“Criticizing A Trademark Is Not Trademark Infringement”

It’s free speech. This is a big step forward:

In a recent example of just how bizarre [trademark overreaching] has become, there was apparently a dispute over the trademark of the word “Freecycle” that’s been used by groups who promote reusing stuff that would otherwise be thrown out. There was an attempt to [register a] trademark [utilizing] the term, but not everyone was happy about it. One guy put up a website protesting the idea to [register] the term, and he got sued for trademark violations in using the mark in his criticism. Clearly, that’s way beyond the consumer protection purposes of trademark — but a district court actually agreed with the trademark holders, saying that the guy violated trademark law in “disparaging” the trademark. Luckily, the [9]th Circuit appeals court has now overturned the ruling, noting that there is little to no chance of confusion here over the mark. More importantly, the court pointed out that there is no such law against “disparaging” a trademark. That’s a good thing, too, or pretty much all criticism would be outlawed.

Thank you, Ninth Circuit. What’s astonishing, depressing and pathetic is that the mark owners won at the trial level. That’s the level at which small- and medium-sized business and individuals get slaughtered every day.

More here on this story.

Ron Coleman

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