Trademark law is not always very well understood by non-lawyers. Concepts, such as “likelihood of confusion,” are often made more clear when tied to a specific set of facts. Businesses may begin using a name and fail to recognize the potential trademark problems that may develop as their business changes and grows.
With business litigation involving a trademark dispute, relevant issues typically involves the likelihood of confusion and the market. If a product is similar and sold in the same market, similar names or phrases may cause confusion among consumers.
They may purchase an item believing it to be made by a different company and have specific expectations concerning the product. This problem is often seen with counterfeit goods.
Adding to the misunderstanding, trademarks can be created in different ways. The iconic shape of the Coca-Cola bottle was not created with the intent to become one of the most famous trademarks in existence and the symbol of the largest soft-drink bottler on the planet.
It was just a shape, similar to other bottles, but different enough to be recognizable, even in the dark. The bottle shape was initially protected by a patent in 1923, but it was not yet a trademark.
It achieved its trademark status over the years, as it became so associated with the product and the company that it was unmistakable. That, and it was federally registered in 1960. In addition to formal, federal trademark registration, there is also common law trademark, which requires no registration. With unregistered trademarks, there is potential for conflicts between two or more competing products.
Next week, we will look the problems of trademark and the rapidly expanding craft beer business.
Npr.com, “Craft Brewers Are Running Out Of Names, And Into Legal Spats,” Alastair Bland, January 5, 2015