Trademark infringement isn’t always as cut-and-dried as someone stealing a logo, name or something else that a company has trademarked. Trademark “dilution” is a common type of trademark infringement. It can be just as damaging to your organization, your brand and your reputation.
In the U.S., intellectual property law recognizes two types of trademark dilution. Let’s briefly discuss those.
Trademark blurring is the more common type. It occurs when another entity or individual uses something that is similar enough to a registered trademark that it could cause customers to confuse it with the registered item and the owner of that trademark.
A company that believes its trademark has been blurred would need to make the argument that it makes its brand less distinctive and therefore hurts its value. Some companies are more vigilant about protecting their trademarks from blurring than others. Apple, Inc. is known for going after small entrepreneurs and other organizations as well as individual entertainers for using apples and even other fruit in their branding, accusing them of “dilution by blurring.”
Tarnishment is less common and more about “tarnishing” an organization’s reputation. Trademark tarnishment is when someone else’s trademark or something that could be mistaken for it is used in a way that runs counter to the brand and reputation of the trademark’s owner.
Like blurring, determining whether something rises to the level of tarnishment can be subjective. An obvious example might be the use of a character that looked very much like a Disney character being used on a line of firearms.
If you believe that you have been the victim of trademark dilution and your business has suffered financial and/or reputational harm as a result, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to determine how best to proceed.