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 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Trademark > Notices > Re: M&M's (NoticeID 280, http://chillingeffects.org/N/280) Printer-friendly version

September 17, 2001

 

Sender Information:
M&M/Mars
Sent by: [Private]
Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto
New York, NY, 10112, US

Recipient Information:
[Private]
[Private]
Hartsel, CO, 80449, USA


Sent via: certified mail
Re: Re: M&M's

Dear Ms. [Private]:

We are trademark counsel for Mars, Incorporated. Your letter of August 20, 2001 has been referred to us for reply.

We thank you for the information you provided regarding the sale of infringing items on eBay. However, we note that you also are selling similar items depicting out client's M&M's

 
FAQ: Questions and Answers

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Question: What implication does alleged confusion have on claims of trademark infringement?

Answer: A mark that is confusingly similar so closely resembles a registered trademark that it is likely to confuse consumers as to the source of the product or service. Consumers could be likely to believe that the product with the confusingly similar mark is produced by the organization that holds the registered mark. Someone who holds a confusingly similar mark benefits from the good will associated with the registered mark and can lure customers to his/her product or service instead. Infringement is determined by whether your mark is confusingly similar to a registered mark. The factors that determine infringement include:

  • proof of actual confusion
  • strength of the established mark
  • proximity of the goods in the marketplace
  • similarity of the marks? sound
  • appearance and meaning
  • how the goods are marketed
  • type of product and how discerning the customer is
  • intent behind selecting the mark
  • likelihood of expansion in the market of the goods


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Question: What can be protected as a trademark?

Answer: You can protect

  • names (such as company names, product names)
  • domain names if they label a product or service
  • images
  • symbols
  • logos
  • slogans or phrases
  • colors
  • product design
  • product packaging (known as trade dress)


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Question: What are the benefits of federal trademark registration?

Answer: Federal registration of a trademark has several advantages including notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.

Registration Provides the Following:
1. Constructive notice nationwide of the trademark owner's claim.
2. Evidence of ownership of the trademark.
3. Jurisdiction of federal courts may be invoked.
4. Registration can be used as a basis for obtaining registration in foreign countries.
5. Registration may be filed with U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.


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Question: Where can I find federal trademark registrations?

Answer: The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) keeps the US federal registry of trademarks. It has an online search capability, TESS, which contains more than 3 million pending, registered and dead federal trademarks. This database may not be complete. One should check the News page to see how current the information actually is.

Be aware: not all trademarks are contained in the US federal register. There are state trademarks, unregistered (common law marks) and foreign marks as well. A mark does not have to be registered to be valid.


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Question: What exactly are the rights a trademark owner has?

Answer: In the US, trademark rights come from actual use of the mark to label one's services or products or they come from filing an application with the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that states an intention to use the mark in future commerce. In most foreign countries, trademarks are valid only upon registration.

There are two trademark rights: the right to use (or authorize use) and the right to register.

The person who establishes priority rights in a mark gains the exclusive right to use it to label or identify their goods or services, and to authorize others to do so. According to the Lanham Act, determining who has priority rights in a mark involves establishing who was the first to use it to identify his/her goods.

The PTO determines who has the right to register the mark. Someone who registers a trademark with the intent to use it gains "constructive use" when he/she begins using it, which entitles him/her to nationwide priority in the mark. However, if two users claim ownership of the same mark (or similar marks) at the same time, and neither has registered it, a court must decide who has the right to the mark. The court can issue an injunction (a ruling that requires other people to stop using the mark) or award damages if people other than the owner use the trademark (infringement).

Trademark owners do not acquire the exclusive ownership of words. They only obtain the right to use the mark in commerce and to prevent competitors in the same line of goods or services from using a confusingly similar mark. The same word can therefore be trademarked by different producers to label different kinds of goods. Examples are Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets.

Owners of famous marks have broader rights to use their marks than do owners of less-well-known marks. They can prevent uses of their marks by others on goods that do not even compete with the famous product.


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Question: What is trademark infringement?

Answer: Although different courts have different tests, the central concept is confusion in the marketplace. The law protects against consumer confusion by ensuring that the marks on the same or similar products or services are sufficiently different. A plaintiff in a trademark infringement case generally must prove 1) it possesses a valid mark; 2) that the defendant used the mark; 3) that the defendant used the mark in commerce, "in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution or advertising "of goods and services; and 4) that the defendant used the mark in a manner likely to confuse consumers.


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Question: What is unfair competition?

Answer: "Unfair competition" covers a wide range of kinds of unjust business behavior---so many kinds, in fact, that it is impossible to give one simple general definition. In essence, unfair competition means trademark infringement or false advertising to confuse the public. In most states, only commercial competitors can be engaged in "unfair competition."


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Question: What are the limits of trademark rights?

Answer: There are many limits, including:

  • Fair Use
    There are two situations where the doctrine of fair use prevents infringement:
    1. The term is a way to describe another good or service, using its descriptive term and not its secondary meaning. The idea behind this fair use is that a trademark holder does not have the exclusive right to use a word that is merely descriptive, since this decreases the words available to describe. If the term is not used to label any particular goods or services at all, but is perhaps used in a literary fashion as part of a narrative, then this is a non-commercial use even if the narrative is commercially sold.
    2. Nominative fair use
      This is when a potential infringer (or defendant) uses the registered trademark to identify the trademark holder's product or service in conjunction with his or her own. To invoke this defense, the defendant must prove the following elements:
      • the product or service cannot be readily identified without the mark
      • he/she only uses as much of the mark as is necessary to identify the goods or services
      • he/she does nothing with the mark to suggest that the trademark holder has given his approval to the defendant
  • Parody Use
    Parodies of trademarked products have traditionally been permitted in print and other media publications. A parody must convey two simultaneous -- and contradictory -- messages: that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody.
  • Non-commercial Use
    If no income is solicited or earned by using someone else's mark, this use is not normally infringement. Trademark rights protect consumers from purchasing inferior goods because of false labeling. If no goods or services are being offered, or the goods would not be confused with those of the mark owner, or if the term is being used in a literary sense, but not to label or otherwise identify the origin of other goods or services, then the term is not being used commercially.
  • Product Comparison and News Reporting
    Even in a commercial use, you can refer to someone else?s goods by their trademarked name when comparing them to other products. News reporting is also exempt.
  • Geographic Limitations
    A trademark is protected only within the geographic area where the mark is used and its reputation is established. For federally registered marks, protection is nationwide. For other marks, geographical use must be considered. For example, if John Doe owns the mark Timothy's Bakery in Boston, there is not likely to be any infringement if Jane Roe uses Timothy's Bakery to describe a bakery in Los Angeles. They don't sell to the same customers, so those customers aren't confused.
  • Non-competing or Non-confusing Use
    Trademark rights only protect the particular type of goods and services that the mark owner is selling under the trademark. Some rights to expansion into related product lines have been recognized, but generally, if you are selling goods or services that do not remotely compete with those of the mark owner, this is generally strong evidence that consumers would not be confused and that no infringement exists. This defense may not exist if the mark is a famous one, however. In dilution cases, confusion is not the standard, so use on any type of good or service might cause infringement by dilution of a famous mark.


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Question: What is this laundry list of things the C&D says will happen if I don't obey?

Answer: Your opponent may describe a parade of horribles to demonstrate with exquisite detail what it will do to you unless you capitulate. This list generally includes, but is not limited to:
(1) ceasing use of the allegedly infringing mark or surrendering the domain name;
(2) rendering an accounting;
(3) posting corrective advertising;
(4) obtaining an injunction;
(5) recovering costs and fees.

Though these things sound awful, they are not medieval tortures (although that may be a function of the fact that Torquemada never thought of them).

Ceasing use of the mark is self-explanatory: your opponent wants you to stop using the mark. Your opponent might also ask you to surrender your domain name if they believe the domain name causes (or is likely to cause) confusion with their trademark. For example, under ICANN rules (the UDRP), you may have to surrender your domain name if the following three conditions are satisfied:
(1) your domain name is identical or confusingly similar to your opponent?s;
(2) you have no legitimate right or interest in the name (in other words, you are not using the name to conduct a bona fide business or for non-commercial fair use purposes); and
(3) your name is registered and used in bad faith.

An accounting basically means that you disclose the following information to your opponent:
(1) the date you began using the allegedly infringing mark;
(2) the names of individuals who knew of the use when it began;
(3) the amount of traffic at your web site or business at your store; and
(4) your profits and revenues during the time you used the allegedly infringing mark.

Corrective advertising means you give notice to the public that you were using a mark confusingly similar to your opponent?s, and that you are not affiliated with your opponent.

An injunction is a judicial order to do something. An injunction can prevent you from using the allegedly infringing trademark.

Some provisions of the Lanham Act permit a trademark holder to recover attorney?s fees and court costs from an infringer.

That your opponent has listed these various remedies does not mean that it is entitled to them; do not confuse the smorgasbord of legal options with your opponent?s right to inflict any of them on you.


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