Mauricio de Sousa Productions: comic success underpinned by intellectual property
By Ceci Almeida, freelance writer
Mauricio de Sousa Productions (MSP) was founded in 1959 and is widely recognized as one of Brazil’s most successful comic book and animation publishers. It all began when, in 1959, a leading newspaper in São Paulo began publishing its first daily comic strip about a dog named “Bidu” and its owner. The illustrious career of Brazil’s best-known comic strip artist, Mauricio de Sousa, who turns 86 this year, spans more than 60 years. Creator of the country’s most popular comic series, Mônica’s Friends (Turma da Mônica), which was inspired by his childhood friends and his own children, Mauricio de Sousa has become a household name in Brazil.
Intellectual property underpins MSP’s thriving business
The cartoonist’s company, MSP, has become a leading player in Brazil’s publishing market, with a product portfolio that extends well beyond comic books and includes animated films, stage shows, theme parks, computer games and cuddly toys. Copyright and trademark licensing of the artist’s cartoon characters underpin MSP’s business strategy.
From the outset, Mr. de Sousa had his eye on building his business. At first, he began marketing his printed works and as his cartoon characters gained popularity, he began licensing his works to consumer goods companies. Intellectual property (IP) has been central to the cartoonist’s business strategy from day one.
In 1966, the company registered its first trademark in Brazil for its much-loved canine comic character, Bidu. All of MSP’s creations are now protected with the trademark, Turma da Mônica, which has been registered in 20 countries in Asia, Europe, North and South America.
Over the last 60 years, Mr. de Sousa has focused as much on his creative work as on his business affairs. The company’s earnings have soared. Since the release of its first comic book in 1970, MSP has created over 400 new characters and sold more than 1.2 billion comics and books. Generations of children have learned to read thanks to the adventures of the cartoon character, Mônica.
With over 300 different titles, MSP sells some 2.5 million comic books every month to a loyal audience of 10 million readers. MSP´s publishing business employs around 400 people, 150 of whom are artists.
During the 1980s, MSP began producing feature films and animated series, which further boosted financial returns. Its first feature film, The Adventures of Mônica’s Gang (As Aventuras da Turma da Mônica), has been followed by seven others. MSP’s animated series are broadcast on TV channels such as Cartoon Networks and Boomerang and on all online platforms. Mônica´s Friends’ website has become the leading children’s website in Brazil with 1 million-page views every day.
On YouTube, MSP has a variety of channels including Turma da Mônica, Mónica y sus Amigos and Mónica Toy Official, which are translated into Spanish and English. The Turma da Mônica channel alone has almost 17 million subscribers and reaches 450 million-page views every month. MSP also runs the Turma da Mônica TV app and offers a range of games. Most viewers − around 66 percent of them − live outside Brazil, in Mexico, the Russian Federation and the USA. MSP also has a strong social media following on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter.
Although his talents as a cartoonist and an astute entrepreneur have earned him a reputation as the “Walt Disney of Brazil”, Mr. de Sousa is strongly committed to social issues. The Mauricio de Sousa Institute, for example, has developed partnerships with non-governmental organizations, city halls and other entities to use his cartoons to promote pressing social issues and environmental causes.
Copyright and trademark licensing of the artist’s cartoon characters underpin MSP’s business strategy.
Leveraging brand value through licensing
Over the years, Mr. de Sousa has built a thriving business empire by strategically leveraging the brand value of his highly popular cartoon characters.
“We have been licensing products since the 1960s. At that time, our products [cartoon characters] were licensed for use on clothing, dolls and food items. One of our greatest achievements over the last 40 years has been the licensing deal we struck with Cargill for the use of our elephant character Jotalhão on their tomato sauce packaging,” explains Mônica Sousa, the cartoonist’s eldest daughter (and inspiration for the character, Mônica), who currently serves as MSP’s Commercial Director.
Despite competition from Disney characters and Japanese superheroes, MSP's brands, and Mônica´s Friends, in particular, are highly profitable when associated with a broad range of consumer goods. Today, 90 percent of the company's profits comes from licensing.
Mr. de Sousa’s characters can be found on everything from nappies to furniture, clothing, hygiene items, toys, and foods, including apples, watermelons and broccoli. Mônica´s Friends-branded consumer products are top sellers in Brazil. Around 850,000 Turma da Mônica apples are sold each month along with Turma da Mônica-branded tomatoes and bananas which command sales of 20 and 35 tons, respectively, per month.
Among the companies that have licensed Mr. de Sousa´s trademarks are big corporations like Tok & Stok, Brandili, Kimberly-Clark, Nissin Food Corp., Fischer Price and Driver Toys. Mr. de Sousa´s character brands are licensed for use on some 4,000 items from 150 retailers and manufactures.
Despite excellent business results, piracy has been a thorn in MSP’s side for many years. The company has battled constantly with counterfeiters in Brazil and beyond.
“On February 16, 2007, during the premier of our feature film “Mônica´s Friends – an adventure in time,” copies of the film were already being sold on the streets of downtown São Paulo," Mr. de Sousa recalls. "This showed huge disrespect for intellectual property.”
MSP invests heavily in protecting its intellectual property interests. Its legal department actively clamps down on counterfeit and pirated goods that bear its trademarks without authorization. “Each character from MSP is a duly registered trademark,” says Mr. de Sousa, who notes the company’s principal characters are registered in almost all classes of goods and services in 20 countries across Asia, Europe, North and South America.
“We have invested heavily to manage our intellectual property rights in multiple countries. The cost of filing for trademark protection, however, is still very high, particularly for medium-sized businesses like MSP. But such protection of cultural products not only protects the company’s interests, it also protects those of our country and our fans.”
MSP´s strategies to curb piracy and fraud have been strengthened through strategic partnerships with other companies. It also supports training programs for customs inspectors to allow them to more effectively identify and seize counterfeit goods. MSP is also collaborating with its partners to combat piracy through its participation in the Brazilian Association of Licensing of Brands and Characters.
MSP´s strategies to curb piracy and fraud have been strengthened through strategic partnerships with other companies. It also supports training programs for customs inspectors to allow them to more effectively identify and seize counterfeit goods.
Madrid System for the International Registration of Trademarks
MSP does not disclose details of its profits or details of spending on IP acquisition and management. However, reducing the cost of securing trademark protection for its characters, particularly in overseas markets, is a key objective in the years ahead.
Since the 1990s, Mr. de Sousa has been a vocal supporter of Brazil’s accession to the WIPO-administered Madrid System for the International Registration of Trademarks, which facilitates the process of registering trademarks in up to 125 countries. Brazil joined the Madrid System in June, 2019, and Brazil's National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) began processing international trademark applications under the system from October, 2019.
The fact that Brazil has joined the Madrid System has brought new hope for MSP and its ambitions to protect its trademarks internationally in a cost-effective and timely way.
“The Madrid Protocol is a very positive system that supports the national economy and commercial exchanges with other member countries that are part of the system. It will allow us to boost exports and internationalize Brazilian brands. It will also be easier for international companies to operate in Brazil, due to the reduction of filing and management costs and the simplification of the whole trademark registration procedure”, says Mr. de Sousa.
The Madrid Protocol is a very positive system that supports the national economy and commercial exchanges with other member countries that are part of the system.Mauricio de Sousa
As a member of the Madrid System, INPI Brazil now examines international trademark applications within 18 months from the filing date. It also allows for trademark applications to be filed in a multi-class system (meaning that trademarks may be registered for multiple classes of goods and services), and for trademarks to be registered under co-ownership arrangements, adding flexibility to the local rules.
“We believe that we will see the benefits of joining the Madrid System in the coming years. By reducing the bureaucracy and cost, we will have easier access to member countries and this will open new business opportunities. We are very excited about the prospects,” says Ms. Sousa.
MSP’s international vision
MSP is focusing on a number of markets in Asian countries, including China, Indonesia and Viet Nam, where the company has been operating for the last 18 years. The company has ambitious plans for Japan where it has set up a subsidiary and where, in addition to its character licensing for local products, it is building new partnerships with other producers of cultural goods.
“We live in a global society and collaboration opens up new perspectives for brands. Production costs in animation for digital platforms are challenging, and partnerships make it feasible for us to launch new products and content that meet our audience´s demands,” explains Ms. Sousa.
The Asian market is central to MSP’s ambitions to finally become a competitive international player.
The future is digital
Looking ahead, MSP is looking to further internationalize its cultural outputs and sees digital media as the vehicle to achieve that ambition.
“We see MSP becoming a more digital and international company, without neglecting or abandoning our Brazilian roots and good storytelling, which is in our DNA. In recent years, a number of our characters have gone global, bringing our cultural products to new parts of the world”, explains Ms. Sousa.
However, the company’s digital ambitions raise significant business challenges, in particular, when it comes to protecting its creations in the online world. Research estimates around 30 million views of pirated comic books every month. “The same way academic work cannot be copied without citing the source correctly, legally protected content should not be used without following certain rules,” says Ms. Sousa. “We are using the tools available on online platforms to report unauthorized use of our characters. For example, YouTube, has very efficient mechanisms to identify unauthorized use of content and prevent it from going live.”
Over the last 60 years, MSP has grown on the basis of intellectual property rights protection in Brazil and around the world. That will continue in the future.Mauricio de Sousa
Many countries are implementing laws and rules to protect IP rights owners’ interests, but according to Ms. Sousa “there is still a long way to go”. The power pendulum is slowly swinging towards IP owners on digital media, but many content owners still need to take legal action to enforce their rights. For Mr. de Sousa, raising public awareness about the need to respect IP rights is essential.
During the company's 60th anniversary celebrations, Mr. de Sousa underlined the enduring importance of IP to MSP's business. “Over the last 60 years, MSP has grown on the basis of intellectual property rights protection in Brazil and around the world. That will continue in the future."
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