Protecting Your Creativity: Is My Sony a Sony?

Now that we know what a trademark is, today’s discussion centers around how the public policy rationale for trademarks influences trademark infringement.

Remember that the public policy rationale for trademarks is to cut down on consumer search costs. The side effect of cutting down consumer search costs is that one bad purchasing experience can cost companies customers. Moreover, the premise that a dissatisfied purchaser will likely never purchase the same product again creates an incentive for business owners to produce the highest quality products possible. That is, in hope of repeat business, companies will invest additional time and money to create the highest quality products possible to ensure the purchaser has an enjoyable purchasing experience.

However, companies would not be willing to invest the added time and money if their efforts could be thwarted by dishonest competition. For instance, imagine going to the store to buy a new television. Based on your good experiences with Sony products, you decide to buy a Sony television. Now imagine if the television you bought was not a Sony, but rather a knock off with a Sony label. Imagine Sony’s frustration with having invested the extra time and money to create a positive mental impression of Sony in your mind, only to have a sale that should have been attributed to Sony, stolen by an off brand.

Of course, one such stolen sale would not bring the electronics giant to its knees. In the aggregate, however, it would dissolve Sony’s incentive to create higher quality products, thus diminishing the number of high quality electronic devices in the market. Furthermore, if you did not know that the “Sony" was a knock off, it would certainly diminish the positive mental impression you previously had of Sony thus potentially costing Sony a future customer.

This is where trademark law steps in to prevent infringement. Generally speaking, trademark infringement stands to prevent unscrupulous free riding. That is, to guarantee to those who invest added time and money into producing high quality products that they will be the ones to reap the benefits of such added time and money, and not their competitors.

Now that we know what a trademark is and how its public policy rationale influences the need for laws protecting against trademark infringement, the next logical topic is how a person can obtain registration for the trademark. I will take up this topic and more in my next post.

Steve Rensch and Zach Price