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Friday, June 01, 2007

The Trouble With Trademarks

Blimp_2 Let's say that hypothetically you disagree with the Supreme Court's recent holding in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc. (NB: Paul Secunda has a good overview here) and you decide you want to girlcott all of the company's goods and services. Or, maybe you had your own negative experience with the company.  Assuming you don't regularly purchase rubber,  your initial focus is likely to be upon purchasing tires from sources other than Goodyear. If you do a quick search at the USPTO's webpage, you'll find about 83  Goodyear related federally registered marks, including many variations of this logo:

Goodyear has also registered phrases like "On the wings of Goodyear" (note to Goodyear: blimps don't have wings)  and "If it doesn't say Goodyear it can't be polyglas" (and goodness knows we all want glas in our tires!). You'll also see a host of alphanumeric indicators such as "G395," "GT45V" and "G622RSD" which are probably supposed to make the tires bearing them seem especially high tech or scientific, as opposed to a Goodyear mark like Assurance which makes the tires sound like feminine hygiene products.  Some of these marks are "dead" but most are "live" and therefore in commercial use. It sounds simple enough to avoid them, perhaps,  but an effective girlcott is going to be a little trickier than simply avoiding tires bearing  "Goodyear" trademarks.

Goodyear  produces and sells tires under other  brand names including Dunlop, Kelly, Fulda, Sava and Debica. Goodyear manufactures and sells more than 50 private brands of tires as well to companies like Wal-Mart (Douglas private brand); Sears (SuperGuard, Weather Handler, Eagle, Acqua Handler, Wrangler, Trail Handler and Patriot private brands; NTB private brand through acquired Western Auto stores); Heafner/American Tire (Winston, Regul and Lee private brands); and Martino (Star and Hallmark private brands).

According to its webpage:  For the better part of a century, Goodyear's corporate values have been centered  on the phrase, "Protect Our Good Name."

One way that the company can do that is by selling a lot of products under alternative trademarks, making it difficult for consumers to reward or punish corporations for their actions. Given that one of the primary policy justifications for having a trademark legal regime is to protect consumers from confusion, this is sadly ironic. The lack of a requirement that trademarks be affirmatively linked to their sources permits companies to obfuscate corporate connections whenever it is useful.

"Because there's a lot riding on your lawsuit."

Posted by Ann Bartow on June 1, 2007 at 08:35 AM in Intellectual Property | Permalink


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The term "boycott" comes from a name, that of Captain Charles Boycott.

Posted by: Jason Scott | Jun 7, 2007 6:03:12 PM

seems that the big boys play on both sides of the fence. They accuse others of dillution at the same time they hide behind marks they have aquired. If they had to put their name somewhere in the proxcimity of the other trade name, they and the consumer would be served, (ie.XYZ Tires by Goodyear) OR is Goodyear just using someone elses good name to subversively boost it's bottom line by fooling the public?

Posted by: bob c | Jun 1, 2007 10:29:47 PM

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