Monday, March 20, 2006

McKenna on Normative Foundations of Trademark

Mark P. McKenna (St. Louis University Law School) has posted The Normative Foundations of Trademark Law on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

This paper challenges the conventional wisdom that trademark law traditionally sought to protect consumers and enhance marketplace efficiency. Contrary to widespread understanding, early trademark cases were decidedly producer-centered. Trademark claims, like all unfair competition claims, sought to protect a producer from illegitimate attempts to divert its trade, and consumer deception was relevant in these cases only to the extent it was the method by which trade was diverted.

Moreover, American courts from the very beginning protected a party against improperly diverted trade by recognizing property rights derived from a natural rights theory of property. That traditional approach dictated very specific and workable restrictions on the scope of trademark protection. In fact, despite repeated claims that modern trademark law is illegitimate because it has lost its consumer focus, the expansion of trademark law in the twentieth century was more a consequence of the rise of consumer protection rhetoric than a rejection of that view.

This paper argues that the broad protection trademark law now provides deserves sustained scrutiny, but that criticisms can be leveled against modern doctrines must stand on their own merits and fairly confront the policy goals of modern trademark law. The criticisms cannot draw their normative force by pointing to "traditional" principles that did not exist.

Ben Barros

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