|Question: What is contributory trademark infringement?
Answer: Even if you are not using someone's mark directly in a product or service you sell, your opponent may say you have liability under the theory of "contributory trademark infringement." This liability may exist if you knowingly allow someone else to violate another party's trademark rights and personally gain from such violation. It may also exist if you intentionally encourage another person to violate a trademark.
For example, in one case a court found that the operator of a California swap meet was liable for contributory trademark infringement because it was aware that vendors at its swap meet were selling counterfeit recordings that violated the trademark of the company that owned the rights to the recordings. While the swap meet operator did not sell the counterfeit items itself, it profited on the sale of the items by selling booth space to the vendors and collecting an entrance fee from the customers buying the infringing products. In another case the manufacturer of a generic drug was found liable for contributory trademark infringement because it continued to supply the drug to pharmacists it knew were mislabeling the drug with the name of the trademarked medication.
However in another case a court felt that a company providing domain name registration, had less control over the use of its service and was not liable for contributory trademark infringement when someone registered a domain name that infringed a trademark.
The important issues in determining liability for contributory trademark infringement are if you are aware of the infringement, if you have the ability to monitor and control the use of your product or service, and you are in a position to receive some benefit from the violation.