Journal Article

Protection of trade marks against dilution: a semiotic perspective

Katya Assaf

in Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice

Volume 4, issue 9, pages 643-657
Published in print September 2009 | ISSN: 1747-1532
Published online July 2009 | e-ISSN: 1747-1540 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jiplp/jpp108
Protection of trade marks against dilution: a semiotic perspective

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This article deals with the cultural significance of the protection provided by the dilution doctrine in the US trade mark law.

Trade marks are symbols designed to enable the consumer to identify the source of various goods and services. Today, however, trade marks are also culturally meaningful signs. For example, the trade mark ‘Coca-Cola’ is associated with freedom and youth; ‘Chanel’ stands for exclusivity and European chic.

The cultural meaning of a trade mark is built up through marketing techniques that create associative links between the trade mark and various cultural signs such as freedom, youth, and intelligence. This article argues that these links are reciprocal. While the trade mark begins to carry some of the meaning of the cultural signs it has been linked to, these cultural signs also absorb some of the commercial flavour of the mark. An Omega watch on James Bond's hand makes the point that the Omega trade mark incorporates charm, intelligence, a suave sense of humor, etc. At the same time, however, James Bond absorbs some of the lifeless metal glow, some unsavory association with marketing.

The doctrine of dilution in the US law protects the cultural meaning of trade marks, restricting uses that add undesirable associations to them: ‘Enjoy Cocaine’, ‘Genital Electrics’, etc. The article argues that when the cultural meaning of trade marks is protected, the trade mark owners are encouraged to invest resources in marketing techniques that create this meaning. In this way, the US legal system actually contributes to cultural commercialization and reinforces the dominance of consumer culture in Western society.

Journal Article.  12090 words. 

Subjects: Arbitration ; Intellectual Property Law

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