Trademark Litigation as Consumer Conflict
Trademark litigation typically unfolds as a battle between competing sellers who argue over whether the defendant’s conduct is likely to confuse consumers. This is an unfair fight. In the traditional narrative, the plaintiff defends her trademark while simultaneously protecting consumers at risk for confusion. The defendant, relatively speaking, stands alone. The resulting “two-against-one” storyline gives short shrift to the interests of nonconfused consumers who may have a stake in the defendant’s conduct. As a result, courts are too receptive to nontraditional trade- mark claims where the case for consumer harm is questionable. Better outcomes are available by appreciating trademark litigation’s parallel status as a conflict between consumers. This view treats junior and senior trademark users as proxies for different consumer classes and recognizes that remedying likely confusion among one group of consumers may cause harm to others. Focusing on the interests of benefited and harmed consumers also minimizes the excessive weight given to moral rhetoric in adjudicating trademark cases. Consideration of trademark’s consumer-conflict dimension is therefore a useful device for critiquing trademark’s expansion and assessing future doctrinal developments.