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What constitutes trademark infringement?

If you own your own business, you probably understand that your name means everything. To get people to remember you and what your business brings to the table, you need strong, cohesive branding, and part of the branding process often involves the development of a trademark. A trademark is a symbol, logo or grouping of words that you have legal ownership over and use as a representation of your business, product or service. When someone tries to use a trademark without proper authorization, it can confuse your customers and, quite possibly, damage your business and its earning potential. So, how can you know what constitutes trademark infringement?

Proving trademark infringement

Proving that someone infringed upon your trademark can be complicated, and it generally involves, per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, providing evidence that three things occurred. First, you must prove that you have legal ownership over the trademark in question. Second, you have to demonstrate that your ownership over the mark in question transcends that of the person or entity you believe is infringing on the trademark. Third, you have to prove that the act of infringement is damaging to your business because it is likely to confuse your customers.

You may also be able to fight a company you believe has "diluted" the strength of your trademark. In this sense, "dilution" may refer to a use that is harmful to your company's image. If you claim dilution, you may not have to necessarily provide evidence of confusion, but rather, that your business's reputation was tainted or harmed because of the other entity's actions.

Considerations to be made by the court

In determining whether your trademark was, in fact, infringed, upon, you can expect the court to look at a number of different factors. Among them is the degree of similarity between your business and the one you allege infringed upon your trademark. In order for the court to believe that your customers might be genuinely confused by another company's use of your trademark, your company and the other in question have to be similar enough to warrant that confusion. The court may also consider the other company's intent in using the trademark in question, and where and how both companies market or display their goods for retail sale. The court may also consider the strength and uniqueness of the trademark itself before issuing its ruling.

Trademark infringement can have a considerable impact on a business. If you believe your business is suffering because another person or entity infringed upon your trademark, consider enlisting the help of an attorney.

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