The television industry was abuzz last week when ExxonMobil, one of the most successful oil companies in the world, filed a lawsuit against another world-class conglomerate, Twentieth Century Fox Television. Why would a U.S. television network be the target of a lawsuit from a company that brings us gasoline at the local pump?
The answer lies in two crossed letters where "XXes” mark the spot!
Take a look at the two logos below. Exxon has been using its double-x symbol for decades (even before its association with Mobil). Fox just started the edgy FXX network (an offshoot of the FX Network) in the last year and ExxonMobil claims that "FXX," is infringing on its US registered trademark by causing confusion in the marketplace.
The first question you might ask is, "What is a 'trademark'?
A "trademark" is a word or symbol that identifies the source of goods or services. Think of it this way: when you see the iconic “Coca-Cola” symbol, you know that the drink inside the can comes from the Coca-Cola Company and the liquid inside is the drink we have all come to associate with that mark. “Coca-Cola” is a U.S. Registered Trademark of the Coca-Cola company.
The United States is not the only country that affords trademarks protection under its laws. Trademarks are protected by laws throughout the world when they are legally registered and/or established by continuous use in the marketplace. The highest form of trademark protection in the U.S. is obtained through a registration process with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The 'Exxon' trademark has been registered with the USPTO and in use since 1971.
So do you think that the FXX Network’s mark causes confusion in the marketplace with ExxonMobil?
Take closer look --
What is your reaction?
A spokesperson for the network told Bloomberg News that they are confident that "viewers won't tune into FXX looking for gas or motor oil and drivers won't pull up to an Exxon pump station expecting to get It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."
Quips aside, we won't know the answer to this question right now, but the dispute between two titans points out some things that every business person should know.
First of all, branding your product or service is serious business. The task requires knowledge of the law and careful planning. It can be difficult to create a new name that hasn't already been taken or that won’t infringe upon an existing mark.
For example, all of us do-it-yourself Californians know that the 'Home Depot' brand is identified by its name and color (bright orange). If someone started a business called ‘Home Center’ and branded it with the same type and color as Home Depot, would that be infringement? Would you be confused as to the ownership of the business?
In simple terms, if a mark is confusingly similar and a reasonable consumer would think there is a commonality of ownership, that's not permissible under the law.
So what should we conclude as the titans of industry battle it out in the courtroom (or settle in the boardroom)? It is very important to research any proposed mark before it is put into use with a business to avoid the headaches (and legal costs) that will follow if you unknowingly create confusion in the marketplace. Or as the age-old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”