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What is a ‘confusingly similar’ mark?

Businesses spend massive resources in design, manufacturing and advertising to develop logos and packaging that make their product distinctive.

While there may be infinite possibilities for how parties do this, there are situations in which one company’s design is confusingly similar to someone else’s design. If a trademark protects either party’s work, this confusion could be grounds for a legal dispute.

Elements of a confusing symbol

The United States Patent and Trademark Office will generally refuse registration of a trademark if the material in question, including a logo, a tagline or phrase, is too similar to another mark.

Some of the reasons why the USPTO might determine a mark is confusingly similar include a mark with:

  • The same design elements as another mark
  • Different spelling that still sounds the same as another mark
  • The exact words as another mark but uses different fonts
  • Similar design elements and words translated into another language
  • A similar meaning or connection to consumers

These and other examples of what makes one mark confusingly similar to another can serve as grounds for the USPTO to reject someone’s trademark application. After all, the point of trademarking material is to protect an owner’s right to use it as a means of distinguishing itself from other products.

That said, a mark is not necessarily going to create confusion if it is similar to another used by a completely different industry in a different part of the world. It is the ones that occur among marks for related goods and services that can create confusion over the source of the product.

Making your mark (distinctive)

Researching your mark before you start manufacturing, advertising or selling products is crucial. You can conduct internet searches and check out competing company designs to look for potentially confusing elements.

If you find that another party is using a mark that is confusingly similar to yours, you can talk to an attorney about your options. However, you can prevent these scenarios by registering your mark with the USPTO so that conflicts will be easier to find if another party files a trademark application for a similar mark.


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