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A trademark is often a name, but may also be a domain name, image, symbol, logo, phrase or slogan, color, product design, or product packaging that is used to identify the source or sponsor of goods or services. Other items, such as fragrances, shapes, and sounds may also be registered as trademarks. Under the Lanham Act, it is illegal to use a trademark in a way that may confuse consumers about who is the source or sponsor of a good or service. When this type of confusion is created, it is referred to as trademark infringement. Major trademark infringement cases are high-profile lawsuits in which the owner of a well-known trademark sues a party claiming trademark infringement.
In all trademark infringement cases, no matter the parties, the same factors are commonly used to determine the likelihood of confusion, which is the key to proving infringement. The considerations include the question of how strong the plaintiff’s trademark is in the first place, how similar the defendant’s goods or services are to those of the plaintiff, how similar the trademark of the defendant and the plaintiff are, whether the defendant and plaintiff use the same marketing channels, the likely degree of care a purchaser of the goods or services of each would be likely to employ, the defendant’s goal in obtaining the trademark, the growth plans of both parties, and any actual evidence of confusion to consumers.
One of the most notable trademark infringement cases has been Apple Inc., the computer and iPod® company, vs. Apple Corps, Ltd., the Beatles’ company. The case was initially settled in 1991 and resettled in 2007. The 2007 agreement replaced the previous settlement and gave Apple Inc. ownership of the “Apple” trademark. In return, some of the “Apple” trademarks have been licensed back to Apple Corps so that it may continue to use them.
An important series of trademark infringement cases has centered around Google’s use of trademarks in its AdWords service. Those who sued Google over this included American Blinds, American Airlines, Geico, and — in a class action suit filed in 2009 — all trademark holders residing in Texas who have witnessed their registered trade names used by their competitors. In November 2009, Yahoo! settled a similar trademark infringement case brought by American Airlines.
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