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 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Trademark > Notices > eBay Vendor Gets Complaint from Manufacturer (NoticeID 990, Printer-friendly version

eBay Vendor Gets Complaint from Manufacturer

November 15, 2003


Sender Information:
Onkyo USA Corporation
Sent by: Onkyo's VeRO Team

Recipient Information:
eBay User ID: merchandisezoo
Lake Park, FL, 33403, USA

Sent via: email
Re: eBay Auction #3058542878: Deceptive Advertising Using Onkyo USA Corporation's tradena


Dear Sir or Madam:

We are writing to advise you that you are engaging in false and deceptive advertising through the eBay auction listed below:


Your promotion and sale of Onkyo's products constitutes false and deceptive advertising and unfair competition in violation of Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.

FAQ: Questions and Answers

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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: Where can I find federal trademark law?

Answer: To be protected by federal trademark law, the marked goods and services must be used in interstate commerce. Federal trademark law is known as the Lanham Act. It protects marks that are registered with the United States Patent & Trademark Office as well as those that are in use but never registered.

Court opinions and United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) regulations also interpret trademark rights and remedies. See the links to court sites provided by the Legal Information Insitute.

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Question: Where can I find state trademark law?

Answer: Each state has its own laws governing use of trademarks within its borders. To locate the trademark laws of the 50 states, use the Legal Information Institute links. Both legislation and court opinions create trademark rights and remedies.

If marks are used in interstate commerce, then federal law will also apply.

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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 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: I do not know what these cases or statutes cited in the C&D mean.

Answer: If your opponent has cited cases and statutes in the C&D, do not freak out. The fact that your opponent can include some legal authority in the C&D does not mean that the law is on its side. If you can, go look up the cases and statutes to see what they say. You can go to the nearest law school's law library for help, or you can try a free legal resource web site like Findlaw. Many of them are accessible on the Internet by keyword search using the full case name or it's citation (the numbers and abbreviations that follow the names of the parties).

If your opponent is relying on federal law, it will probably cite one or more of the following sections of the Lanham Act:
(1) section 32 (also known as section 1114);
(2) section 43(a) [a/k/a section 1125(a)]; or
(3) section 43(c) [a/k/a section 1125(c)]. (The smaller numbers indicate how the statutory sections were numbered when the law was a bill in Congress; the larger numbers indicate how the statutory sections were re-numbered when the law was codified in the U.S. Code. Under either numbering system, the laws say the same thing). An additional statute, the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) [a/k/a section 1125(d) relates specifically to domain names.

Section 32 (codified as 15 U.S.C. 1114) is the basic statute governing trademark infringement of registered marks. If you use a mark in commerce that is confusingly similar to a registered trademark, you may be civilly liable under section 32. This section describes how to determine infringement, what the remedies are, and what defenses are available.

Section 43(a) [codified as 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)] is the "false designation of origin" statute. If you use a mark in commerce that is likely to cause confusion or deception as to affiliation, association, origin, or sponsorship with another trademark, you may be civilly liable under section 43(a). Section 43(a) does not require that any of the marks be registered.

Section 43(c)[codified as 15 U.S.C. 1125(c)] is the "anti-dilution" provision. This section allows the owner of a famous trademark to prevent use of the mark by junior users whose use

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Question: What is a trademark and why does it get special protection?

Answer: A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name.

Consumers reap the benefit when trademarks are protected. By preventing anyone but the actual mark owner from labeling goods with the mark, it helps prevent consumers getting cheated by shoddy knock-off imitators. It encourages mark owners to maintain quality goods so that customers will reward them by looking for their label as an indication of excellence. Consumers as well as mark owners benefit from trademark laws.

Trademark owners spend a lot of time, money, and effort to protect the distinctiveness of their trademark. Once trademarks have become diluted to the point where the general public no longer recognizes them as distinctly applying to a particular manufacturer, they lose their value to the trademark owner because they no longer attract customers to his particular goods. For example, ?aspirin? used to be the trademark of one particular manufacturer of synthesized acetylsalicylic acid, but is now used to generically describe that product regardless of who produces it. Trademarks owners must be vigilant to make sure that their trademarks rights are not being infringed and that their trademarks are not becoming diluted or generic.

The birth of the Internet and the use of character strings (domain names) to represent Internet addresses has presented trademark owners with a whole new set of problems. It is often too expensive to register every variation of a trademark in every top level domain. Therefore, trademark owners must make sure that the people who register domain names that are either the same as or confusingly similar to a trademark are not using the domain name in a way that infringes on the trademark. One way to ensure that the trademark owner will not lose its rights in the mark is to file a UDRP complaint so that the Panel can decide whether the domain was registered in order to take unfair advantage of the mark owner. The Panel may decide that the trademark owner was wrong and had nothing to worry about, but unless the trademark owner is vigilant and files the complaint, it may never know for sure whether its rights were being abused.

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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 does it mean to take all reasonable steps to protect a trademark?

Answer: If a trademark owner fails to police his or her mark, the owner may be deemed to have abandoned the mark or acquiesced in its misuse. A trademark is only protected while it serves to identify the source of goods or services.

If a trademark owner believes someone is infringing his or her trademark, the first thing the owner is likely to do is to write a "cease-and-desist" letter which asks the accused infringer to stop using the trademark. If the accused infringer refuses to comply, the owner may file a lawsuit in Federal or state court. The court may grant the plaintiff a preliminary injunction on use of the mark -- tell the infringer to stop using the trademark pending trial.

If the owner successfully proves trademark infringement in court, the court has the power to: order a permanent injunction; order monetary payment for profit the plaintiff can prove it would have made but for defendant's use of the mark; possibly increase this payment; possibly award a monetary payment of profits the defendant made while using the mark; and possibly order the defendant to pay the plaintiff's attorney fees in egregious cases of infringement.

Of course, the determination of infringement is actually one that will be made by the court, so a trademark owner is simply using a best guess about whether or not infringement actually has occurred. That best guess may be a good one, based on experience and expertise, or it may be a bad one that doesn't reflect any of the legitimate defenses that might exist. The law doesn't require the mark owner to sue everyone; it just requires the owner to keep his mark distinctive.

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Question: What civil and criminal liabilities may be imposed for trademark infringement?

Answer: Under federal law (Lanham Act Section 32), an infringer shall be liable in a civil action by the registrant for certain remedies provided in the Act.

One such remedy is an injunction, where a court orders a person who was found to violate the Act to stop its infringing activities.

A trademark owner/registrant may also be able to obtain lost profits or damages against a defendant in a civil action only if the acts were committed with knowledge that such imitation was intended to be used to cause confusion, mistake, or to deceive. The trademark owner can recover (1) the domain holder's profits from use of the mark, (2) the trademark owner's damages resulting from harm to the value of mark, and (3) court costs as "actual damages." In determining the award to be paid, the court can choose to award up to three times the amount of actual damages. Instead of having to prove the amount of "actual" damages suffered as above, the mark owner can instead request payment of "statutory damages" from $1000 and $100,000 per domain name.

Attorney fees may be awarded in exceptional circumstances, such as when there was a willful and malicious violation.

The court can order the cancellation or transfer of a domain registration.

In the case of a willful violation of Lanham Act section 43, a court may order that all labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles, and advertisements in the possession of a defendant bearing the registered trademark shall be delivered up and destroyed.

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