It’s a pretty common piece of clip art – a dotted-line border with a little pair of scissors appearing to cut it out. You’ll find variations of this image on any number of coupon sites and blog logos, and even on some actual coupons.
But now an internet company is issuing a warning – use the above image without their permission, and they’ll sue.
That word comes from the Phoenix-based Greenway Design Group, which says it “develops, operates, partners, joint ventures and makes direct investments in web properties, internet platforms, technologies, intellectual properties and information technology.”
And one of the properties it hopes to license to paying customers is its scissors-and-coupon image.
Greenway has announced that the image, which it acquired after buying the company Deal-X Technologies two years ago, is now trademarked. “The mark consists of a rectangular shaped coupon cut-out with perforated lines and scissors shown cutting the coupon along the perforated lines,” the trademark certification reads.
And now, with trademark in hand, Greenway plans to defend it.
“We feel this trademark offers significant value to Greenway Design Group,” the company’s CEO Thomas Gregory said in a statement. “We are aware that the use of our trademark is potentially being violated in many places, and we want to make it clear that we will pursue all potential violations and attempt to find a beneficial financial solution for all.”
But before anyone starts redesigning their websites and coupons – or starts planning to pay up – it’s not clear whether Greenway can really claim ownership of every single scissors-and-coupon image out there.
The trademark certification is very specific about the image to which Greenway actually has the rights. “Inside the rectangular shaped coupon cut-out with perforated lines and to the left of the scissors is a dash,” the documentation reads. “The scissors form an ‘X’ located on the right vertical edge of the coupon cut-out.”
The “-X” within the coupon image allows Greenway to promote its various web properties – Deal-X, Trips-X, Coupons-X, Rooms-X, and so on. Such a specific image would be of limited use to anyone who has no need for the “-X” portion of the scissors-and-coupon image. But Greenway’s preemptive warning to potential trademark violators refers only to “its key scissors and coupon trademark” and makes no mention of the “-X” part.
Even if Greenway attempts to broaden its claim of ownership to scissors-and-coupon images without the “-X” – or if it attempts to warn off those who are using similar images, with a purposefully vague legal threat – it may be limited by others’ prior use of such an image. Trademark law gives some protection to those who’ve used a name or logo before someone else came along and trademarked it.
That won’t necessarily stop a trademark owner from trying to defend its rights anyway. Because sometimes, claiming ownership of something that others are already using, can pay off.
Back in 2014, the owner of several patents related to digital coupons filed the first in a series of lawsuits against retailers with pre-existing digital coupon programs, claiming patent infringement. The majority of the lawsuits were ultimately dismissed. But at least one resulted in a settlement and licensing agreement, when Kroger agreed to pay a fee to patent owner Advanced Marketing Systems in order to continue offering digital coupons.
For some who may be similarly challenged by a trademark infringement lawsuit from Greenway Design Group, they may find that paying up to settle the case – or giving in and stopping their use of the image – is preferable to putting up a fight, no matter the legal merits of Greenway’s claim.
So consider all of this, the next time you see a coupon image like the one above. Even though it’s meant to suggest savings – it could end up costing someone a whole lot of money.
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