Gibson Guitar Declares Shift In IP Enforcement After Most Recent Public Backlash

Our past posts on Gibson Guitar, the famed guitar-maker, have revealed roughly a decade of strict IP enforcement and other busuiness challenges. Between waffling on its support for SOPA and its own failures to properly innovate in a direction that met its customers’ demand, never mind its odd legal trouble over “illegal” wood used in its guitars and the bankruptcy it underwent a few years back, we’re not left with a picture of a well-oiled business. Despite that, emerging from bankruptcy, Gibson has continued its IP maximilist ways, most notably in the past few weeks with a lawsuit against the owner of Dean and Luna Guitars for trademark infringement and counterfeiting over several guitar body designs that the defendants claim aren’t protectable.

There are two important aspects of that specific dispute to note here. First, the public backlash against Gibson over the lawsuit was firm and swift. Second, this specific dispute originated with cease and desist notices sent out by Gibson’s legal team back in 2017. That is particularly notable as it was only in November of 2018 that Gibson brought on a new CEO, James Curleigh. In the wake of the backlash over the past few weeks, Curleigh has gone out of his way to promise the public that Gibson is going to quickly move on from its IP maximilist ways.

Regarding criticism Gibson has faced for its legal actions, the company said in a statement that the past few weeks “have provided a ‘real time’ opportunity to start making the pivot from less legal leverage to more industry collaboration, with appropriate levels of awareness.” Furthermore, the company clarified that the recent attention on the lawsuits in process stem from several years of legal action initiated prior to the new leadership, headed by CEO and President James “JC” Curleigh, arriving in November of 2018. With regard to the inherited and ongoing legal dynamic with Dean Guitars, Gibson says its team has made attempts to directly communicate to “avoid a prolonged legal battle.”

Said Curleigh, “I am proud of the progress we have made with our attention to quality, with the launch of the new collections, and with our renewed engagement to our Gibson authorized dealer base. At the same time, we acknowledge there are still legacy challenges to solve going forward, especially around brand protection and market solutions.”

On the one hand, it feels somewhat lame to let a company off the hook for filing a lawsuit two weeks ago just because the cease and desists were sent out two years prior to the current CEO’s tenure. You’re the CEO, dude. Tell the legal team to not file the suit if that’s what you think it should do.

All that being said, the words coming out of Curleigh’s mouth are the right ones, as are those coming from the Gibson PR team. It’s gratifying to watch a company bow to public backlash over an overtly aggressive IP enforcement stance. And hearing the company use language that used to be reserved for the craft beer industry, back before that industry was similarly ravaged by IP enforcement, is encouraging.

He continued, “It is time to make the modern-day shift from confrontation towards collaboration, whilst still protecting our brands, and we are committed to making this happen starting now.”

What remains is seeing just how Curleigh’s Gibson Guitar wants to balance that equation. If he can shift the culture of the company towards one that is human and awesome, all while giving fans of Gibson guitars what they want, it could be a major win for a company that recently looked quite lost.

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