Even the Wisest of Men and Machines Can Be In Error

By January 26, 2012

“Sometimes even the wisest of men and machines can be in error.” That 1984 quote from the one and only Optimus Prime sums up nicely the reasoning behind most trademark disputes involving conflicts between confusingly similar brands.

Simply put, intentional or not, adopting a brand name or logo that either plays off of, evokes, or otherwise suggests possible affiliation with a pre-existing trademark is a bad idea, and will probably get you into trouble. This is why trademark clearance research is critical, and why it is important to have a trained eye review the search results for any potential issues. Certainly if you’re doing it intentionally you know what the issue is (even if you didn’t know that it was improper until now), but remember that even inadvertent trademark infringement is still a violation of federal law.

A recent high-profile trademark dispute brings this point home. In November 2011, Asus released its latest tablet/laptop hybrid, which it dubbed the “Transformer Prime”. The computer included a removable keyboard (the “Transformer” aspect), and was the first table to sport a particular chip (the “Prime” aspect).

Hasbro, owner of the famous Transformers toy franchise, was none too pleased with Asus’ choice of names, and filed a lawsuit against the computer maker alleging trademark infringement. Although Hasbro doesn’t make laptops or tablets, its argument likely is that allowing anyone to use its trademarks on consumer goods marketed toward millennials is going to create confusion–and ultimately dilute the value of its brands.

Further, while there is an innocent explanation for the chosen name for the tablet, the combination of two words so central to Hasbro’s brand certainly seems to suggest that Asus’ motive was less than genuine. Why is this relevant if inadvertence isn’t a defense? Because willful trademark infringement carries additional remedies for the trademark owner, and often draws ire from the judge hearing the case.

This article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.