Some trademark disputes can look rather silly and trivial, but they can be deadly serious for the businesses involved. A recent dispute involving the outdoor-wear company Patagonia illustrates the point.
Recently, Patagonia filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against an online retailer, claiming that the store’s T-shirt designs infringe on its trademarks.
According to Patagonia’s complaint, the retailer, T-Shirt AT Fashion, LLC, sells shirts printed with images that use the same typeface and mountain imagery in Patagonia’s logo. One of these T-shirts is printed with “Catagonia,” and also features images of cats. Another says “Wakanda,” evoking the imaginary kingdom of the “Black Panther” comic books. A third uses a vulgar phrase.
The outdoor-wear company claims this is a blatant infringement of its trademark rights.
T-Shirt AT Fashion is also currently faced with a similar lawsuit in which the grocery chain Trader Joe’s accuses it of infringing on its trademark rights.
Parody and fair use
In some cases, a defendant in a trademark infringement lawsuit can successfully claim that their use of the mark was legal under the doctrine of fair use. This doctrine allows people to use protected trademarks under certain circumstances.
One such circumstance is parody. Courts often recognize that others may use protected marks in order to express themselves through satire and parody.
However, trademark owners often fear that an infringing use of their mark, even one meant as parody, can lead to confusion among consumers, or tarnish the good name and reputation of their businesses.
Business invest a lot of time in money when building their reputations. A trademark can symbolize a business’ reputation in the minds of consumers. Allegations of trademark infringement can lead to complex business litigation.