Fast Company

Trademarkia Adds Reviews To 140 Years Of Brands, Kicking Off Conversations And Controversy

How a new ratings system and lightning-fast database is kicking off conversations about brands that launched as far back as 1872, all the way up through ... tomorrow.

lawnmowerTrademarkia is enabling a new kind of dialog around brands--allowing people to talk about products and brands that date all the way back to 1872. The "world's largest search engine for brands" is expanding its powers with new ratings and a reviews service.  

The reviews and ratings system is letting users "provide feedback on every registered or registration-pending branded product or service in U.S. history," according to an announcement. It's a potentially very valuable tool for discussion and discovery for classic brands that aren't on sale anymore--Tradmarkia's the one place online data exists for "millions of products that can't be found anywhere else on the web," co-founder Raj Abhyanker tells Fast Company

For example, if you buy on old lawnmower on eBay and love it and then look it up on Google, there may be no web presence at all--but if "that lawnmower company had a trademark filed back in 1956, and now [Trademarkia] lets the consumer express their like or dislike for that product that can't be found anywhere else on the web." Abhyanker says, "We've basically created a consumer reviews website that takes American history for a hundred and forty years and makes that history of companies, their brands, products and services all reviewable." For many of these collectable or nostalgic items, "there's no Yelp page," Abhyanker says.

It's all possible because Trademarkia's leveraged the Freedom of Information act to gain access to "more than 6 million" historic trademarks. A trademark filing is intimately linked with a brand, of course, and since it's essentially a public declaration of the brand's existence it contains pertient information, so using the new reviews system users may even be able to contact the representatives of the brands in question, maybe via a crowdsourced discussion if the data's not available via the trademark file. There's also an upshot for the brands themselves, as they'll get an easy-access summary of public perception of their product offerings--in an environment that's subtly different to a traditional product review website (which, we imagine, could encourage a slightly different mindset in the reviewers).

Abhyanker notes the reviews system was actually created by consumer demand: "We were, on a daily basis, fielding maybe 10 or 15 calls from people wanting to find a particular product, or because they were upset because they found some hair in a candy bar and the only webpage they could find about it was on Trademarkia."

There's one rub. Trademarkia's search engine is very powerful and much more accessible than the USPTO's own search engine, and it's being used to unearth trademarks filed just ahead of new product releases: Abhyanker reminded us that "Trademarks are often the first point in time that a company's brand is made public." He also highlighted this gentle news-breaking power of the site by mentioning the interest Trademarkia saw in its services like update alert systems and so on, when the phrase "Google Nexus One" first emerged online courtesy of Google's trademark filing. Something similar happened when J.K. Rowling's Pottermore site emerged from stealth.

This news-breaking trick, combined with the new reviews service, means the site will become, in some senses, the "first place where you can review the latest and upcoming products"--long before they actually arrive on the shelves.

That's likely to cause some controversy, especially for firms like Apple which prefer to keep their products extremely under wraps right up until the launch--to maximize the PR "splash." The topic of some of the trademarks themselves is also likely to cause a fuss: Trademarkia's seen a very public outcry over the existence of trademarks for Casey Anthony and Caylee Anthony, during its testing of the reviews process. Essentially someone has tried to trademark the names of these controversial figures in order to make cash--and Trademarkia's review system has allowed discussion and "review" of them.

Controversy aside, and there's definitely plenty of it, Trademarkia's new review system is actually allowing consumers to come together to celebrate companies or prodcuts that have been long obsolete, and that's definitely got cultural value.

[Image: Flickr user miggslives]

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