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Trademark or Common Term? Griptok Dispute Raises Legal and Ethical Questions

Griptok Request Contents Certification and Settlement Money
Claims range from $2,700 to $270
Is Griptok a Common Idiomatic Expression or a Trademark?

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A hot debate over trademark rights has recently been igniting among online sellers. This is because iBurster is sending cease and desist letters to those using the Griptok trademark to sell their products. While this might seem logical, the sellers, who considered Griptok a common term, are expressing their grievances for being asked to pay a settlement fee without any prior warning.

However, Nam Dong Hoon, the CEO of iBurster, has stated that this is a legitimate exercise of rights to protect their trademark, disputing the claims of unfairness.

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According to online sales representatives in early March, a trademark dispute over Griptok (a product attached to smartphones for convenience) is ongoing. Online shop owners who manufacture and sell Griptok on e-commerce platforms are continuously receiving cease and desist letters from iBurster, the owner of the Griptok trademark. iBurster has sent each business owner a letter demanding payment of a settlement fee.

Business owners selling Griptok on various online shopping malls such as Naver SmartStore, Daum ShoppingHow, and KakaoTalk Gift have created open chat rooms to share their steps in responding to iBurster, including filing criminal charges. This news spread quickly among e-commerce sellers; now, most use the term Smartok instead of Griptok for their sales. As a result, Smartok appears much more frequently on their pages than Griptok.

Ideaus, a handmade crafts online shopping mall, is also following suit by using the term Smartok instead of Griptok. However, some shops still use the Griptok trademark, indicating that the dispute may continue.

Online sellers who received cease and desist letters from iBurster have complained, “The settlement fees are inconsistent, ranging from $2,700 to $180, $90, $45, $27,” and “These letters seem more like threatening tactics for making money off settlement fees.” A trademark invalidation trial is underway for the name Griptok, with the result expected by March 2024.

The positions of the business owners who received the letters and CEO Nam of iBurster are opposed.

CEO Nam has expressed his grievances: “Who would register a trademark if it could be invalidated in court?” He added, “I registered the term Griptok as a trademark in 2015 when it was a new word, but I have not been able to protect my rights.” He pointed out the current situation: “The infringement of the trademark is clear, and the function of trademark registration is not being properly implemented.”

Nam clarified, “Previously, it was difficult to respond directly due to business reasons, so now we are managing this through a legal team. The settlement fee requested by the legal team varies depending on each company’s sales volume of Griptok, but it is not a scheme to make money.”

He refuted the settlement fee amounts claims by citing examples of large companies, stating, “There are cases where large companies have paid settlement fees amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.”

Griptok is a term that has been commonly used for a long time to refer to products that can be attached to smartphones as stands.

Therefore, online sellers argue that these cease and desist letters are excessive. An industry insider stated, “There were instances of the term being used on online platforms before its trademark registration in 2015. Even if another company uses the Griptok trademark to sell their products, it might be difficult to consider it a legal issue.”

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In the United States, a similar case can be seen with Botox, a term for injections used for cosmetic and therapeutic purposes. It is not a common term, but a trademark owned by Allergan Inc. in the U.S. Unaware third parties who use the term indiscriminately might receive a warning email. There have been instances where business owners who used the term Botox received a cease email and had to seek legal counsel. Sales increase and businesses grow once a trademark is registered and its name value is confirmed. For this reason, companies protect and defend their trademarks, even going to court if necessary.

Many words in various industries are used like standard terms, but they have trademark rights. Words like Band-Aid, Scotch Tape, Post-it, Bandage, Pigeon, and Bongo are trademarks but those have become representative words for entire product groups.

On the other hand, some words have lost their trademark rights and have become standard terms. Words like Escalator, Dry Ice, Magic Block, Yo-Yo, Aspirin, and Choco Pie have lost their trademark rights due to their common usage.

Because casually used words can infringe on trademark laws and result in paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement fees, caution is required.

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