The Beta Agriculture and Trade Company, which is run out of Turkey, applied to register “Idaho” as a trademark in its own country late last year. That would allow the company to put the state name on products like sugar beet seeds that it could sell in Turkey or export abroad.
Pat Kole, an attorney for the Idaho Potato Commission, which owns the U.S. registered “Idaho” trademark, said the Turkish company could cause problems for Idaho brands abroad if their products or services are of poor quality.
“Essentially, you just always have to watch when you’ve got a very well-known trademark or you want to develop and protect the reputation your state or region might have,” Kole said.
The Legislature passed a resolution Feb. 8 stating its opposition to the application in front of the Turkish Patent Institute early in this year’s session. It also asks the governor to write a letter to the Turkish government opposing the trademark adoption.
“Idaho values all Idaho agricultural products and takes pride in the high quality of the products that are sold worldwide and the use of Idaho’s name in any product not originating in the state of Idaho will have the effect of diminishing the recognition and value of Idaho products in commerce and diluting the value of the Idaho brand,” the resolution states.
This kind of trademark dispute couldn’t arise in the United States where companies have protections for their registered trademarks. But in other countries the rules can vary and many international companies have had trouble protecting their brands in places like China, said Ken Pedersen, a Boise patent attorney.
In addition to protection for registered marks, the United States also requires that trademarks be geographically accurate, Pedersen said.
“If you call it French wine, it has to be from France,” he said.
“That really is an Achilles heel of international business,” he said.
Companies can get their trademarks into the Madrid Protocol, an international database of registered trademarks that many countries belong to. But that does not guarantee individual countries will accept the trademark as registered. It is mostly used to allow companies to have a one-stop shop for trademark applications and changes to trademarks, allowing only one set of paperwork to get to every country involved in the organization that accepts the trademark.
There is no international law that countries must follow to respect trademarks of international companies.
Kole said the legislative action is an essential part of fighting the application.
“These things are very important because they are government-to-government communications. The importance of that is that this isn’t a fight between two companies. This is a government to another government saying we very much object to this,” Kole said.