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Trademark Infringement - Consumer Confusion

The title you choose for your film is anything but trivial.

Your title serves to capture the essence of your creation so your audience is engaged and interested to see your film. It also sets your film apart from all other competitors and can even become the foundation for future sequels.

But the title you select can also land your film in the crosshairs of a trademark infringement lawsuit.

You can easily select a title that causes a business, organization, or entertainment enterprise to perceive that you’re violating their trademark. It’s a risk that can cost you thousands of dollars in addition to seriously harming your film’s distribution.

With such high stakes, you may have a number of questions you need to be answered to mitigate your risk. Here are 5 things you may wonder about a trademark infringement lawsuit along with information to effectively reduce your legal exposure.

What Is a Trademark?

Avoiding a trademark infringement lawsuit begins with defining your danger. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark can be…

  • Words;
  • Phrases;
  • Designs;
  • Symbols;
  • Any combination of the above.

Furthermore, the USPTO states that a trademark helps others understand where certain goods come from. This is truly at the heart of trademark protection.  Consumers should not be confused.

It is important to note that a film title cannot be registered for trademark unless it is part of a series of films.  A standalone project’s title can still receive trademark protection, however, even if it isn’t formally registered.

Perhaps an entertainment company creates a film titled John Brown: Private Investigator. They cannot initially register this title with the U.S.P.T.O., but it would still receive common law trademark protection. After releasing a sequel to the film titled John Brown: Another Investigation (or similar), the company could then register the word mark John Brown.

What Is a Trademark Infringement?

Trademark infringement occurs when you use the exact or similar mark as that of another company when both yours and the company’s goods are competing or related. The deciding factor in court is customer confusion.

Here’s a practical way to understand this concept, using our previous hypothetical example.

You’re involved in the production of a TV show. Your artistic team selects the title The Secret Files of Detective John Brown. Because you’re using a trademarked name (John Brown) and your genre is mystery entertainment, you’re likely in danger of a trademark infringement lawsuit.

What Are the Consequences of a Trademark Infringement?

If you willfully violate a trademark, the results can be disastrous:

  • You may receive a court injunction demanding you stop infringing, and you may see your trademark-violating goods destroyed.
  • You may pay damages that are three times the amount of the company’s profit loss—depending on your intent.
  • You may also pay for legal costs the other party incurred because of your trademark violation.

As you can see, a trademark infringement can potentially destroy the revenue your film produces.

What Are Some Trademark Infringement Lawsuits?

Trademark infringement lawsuits can and do happen in the entertainment industry. The following examples are some trademark court battles we’ve covered:

A skincare company accused Bee Movie of a trademark violation. Even though skincare has little to do with an animated film, this didn’t stop the company from seeking legal action.

Valhalla Motion Pictures went to court against Valhalla Studios. Not surprisingly, the controversy revolved around the word Valhalla.

The question isn’t whether trademark infringement lawsuits occur. Rather, it’s how you will mitigate your risk.

How Can I Avoid Trademark Infringement?

One important way to avoid a trademark infringement lawsuit is to ensure the title of your film isn’t legally hazardous. After all, your title will reach a huge audience. And if your title violates an existing trademark, a business can easily argue that your film has created confusion.

The key to avoiding the financial loss of a lawsuit is to do your research.

With a title report, you can have your title compared to all prior uses of the title so you spot potential risk before you release your film.

Avoid a costly trademark infringement lawsuit when you secure a title report from The Clearance Lab.