Thursday, October 05, 2006

Trademark Law Can Be A Grind

The maker of In-Sink-Erator garbage disposals files complaint against NBC alleging that the depiction of the shredding of a character's hand on the pilot episode of the NBC series "Heroes" "implies an incorrect and dangerous design for a food waste disposer" and paints the device "in an unsavory light, irreparably tarnishing the product, Emerson's In-Sink-Erator trademarks, and the associated goodwill."

Matt adds: Emerson says the scene "suggests that Emerson's In-Sink-Erator brand food waste disposers will cause debilitating and severe injuries, including the loss of fingers, in the event consumers were to accidentally insert their hand into one." Quite frankly, I'd be shocked if anyone who saw that scene (as I did) didn't think the girl's injuries were the expected result of her actions. Is Emerson officially taking the position that jamming your hand into a running disposer won't cause severe injuries? Anyone care to test that?

The Motley Fool takes a stab at why NBC's use of the IN-SINK-ERATOR mark makes a difference: In contrast with peer broadcasters like CBS or ABC, both of which can generally be described as "entertainment" businesses, the GE conglomerate owns numerous non-entertainment businesses. Crudely put, these other businesses "make stuff." That stuff competes with other companies' stuff, and so when GE depicts its competitors' stuff in a negative light, it leaves itself wide open to lawsuits for unfair competition.

Although interesting, the Fool article certainly is not a legal analysis. The complaint may have been filed regardless of the network as part of the policing procedures of the plaintiff. The Fool mentions trademark fair use but does not even give the briefest explanation of what fair use entails. The seems to be a common problem, writers mentioning "fair use" and leaving readers to invent their own definitions. In this case it is not crazy to think that there was sponsorship or affiliation between plaintiff and defendant. Here is a fairly concise summary of trademark fair use.



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