate-sponsored name.  However, the name change has done little to quiet the legal battle, with renewed threats this week by the CAG, suggesting that any attempt to pass off Caribana under the new name will be fought in court.

This issue highlights the importance of branding in general and of trade-mark rights in particular.  Any halfway recognizable brand with an ounce of equity has to be protected.  I tell horror stories like that of the Caribana dispute over and over to new business owners and it seems there is still a massive mental hurdle in accepting it.  In an age of increased technical expertise and ever-more complex business models, the idea that the biggest asset is your name might just be a tough pill to swallow.  And yet it often holds true.

The time and expense involved in protecting a trade-name at the right stage of business development will always pale in comparison to the expense involved in either litigating an issue later or in the lost business that comes from losing out in a branding war. 

So if it isn’t money, then what is it?  It’s a probability gamble.  If you aren’t securing your trade-marks, then you’re betting that your brand will never be recognizable.  You’re betting against the success of your name and your reputation in the marketplace.  And it’s a bet that you will lose either way.

If you have a brand, a name, or a reputation in the marketplace and it isn’t protected, call a professional.

Scott R. Young