Let me suggest that there are three principle lines of inquiry that have been brought to bear on trademarks. The first is determining exactly what and whom are being protected—the trademark owner against a trader using a confusingly similar mark or the consumer from being deceived? Are trademarks a property right or a deception right? Let’s assume the answer is that it depends—the EU approach tends towards the former while the US approach tilts towards the latter. If so, considerations of consumer protection are more likely to find their way into US trademark law as compared with its EU counterpart. But these are tendencies rather than black and white distinctions, and the resolution to the question can play out differently, depending upon the jurisdiction.
The second is to ask to what extent trademarks are economically beneficial. The 20th century witnessed two principal approaches to the question. The earlier approach took a relatively negative view of trademarks, arguing that they have the effect of creating artificial distinctions between roughly similar products. If you, as a trademark owner, hit the trademark jackpot and succeed in nurturing a trademark that can command a premium price, you become better off, even if there is no enhancement of consumer welfare in the form of obtaining a premium product in exchange for paying a premium price. Advertising is held to play a key role in creating these artificial distinctions and generating the requisite demand. For Kat readers with an historical bent, it is fascinating to see how this approach folded into the debates within the US Department of Justice in the 1930’s and 1940’s during the process of enacting the Lanham Act of 1946.
the neoliberal economic approach (think Adam Smith) gained ascendancy, emphasizing the role that trademarks play in providing useful information about the goods or services to the consumer. Trademarks are perceived as an efficient means for providing useful commercial information. A so-called strong mark is viewed as more successful in providing this information, rather than as an instrument for consumer exploitation. What is common to both these approaches is that they are driven by economic analysis. As such, they are not directly part of trademark law, although since they are often part of a law school education, at least in the U.S., as well as providing the foundation for many a scholarly article, they serve as the basis for arguments about whether there is too much or too little trademark protection.
The third centers on identifying the function(s) of a trademark. Everyone agrees that a trademark is first and foremost an indication of source, which serves a fundamental component of trademark law. But additional functions can be to be recognized, most notably the quality function of a mark, which was seen to derive from the origin function and, in the US at least, provided the basis for giving legal recognition to licensing. Various jurisdictions have gone further, affording recognitioninter alia to the advertising function (positive and negative) and to an information function. The extent to which these additional functions are merely variants or the origin function, or are sui generis (as Eleonora wrote that some claim it is "...because of the Court of Justice of the European Union that has added all those trade mark functions"), or are not really functions at all from the legal perspective, is not settled. And then there is that category of marks that are so strong that do not merely serve as an indication of source, but become their own asset. Do such marks constitute an exception from the source indication function, or do they amount to another function for trademarks for a select number of well-positioned marks?
And so the question—how are we meant to interweave these various analytical moving parts? Are they meant to be interwoven as components of an overarching whole, or is each of them a separate and distinct inquiry about how to