FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2013-05-06
Trademarks are essential for thriving businesses in the global economy. A strong trademark distinguishes your goods or services from those offered by others and helps build your brand reputation.
Given the importance of trademarks, it is little surprise that some of the world’s oldest and most influential institutions are holders of some of the most powerful trademarks in existence. If you’re having trademark issues, you’re in good company; even the pope grapples with potential trademark infringement.
Pope Francis is now responsible for the Vatican’s portfolio of trademarks. Vatican City and the Holy See own a number of trademarks, from “Stato Della Citta Del Vaticano” (State of Vatican City) to “Segreteria Di Stato” (Secretary of State). The trademarks owned by the Vatican are a special type, filed under the terms of a very old international treaty, and are used primarily to preserve a certain dignity and stop offensive uses rather than for marketing purposes.
Coincidence between name in use by the Vatican and a California rapper
According to Forbes, the new papacy has recently encountered an interesting use of the name “Pope Emeritus.” Reportedly, an Oakland, California rapper had already been performing under the name Pope Emeritus. Of course, a trademark does not necessarily give a monopoly on words or phrases and there is little risk of consumer confusion between former Pope Benedict and an Oakland rapper; no one expects legal action by either the rapper or the Catholic Church over the moniker “Pope Emeritus.” Nonetheless, the coincidence is amusing, to say the least.
Trademarks indicate the true source of your goods or services
A trademark is a word, name, symbol, design or any combination thereof that is used to distinguish goods or services offered by one entity from those of another. In other words, a trademark identifies the source of goods or services.
In the U.S., your trademark does not have to be registered in order to take advantage of the protective shield of intellectual property law. However, there are many advantages of federal registration of a trademark.
So if you believe some other party is wrongfully using your trademark, what are your legal options? To prevail on a claim of trademark infringement under U.S. law, you generally must show that you have a valid mark entitled to protection, that the alleged infringer is using your mark in commerce and that there is a likelihood of consumer confusion when viewing the allegedly infringing mark. International trademark actions may take slightly different forms, but as in the papal example, it is completely possible and desirable to safeguard a trademark across national borders.
Is an infringer damaging your reputation? A trademark infringement suit can bring relief
Trademark infringement can harm the trademark holder in a number of ways. For example, business may be lost when consumers mistakenly purchase the infringer’s product, or consumers may believe that an infringer’s inferior product was actually produced by the trademark holder, thus wrongly assuming that the trademark holder markets low quality goods.
If someone is wrongfully using your mark, there are several legal remedies that may be available. Injunctive relief means that the judge will issue an order forcing the infringer to stop using your mark. You may also be entitled to monetary damages, which could include the amount of profit the infringer made by using your mark, the loss you sustained because of the infringement and the costs of litigation. In particularly egregious instances of infringement, treble damages may be awarded — that is to say the infringer would have to pay you three times the actual damages you incurred.
If you think someone else is damaging the integrity of your trademark, take the initiative and do something about it today. Contact an intellectual property attorney to get your case moving.