9Rules vs. Toyota

In what has to be one of the most odd cases of accused plagiarism I’ve seen, 9Rules, the well-respected blog network, has accused a design firm working for Toyota of plagiarizing their logo.

The Toyota logo, which was used for a women’s conference presented by the company, does bear an uncanny resemblance to the famous 9rules leaf. In fact, according the Mike Rundle, three random coordinate points line up perfectly on the two logos.

When confronted with the similarities by the 9rules staff, the firm in question denied all wrongdoing.

Not waiting for an admission of guilt, Rundle, who is also the copyright holder of the logo, decided to have a little fun with it and hold a contest to mashup the Toyota logo.

This contest has already produced some very interesting and amusing mashups of the Toyota logo, many of which are posted in the comments to the contest invitation.

Though the contest is all for fun, games and a $25 gift card, it does raise some serious questions. The most important of those questions is how will Toyota react to the use of the trademarked (and copyright protected) logo in such a fashion, especially considering no Toyota employees were responsible for the alleged misuse? Though the 9rules logo is not trademarked, the Toyota one is and that grants it extra rights, especially if there’s possibility of confusion that it is endorsed by Toyota.

Personally, I find it unlikely that Toyota will take any action against Rundle or any of the entrants, but it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in recent memory if they did. Recent actions of the RIAA and MPAA remind us that bad IP decisions are becoming much more frequent.

However, the incident itself raises some much more difficult questions, the most important of which is the role logos play in an intellectual property strategy. They are not necessarily the reason people visit a site, but are crucial to a site’s identity and its ability to make a reputation for itself. Though protected by copyright law, they are often better protected by trademarking, something very few Web sites do.

Without a doubt, this story is developing and I will update this site as it develops.

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