Trademark Dilution

 

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Trademark dilution is a legal concept giving the owner of a famous trademark standing to forbid others from using that mark in a way that would lessen its uniqueness.

In most cases, trademark dilution involves an unauthorized use of another’s trademark on products that do not compete with, and have little connection with, those of the trademark owner. For example, a famous trademark used by one company to refer to hair care products might be diluted if another company began using a similar mark to refer to breakfast cereals.

Dilution is a basis of trademark infringement that only applies to famous marks. With non-famous marks, the owner of the mark must show that the allegedly infringing use creates a likelihood of confusion as to the source of the product or service being identified by the allegedly infringing use. With non-famous marks, it is highly unlikely a likelihood of confusion will be found if the products or services are in unrelated markets. However, with famous marks, any use by another person of the mark has the potential for confusion, since a famous mark is so well known among the consuming public that people will assume affiliation with the owner of the mark regardless of the product or service being sold under the infringing use.

The strength required for a trademark to deserve dilution protection differs among jurisdictions, though it generally includes the requirement that it must be distinctive, famous, or even unique. Such trademarks would include instantly recognizable brand names, such as Coca-Cola, Kleenex, Kool-Aid, or Sony, and unique terms that were invented (such as Exxon) rather than surnames (such as Ford or Zamboni) or ordinary words in language.

Some jurisdictions require additional registration of these trademarks as defensive marks in order to qualify for dilution protection. Another way of describing the necessary strength of a trademark may establish some basis for dilution protection from a consumer-confusion standpoint. Truly famous trademarks are likely to be seen in many different contexts due to branching out or simple sponsorship, to the extent that there may be very few markets, if any, that a consumer would be surprised to see that famous trademark involved in. A prime example may be the past involvement of Coca-Cola in clothing lines.

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