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Can I Start a Pokemon-Related Business Without Being Sued?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 03, 2016 1:58 PM

Pokemon Go is a legitimate sensation. The game became so popular so quickly, players were driving their cars into trees and getting arrested while playing. And any small business owner's eyes will turn into dollar signs when she hears that a platform has more daily users than Twitter.

So how can your small business break into the Pokemon Go market without breaking the law? Here's what you need to know.

Pikachu and IP Law

It's only natural to try and latch on to a worldwide phenomenon to promote your business -- it happens every year with the Super Bowl. But just like the Big Game, Pokémon Go cross-promotion can come with some legal issues, most of them dealing with intellectual property. The Pokémon name, the names of individual Pokémon characters, and their respective images are all probably protected by trademark laws.

So, as with the phrase Super Bowl, be careful about using Pokémon names and characters in advertisements or product names. You avoid using the exact phrase "Pokémon" or specific character names in any television, print, radio, or online advertisements or contests (unless you have permission, of course). And you may want to be careful about using them in non-ad tweets and Facebook posts.

Luring Chandalures and Customers

That said, smart small business owners are finding other ways to cash in on the Pokémon Go craze. The game features Pokéstops and Pokégyms, physical locations that provide players with game-related items and the venue to battle. While not available yet, Forbes is reporting that sponsored locations are on the way from Niantic, the game's developer, so small businesses may have an opportunity to apply to become a Gym or Pokéstop if they aren't already.

Another option is for your employees to play the game themselves, and set "lures" that attract wild Pokémon. With your store or shop flooded with Pokémon, players are sure to follow. But before you roll out your Pokémon Go-related marketing or sales strategy, you might want to run it by an experienced intellectual property attorney first.

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