A theory of likelihood of confusion

Originally posted 2007-08-24 08:02:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Legal Theory Blog excerpts from a recent article on the the back story of trademark litigation, by one Michael Grynberg:

The plaintiff effectively represents two parties. She defends her trademark and simultaneously protects consumers who may be confused by the defendant’s behavior. The defendant, by contrast, stands alone.The resulting “two-against-one” storyline gives short shrift to the interests of non-confused consumers who may benefit from the defendant’s purportedly infringing behavior. Ignoring these consumers is especially problematic given the ease with which courts apply pejorative labels, like “misappropriation” and “free riding,” to the conduct of trademark defendants. As a result, courts are too receptive to non-traditional trademark claims, like initial interest and post-sale confusion, for which the case for consumer harm is questionable.

More rational results are available by appreciating trademark litigation’s parallel status as a conflict between consumers. This view treats junior and senior trademark users as proxies for different consumer classes and recognizes that likely confusion among one group of consumers may affirmatively harm others.

I like anyone who tries to push back harm-to-the-plaintiff-free trademark lawsuits based on “non-traditional trademark claims,” and I have not read the whole article (I don’t think it’s available on line), but I don’t quite think this works. As a practical matter I do not believe that this “two against one” burden is a meaningful one for defendants; on the contrary, it is a burden the plaintiff has to carry: He has to convince the courts that not only he, but consumers, are being harmed by the alleged infringement.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The problems is the opposite one from what it seems Grynberg is saying: Judges ignore the consumer-harm burden placed on the plaintiff, and treat trademarks as rights in gross. Or at least, some do; and the corporate trademark bar most certainly wants them to.

Thus the problem is the mirror image of the one posited.  The solution: Don’t add a factor to the defendant side; merely recognize it on the plaintiff side. It’s been there all along, feeling lonely, judges.

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Author:Ron Coleman

I write this blog.

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