Ikea's lawyers show that overly protecting a brand can be bad for business
A view from Russell Davies

Ikea's lawyers show that overly protecting a brand can be bad for business

One of the things I liked about being a planner was seeing inside businesses - and that almost universal realisation that what everyone thought they were good at wasn't the real key to their success. What Nike is really good at is procurement. What Honda is really good at is culture. What Lego is really good at is manufacturing. That kind of thing.

In that vein, I have never thought that Apple’s lawyers get enough credit. Apple’s revival was founded in the iPod but didn’t take off until iTunes got serious, and that didn’t work because of the fantastic quality of the user interface but because it was full of music, packaged and priced in a way that made sense. That’s down to some fantastic, dedicated lawyering.

I was reminded of this after some dumb lawyering – this time from Ikea. There’s a website called IkeaHackers.net. It hosts the promulgation and discussion of splendidly imaginative uses for Ikea products – alteration, repurposing, radical reuse. It’s worth a look if you’ve got a spare Klippan or Molger.

The next thing most people do after visiting IkeaHackers is visit the official Ikea website, presumably to buy some products. The whole premise of IkeaHackers depends on people buying and using Ikea products. But, as soon as IkeaHackers started taking advertising, the Ikea lawyers rolled in with a cease-and-desist letter.

I have never thought Apple's lawyers get enough credit. Its revival was down to some fantastic lawering

I bet no-one at Ikea thinks this is a good idea. And I presume that the Ikea lawyers don’t seriously think there is likely to be any consumer confusion between them and IkeaHackers, and they are not seriously jealous of the advertising revenue on the site.

They are just "protecting the trademark"; they are avoiding bad precedents – all the stuff lawyers tell you they have to do. The thing is: they are also screwing up the relationship between their company and the world – and that’s the most precious asset any business has.

You will notice that there are plenty of companies that don’t do this. Apple isn’t exactly a legal slouch, but there are ad-supported Apple fan sites all over the web, festooned with Apple trademarks. Because, whatever the lawyers tell you, this stuff is more about opinion than fact – businesses can decide to draw the line in different places. Getting the legal team integrated into the company ethos will be increasingly important as every aspect of a business gets porous and connected to the network.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service