We often receive a lot of questions on whether adding a small space, hyphen or misspelling a word makes a difference when registering or enforcing a trademark.
The questions often go like this:
“If tweak a trademarked name by adding a letter, hyphen or space, can I get around the trademark?”
Sometimes, it’s usually the exact opposite.
“Can someone get around my trademark by slightly tweaking it?”
Well, in both cases the answer is most likely no. Slightly misspelling a word, adding a hyphen or a space between words cannot result in a protectable trademark. In other words, you cannot go around an existing trademark by slightly tweaking the words. And on the flip side, you cannot lose protection to your trademark when someone slightly alters your trademarked name.
Wondering why? The reason is, slightly altering an existing trademarked name can result in a confusingly similar name.
So, what does a confusingly similar name mean?
This refers to when the name of a business is exceedingly similar to an already existing trademark in such a way that it creates confusion for the consuming public.
For example, the words Nikee, Nik, Ni-ke and Ni Ke are similar to Nike, the footwear company. Using these words as a clever marketing tactic for your brand can create confusion among consumers who are familiar with Nike.
The purpose of a trademark is to help consumers identify and distinguish the goods and services of different sellers. It also helps prevent unfair competition between companies that would try to capitalize on consumer confusion to sell their products. Slightly tweaking a name only creates confusion among the consumers and often results in trademark infringement.
What if misspelling a mark does not cause confusion?
Sometimes there are exceptions to what is considered ‘confusingly similar’.
A general rule is, if two distinctive trademarks are not similar in sound, meaning, commercial impression, and are not related to the same goods and services then it’s likely that they are not confusingly similar.
For example, the NFL owns a few registrations for Superbowl. However, one slight change in the name suddenly changes the name to ‘Superb Owl’ and this can have a drastic change in the commercial impression of the name. In fact, a few people have tried to register the name ‘Superb Owl’ and use it as part of their brand name.
However, this is rare and in most cases slightly altering existing trademarked names only results in confusingly similar names and trademark infringement.
To sum up…
One space, hyphen or letter rarely changes the impression of a trademark. Making minor tweaks to an existing trademark is likely to create confusion in the consuming public and cannot help you go around a trademark.
Hopefully, this has answered your question and will help you make an informed decision when registering a trademark. If you have any other questions don’t hesitate to reach us at Miller IP Law. We’ll be more than happy to answer any questions related to trademarks and IP law. Otherwise good luck in your business!
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