Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., 514 U.S. 159, 6 (1995)

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164

QUALITEX CO. v. JACOBSON PRODUCTS CO.

Opinion of the Court

and making purchasing decisions," 1 J. McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition 2.01[2], p. 2-3 (3d ed. 1994) (hereinafter McCarthy), for it quickly and easily assures a potential customer that this item—the item with this mark—is made by the same producer as other similarly marked items that he or she liked (or disliked) in the past. At the same time, the law helps assure a producer that it (and not an imitating competitor) will reap the financial, reputation-related rewards associated with a desirable product. The law thereby "encourage[s] the production of quality products," ibid., and simultaneously discourages those who hope to sell inferior products by capitalizing on a consumer's inability quickly to evaluate the quality of an item offered for sale. See, e. g., 3 L. Altman, Callmann on Unfair Competition, Trademarks and Monopolies 17.03 (4th ed. 1983); Landes & Posner, The Economics of Trademark Law, 78 T. M. Rep. 267, 271-272 (1988); Park 'N Fly, Inc. v. Dollar Park & Fly, Inc., 469 U. S. 189, 198 (1985); S. Rep. No. 100- 515, p. 4 (1988). It is the source-distinguishing ability of a mark—not its ontological status as color, shape, fragrance, word, or sign—that permits it to serve these basic purposes. See Landes & Posner, Trademark Law: An Economic Perspective, 30 J. Law & Econ. 265, 290 (1987). And, for that reason, it is difficult to find, in basic trademark objectives, a reason to disqualify absolutely the use of a color as a mark.

Neither can we find a principled objection to the use of color as a mark in the important "functionality" doctrine of trademark law. The functionality doctrine prevents trademark law, which seeks to promote competition by protecting a firm's reputation, from instead inhibiting legitimate competition by allowing a producer to control a useful product feature. It is the province of patent law, not trademark law, to encourage invention by granting inventors a monopoly over new product designs or functions for a limited time, 35 U. S. C. 154, 173, after which competitors are free to use the innovation. If a product's functional features could be

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