Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Buzztime Sues Sony for Trademark Violations

Buzztime, proprietor of pub trivia games, is suing Sony over its Buzz! franchise of trivia games. The suit alleges "malicous, fraudulent, knowing, willful and deliberate" trademark violations and seeks destruction of infringing products, actual and punitive damages, legal fees, and an order to not register three pending trademark applications containing the word Buzz! (one with the exclamation point and two without) filed by Sony. However, Buzztime doesn't have a trademark on the word "buzz," only on derivative marks like buzztime, buzzhead, share the buzz, and buzzkids. Buzztime claims they have some 13 million players each month.

What's All This Buzz About?

Trademark are around to protect the use of phrase, slogans, and other identifying marks in relation to specific products. Generally, the purpose of the trademark is to designate the origin of goods. Here, Buzztime is in the trivia video game business, so Sony's use of a similar mark could be infringing. However, trademark law takes into account the relation between the mark and the goods, giving four levels of classification: generic ("Computer" for a new computer), descriptive ("Holiday Inn"), suggestive ("Coppertone" for suntan lotion), or fanciful (Apple for computers). Depending on how the mark is classified, it will be granted different levels of protection. It is hard to say how the courts will classify the mark; my guess is that they will think it is descriptive. and therefore warranting little protection. However, the products are nearly identical, so there is a great likelihood of confusion. More on this as it develops...

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