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What is a “likelihood of confusion”?

Trademarks not only benefit the owner of the mark, they also help protect consumers of goods and/or services. For instance, a person may shop in a store in one state and go to a different state and shop in another store under the same trademarked name knowing they are getting similar products and services from the same expected source.

Trademarks aid consumers in identifying the sources of goods and/or services and trusting that the sources are similar for all goods and/or services under the same registered mark. The ability of trademarks to prevent consumer confusion over goods and/or services is therefore an important aspect and one that must be protected by not allowing trademarks themselves to be confusing to a consumer. United States trademark law allows a holder of a trademark to claim trademark infringement against a competitor’s trademark if both marks seem to be confusingly similar from a potential customer’s point of view. Trademark infringement hinges on the owner of a mark proving that there is a “likelihood of confusion” between their mark and the allegedly infringing mark, with the most important element being that both marks compare favorably in the “sight, sound, and meaning” test. That is, a potential customer is considered likely to be confused if both marks look analogous to one another, are similarly pronounced, and/or have equivalent meanings.

However, there are limitations to the “likelihood of confusion” test in that consumers are expected to be reasonable in their interpretations of similar marks. Most notably, trademarks would not be considered confusingly similar if the marks are associated with goods and/or services that are unrelated to each other, as a rational consumer would understand that the goods and/or services do not emanate from the same source, even though they are presented under similar trademarks. Moreover, the general knowledge level of a typical consumer of certain goods and/or services is taken into consideration when testing the “likelihood of confusion” between marks, as consumers of particular goods and/or services may be more qualified in a particular field and therefore less likely to be confused by similar marks, as they are expected to have acquired more intimate knowledge of those goods and/or services. It is important to note that since determining trademark infringement encompasses many factors that have been subjected to various court rulings over the years, all relevant factors are essential in interpreting the “likelihood of confusion.”

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For more information on intellectual property, please visit Patent, Trademark, Copyright Information.

The content of this article is not intended to be, and does not constitute, legal advice and does not create attorney-client privilege. Consult the attorney of your choice before embarking on any legal matter or any document preparation/filing.

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Dr. Thomas R. (Terry) Williamson III is a Patent Attorney practicing in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Williamson Intellectual Property Law, LLC
1870 The Exchange, Suite 100
Atlanta, GA 30339
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Williamson Intellectual Property Law, LLC
1870 The Exchange, Suite 100 - Atlanta, Georgia 30339