A trademark coexistence agreement is an agreement between two parties about their respective use of the same or similar trademarks. They generally allow two trademark owners to use identical or similar marks, usually in a manner designed to avoid consumer confusion. They are helpful in several situations. A trademark coexistence agreement can be used to resolve disputes between two parties, or to prevent potential disputes, or to overcome rejections by the Trademark Office.
Trademark Coexistence Agreement to Resolve Disputes
Trademarks are fundamentally intended to prevent consumer confusion. When two marks are the same or similar, the public can be confused about who the source of the product or service is. This can flare as a trademark infringement dispute, where one party sues – or threatens to sue – the other party for having a trademark which is too similar to its own.
If the parties can resolve this dispute, they will usually execute an agreement. The agreement might require one party to change its name, or it might allow that party to continue using its name, perhaps for a short period of time or maybe even permanently. For those latter two options, a trademark coexistence agreement – or at least a coexistence provision – will be used.
To Prevent Disputes
Sometimes, before a client files its trademark application, it will conduct a pre-filing clearance search to see if there are other similar or identical marks already registered or used. This allows the client to evaluate the risk of proceeding forward. Occasionally, a trademark applicant will proceed forward even though there is a similar trademark already registered, because the applicant feels the mark is different. In that event, the applicant will sometimes proactively reach out to the prior trademark registrant and request a trademark coexistence agreement to potentially head off even the unlikely risk that consumers will be confused.
To Overcome Rejections
When a trademark application is filed, the Trademark Office examines it before it will register the trademark. During examination, the Office will reject the trademark application if it finds any registered marks which pose a likelihood of confusion.
The rejection will stand, and the application will become abandoned, unless the applicant responds and overcomes the rejection. Often times, the applicant can present arguments based on case law or evidence. Sometimes, however, there may be reasons to present other arguments.
A trademark coexistence agreement is persuasive evidence in response to a rejection. While not completely binding, the law gives significant weight to a trademark coexistence agreement. Examiners will generally, but not always, withdraw a rejection the applicant has a trademark coexistence agreement. However, Examiners will refuse to accept those agreements when they fail to address real conditions and concerns.
Trademark Coexistence Agreement Elements
The Trademark Office’s desire to see “real” agreements reflects the need for a trademark coexistence agreement to be more than just an agreement to use two similar marks. It must actually address the likely concerns of not just the trademark owners but the consumers as well. For instance, it could discuss concerns such as:
- The level of experience and familiarity the two parties have with the respective industry and their customers
- The similarities and differences in the marks’ sight, sound, and appearance
- The similarities and differences in the goods and/or services
- The similarities and differences in the customers and channels of trade
- Restrictions on any future trademark filings of the parties
- Amendments to the trademark application or registration details
- Geographic restrictions on the parties’ respective uses
- Goods and/or services restrictions on the parties’ respective uses
- Industry restrictions on the parties’ respective uses
- Any limitations to how the parties’ trademarks will be displayed or styled
- Any disclaimers that either of the parties should use
- Any restrictions on how the parties’ goods and/or services may be advertised
- Any restrictions on the channels of trade for the parties’ goods and/or services
- What the parties will do in the event of actual confusion
Trademark coexistence agreements are not the right solution in all situations. In some cases, a trademark coexistence agreement can weaken a trademark owner’s rights and should be avoided. Speak with a local trademark attorney if you think you need a trademark coexistence agreement or have been approached by someone requesting you to sign one.