What is trademark dilution?

Glenn W. Peterson

Trademark dilution is what can happen if your trademark is weakened and no longer able to adequately distinguish and identify services and goods, according to the International Trademark Association. This may happen if another company decides to use your mark or a similar mark to aid in selling their own products.

One of the biggest differences between trademark dilution and regular trademark infringement is that you do not need to show a great likelihood of confusion in order to get protection for your mark under this law in California. If your mark is famous, or sufficiently well-known in a certain area, dilution laws grant it special protection against any kind of use. The law applies whether or not your mark and the competing mark in question are even used to sell similar goods. This means that even if your mark is used to sell cars and another business starts using the same or a similar mark to sell canned beans, the effects of the unlawful use could dilute or diminish your original mark’s ability to set your products and services apart. This could negatively affect your business in many ways.

In California, your mark may be protected from two types of dilution: blurring and tarnishment. When blurring occurs, your famous mark’s distinctiveness is affected, as seen with the above example. When tarnishment occurs, your famous mark is degraded or its reputation is harmed by being associated with the other unlawful use of the mark. For example, this may occur if your trademark, which is usually used to sell children’s clothing, is used by another business to sell cigarettes. Although there is nothing unlawful about the product being sold, the very act of associating your brand or mark with this other product or service harms it and may negatively affect your business in the future. Trademark law is extremely complicated, and this information should not be construed as legal advice.