Trademarks are everywhere. Even hanging from your car’s rear-view mirror. And business owners everywhere can learn a thing or two in a recent lawsuit filed to protect trademarks associated with little tree car-fresheners.
In One Corner: The Car-Freshener Corporation
You’ve probably never heard of them, but you’ve likely seen and maybe even used their product.
The Car-Freshner Corporation has made little tree car-fresheners for years. The fresheners are shaped like a pine tree, have the company’s name written at an angle in the middle, and are sold in a cellophane package with a yellow card top. The company claims that the public associates its products with “the concepts of freshness, cleanliness, and pleasing scents.”
And they have three federal trademark registrations with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The first two are word marks (“Car-Freshner” and “Magic Tree”) and the third is a design mark for the tree design with a white box in the middle for their logo. All three are in connection to “absorbent bodies impregnated with perfumed air deodorant” and date back to first use dates in the 50’s and 60’s.
In the Other Corner: Exotica Fresheners Company
If you prefer palm trees and coconuts over pine trees, then maybe you’ve heard of the Exotica Fresheners Company.
This company also makes air fresheners for cars. Their fresheners are shaped like a palm tree and contain coconuts, and like the Car-Freshener’s products have the company’s name written at an angle in the middle and are sold in cellophane packaging with a yellow card top.
Unlike the Car-Freshener Corporation, the Exotica Fresheners Company does not have a federal trademark registration. In fact, they applied for a trademark for “Pine Tree” with the USPTO but were denied registration and failed to appeal.
The Car-Freshener Corporation filed a trademark infringement suit against Exotica claiming consumers were likely to be confused and deceived and likely to mistakenly purchase Exotica’s products when they intended to purchase Car-Freshener’s products. Car-Freshener further claimed that Exotica’s products were likely to “falsely mislead consumers into believing” that Exotica’s products were “affiliated or connected with or are approved” by Car-Freshener.
And in opening statements to the jury, Car-Freshener alleged that Exotica knowingly designed its products to look like Car-Freshener’s products. And further, that Exotica’s products were of an inferior quality when compared to Car-Freshener’s products.
Exotica argued that there is no evidence of consumer confusion.
Interestingly, disputes between these two companies is nothing new. In fact, they have been involved in numerous disputes dating back to at least 1995 over trademark matters. And in this current trial, the outcome is not certain.
As we have covered on this blog before (Justice Explained: Trademark Infringement & Defenses & The Nine Factors a Court Considers When Deciding “Likelihood of Confusion”) Car-Fresheners will have to show that Exotica’s products are likely to cause consumer confusion. That is, that the public is likely to purchase the palm tree air freshener mistakenly thinking they are buying a product from Car-Freshener.
While the products are similar, it is not clear if they are so similar as to meet that threshold. The jury will most likely review the nine factors (see the post above) to come to a determination in this case. And the outcome will be interesting.
Hopefully we will get a verdict soon. And when we do, we will tell you what happened and why here on the Mighty Marks® blog.
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Image: Court Case
*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.