Trademark infringement doesn’t have to involve using someone’s logo, name or another trademarked item without their permission. There’s another type of trademark infringement that can be a little more challenging to take legal action on. However, some large companies don’t hesitate to do that, as you’ll see. It’s called trademark “dilution.”
Whether you’re the one who believes your trademark has been diluted by someone else or you’re being accused of trademark dilution, it’s crucial to understand what it is. Two types of trademark dilution are recognized under U.S. law.
Dilution by blurring
This is the more common type. It occurs when a party (a business or an individual) uses something that’s close enough to something that’s trademarked and customers could confuse the two. This can cause harm in several ways:
- It could cause the party with the trademarked item to lose business to the party diluting it.
- It could cause people to hold them responsible for an inferior product or service with which they have no connection.
- It makes their brand less unique and distinctive and therefore less valuable.
Whether a trademark is truly being diluted often is subjective. If the two parties can’t settle the matter, a court will need to. An example of a company that is particularly protective of its trademarked name and logo is Apple, Inc. It has a reputation for taking legal action against small businesses and entrepreneurs for using apples as well as other fruit in its branding, even when its product or service has nothing to do with electronics or entertainment.
This is less common than trademark blurring. It involves using something similar to a registered trademark in a way that could “tarnish” the holder of the trademark and therefore harm their business.
An example might be putting the name of a famous children’s character on racy lingerie or firearms. Many cases aren’t that clear-cut, which is why a judge may again have to decide whether a trademark is indeed being tarnished.
Whether your business is the victim of trademark dilution or you’re being accused of it, it’s important to have legal guidance to protect your rights and present your case.