Mark V.B. Partridge, a partner at the firm that bears the name of my old trademark professor and author of the Guiding Rights Blog, has written a very important piece for the [non]billable hour blog. Here’s my favorite suggestion:
2. Eliminate rights in gross mentality
My second change, admittedly related to the first, would be to eliminate the “rights in gross” mentality. By this, I mean the notion that a trademark creates an absolute and exclusive right. One sees this tendency on both sides of the rights issue. A trademark owner may have the view that no one else may use its mark for any purpose. The junior user may believe there is no infringement if the mark it adopts is not identical to another’s trademark.
I don’t think there’s a single bigger problem in trademarks than this mentality. It is not necessarily an unreasonable view for trademark owners to have; they pour millions or even more into the “brand equity” represented by a trademark. But that should not, and does not, change what a trademark is supposed to be. Unfortunately, the flowering of federal trademark dilution law has cut in exactly the opposite direction of this would-be change — and I don’t see it getting better.