The U.S. congress has approved an amendment to the Trademark Dilution Act, in a move intended to close a loophole that the U.S. Supreme Court found in a case involving the marks VICTORIA’S SECRET and VICTOR’S LITTLE SECRET. The Trademark Dilution Revision Act will now be sent to the President for signature, which is expected to occur in the next few week.
When first introduced, the Trademark Dilution Act was intended to provide additional protection to “famous marks” over and above the protection available to less well known marks, which require there to be confusion due to use with similar products or services, overlapping channels of trade and the like. So if a mark is well known enough, in theory no one should be able to use that mark or a similar mark for any goods or services. The problem noted by the Supreme Court in the case involving VICTOR’S LITTLE SECRET, was that it required the famous mark owner to prove that the other mark had caused actual dilution, rather than likelihood of injury.
The new Act makes it clear that a famous mark owner has a cause of action even in the absence of actual dilution, if the identical or similar mark is likely to cause dilution by blurring its distinctiveness or tarnishing its image. The new Act exempts use of famous marks for noncommercial purposes such as parodies, criticisms or new reporting.
Unfortunately for the well known brand owners of the world, this legislation will not be applicable in Canada, where there’s no statutory provisions that are specific to famous marks. The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that, in theory, a mark could be famous enough that it would transcend its goods and services boundaries. However, in the case of BARBIE and VEUVE CLICQUOT, neither mark, though well known for dolls and champagne, was famous enough to stop a third party from using very similar marks for restaurant services and retail clothing services, respectively.
It seems appropriate to kick off a new trade-mark blog with some commentary on the recent BusinessWeek Online/Interbrand Top 100 Brands 2006
Not surprisingly, with 7 out of the top 10 and 51 out of the top 100, U.S. brands dominated the list, though a bit less than I thought they would – after number 70, European brands clearly dominate, though the value of those brands is much less than many of the higher ranked U.S. heavyweights. Also, the methodology used by Interbrand necessarily led to a more international result – the criteria used disqualified VISA, CNN and WALMART.
Technology brands dominate the top 6 and then are more evenly distributed farther down the list. No Canadian brand even made the list. I suppose Canada could get an honourable mention for eBay at no. 55 – the founder of that business being a transplanted Canuck.
Probably the most significant thing to note is the actual monetary value attributed to these brands – a whopping $67 billion to #1 ranked COCA-COLA for example. Helps to explain why trade-mark owners and their lawyers are so quick to enforce any perceived harm to their brands.