|Image: BY-NC-SA coolmallu|
"There’s been a whole lot of hullabaloo lately as trade mark owners brace themselves for the onslaught of infringements expected with new top-level-domains. But it’s not just the information superhighway where trade mark owners need to watch; they might want to take a look around on the paved highway too.
Texas has found a new way to make money. People, well Americans at least, love to showcase their individuality. And with over 100 hours a year spent driving, what better place to showcase your individuality than on your very own specially-for-you licence plate? These licence plates, called vanity plates, usually are available for a small additional fee through the state department of motor vehicles when you register your car. You submit your first few choices and hope that someone else hasn’t already taken “ILUVTM”. Texas, however, is doing things a little differently, exploiting the market, and so far that exploitation has brought in some big bucks. But, should the bucks really go to Texas?
Texas is auctioning of highly sought after plates. Rather than a small fee and the hope that you’re first, you can secure the licence plates of dream to showcase your individuality by out-bidding every other individual who wants to identify themselves the exact same way. The Wall Street Journal highlights some commonly-desired plates, such as single digit numbers and AMERICA. But the most interesting plates mentioned, fetching $7,500 and $15,000, were not numbers or places. They were trade marks.
“FERRARI”, just the word on a licence plate, went for $15,000 in Texas. “PORSCHE” sold for $7,500. Both (arguably) well-known trade marks related to cars, one has to wonder if the companies should have some say, or some piece, of what’s going on here. (One also wonders whether Texas requires that the FERRARI plate only go on a FERRARI. Perhaps the threat of society laughing at your FERRARI licence plate on a ’72 Pinto takes care of that.)
It would be hard to find trade mark infringement here since no one is going to confuse a licence plate for a car, or think that a car is a Porsche just because the licence plate says PORSCHE. And people know that licence plates are produced by the state, usually by the prisons, and not by car companies. There’s also no unfair competition here as the licence plate is not competing with the actual car. Dilution would be hard to show since there can be at most 50 licence plates with the TM, maybe 500 if there’s enough room for a digit (Note: the author does not know of any states that allow more than 7 spaces on a licence plate.)
Thoughts, anyone?Texas does seem, however, to be unfairly gaining a hefty amount of money thanks to the strengths of these brands. Shouldn’t they be sharing that large pot?"