Trademarks as Entrepreneurial Change Agents for Legal Reform

42 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2017

See all articles by Deborah R. Gerhardt

Deborah R. Gerhardt

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: June 23, 2017


This article proposes the idea of conceptualizing trademarks as a frontier for social entrepreneurship. By cultivating communities dedicated to core values, entrepreneurial trademark owners are uniquely positioned to prompt cultural and legal reform. Cyberspace has become a thicket of information so dense that it can be hard for any voice to be heard. This commercial clutter amid social unrest creates an opportunity for brands to be seen and heard by staking out moral high ground. Taking a stand on divisive socio-political issues requires an appetite for risk and narrative messaging. Instead of merely selling goods and services, entrepreneurial trademark owners forge meaningful relationships with consumers and invest their brands with new meaning. Like governments, trademarks symbolize the acceptance of some values and the rejection of others. When one side of a political conflict aligns with brand values, the issue provides a creative platform for courage and leadership. Entrepreneurial advertisers employ multiple methods for linking brands with core values. Sometimes brand owners intentionally comment on a social issue in an advertisement. Other brand owners do not have the luxury of choice if deciding between a conflict of values is thrust upon them. Another tactic brand owners may use is the boycott. Once the great collective weapon of consumers, it may be used to exert direct pressure on legislative action by withholding commerce from states whose values conflict with their mission. Whether or not trademark owners succeed in exerting political change, they are succeeding in creating brand communities through loyalty cemented with meaningful core values.

Suggested Citation

Gerhardt, Deborah R., Trademarks as Entrepreneurial Change Agents for Legal Reform (June 23, 2017). UNC Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Deborah R. Gerhardt (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-7219 (Phone)
919-962-3375 (Fax)


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