Trademark laws allow businesses to protect the symbolic information that relates to their goods and services, by preventing the use of such features by competitors. To receive trademark protection, a mark usually must be distinctive. Distinctiveness generally applies to any coined or fanciful word or term that does not closely resemble an existing mark. A mark generally will not receive trademark protection if it is a common or descriptive term used in the marketplace.
To receive trademark protection, a mark must be used in commerce. If two or more marketers claim ownership of a certain mark, the first user of the mark will usually receive the protection. When the mark is known to consumers only in a limited geographic area, though, it may not receive protection in areas where it is unknown.
Infringement occurs if a mark is likely to cause confusion among consumers. In determining whether confusion is likely, the court examines a number of factors, including the similarity between the two marks in appearance, sound, connotation, and impression; the similarity of the goods or services that the respective marks represent; the similarity of the markets; whether the sale of the goods or services is inspired by impulse or only after careful consideration by the buyer; the level of public awareness of the mark; whether shoppers are actually confused; the number and nature of similar marks on similar goods or services; the length of time of concurrent use without actual confusion on the part of shoppers; and the variety of goods or services that the mark represents (In re E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 476 F.2d 1357, 177 U.S.P.Q. 563 ).
Defenses to infringement include fair use and collateral use. Fair use occurs when the second user, or repossessor, uses a protected mark in a non-conspicuous way to identify a component of a good or service. For example, a restaurant may use a protected mark to advertise that it serves a particular brand of soft drink, without infringing the mark. However, the restaurant may not identify itself by the mark without infringing the mark.
Collateral use is use of the same mark in a different market. For example, assume that a tree surgeon has received trademark protection for the mark Tree Huggers. This protection might or might not prevent a business that sells logging boots from using the same mark. However, if the mark for the boots is written or otherwise appears with the same defining characteristics as the mark for the tree surgeon, it risks being denied trademark protection, depending on whether it can be confused by consumers.
Remedies for infringement of a protected trademark consist of damages for the profits lost owing to the infringement; recovery of the profits realized by the infringer owing to the infringement; and attorneys' fees. A trademark holder also may obtain injunctive relief to prevent infringement.
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