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Trademarks Ain’t so hot, either…

David (on the Against Monopoly blog)–sure, it is understandable why you are “much more favorably inclined towards trademarks than other forms of intellectual property.” As you say, “It seems to me a good thing that it is possible to tell who you are doing business with, and no downside monopoly”. As I noted here, the primary justification for trademark rights is based on the notion of fraud–that the “infringer” is defrauding his customers by misrepresenting his identity and the source of the goods being sold (see pp. 43-44 of my Against Intellectual Property, pp. 59-63 of Reply to Van Dun: Non-Aggression and Title Transfer, p. 34 of A Theory of Contracts: Binding Promises, Title Transfer, and Inalienability).

But this analysis would give a cause of action to customers, however, not to the holder of the mark, who is not defrauded. Moreover, it would protect the customer only when there is fraud. For example, neither the customer (nor Rolex) should be able to sue Rolex knock-off companies, because people who buy fake Rolexes for $10 are not being defrauded. They know they are buying a cheap knock-off. But trademark law does give trademark holders–not customers–the right to sue infringers, regardless of whether there is really fraud to the consumer.

So while we can condemn fraudulent sales to customers, this is not what modern trademark law prevents. Modern state-run trademark law is almost as bad as cpoyright and patent, even if it has a less-objectionable core or origin. The fundamental problem with trademark law is that it is state law–it is created and administed by the state, which is a criminal organization. To expect justice from the state is like expecting a cat to bark.Thus we have trademark rights granted to trademark holders, instead of to customers, the real victims of fraud. Thus we have a statutory scheme establishing an arbitrary, artificial legal system and an inept bureaucracy to construe and enforce it. Thus we have ridiculous extensions of trademark to cover “anti-dilution” rights, much as the term and scope of copyright and patent are gradually increased over time. And thus we have the government’s courts used like trademark’s more infamous cousins, copyright and patent, to stifle competition and squelch free speech. See, e.g., A Bully-Boy Beer Brewer, Straight Talk; 9th Circuit Appeals Court Says Its Ok To Criticize Trademarks After All; Trademarks and Free Speech; Beemer must be next… (BMW, Trademarks, and the letter “M”); Hypocritical Apple (Trademark); ECJ: “Parmesian” Infringes PDO for “Parmigiano Reggiano”; Engadget Mobile Threatened For Using T-Mobile’s Trademarked Magenta.

Clearly, this is just another example highlighting why the state is worse than useless; it is a harmful criminal organization.

And in fact, US trademark law is unconstitutional. While the US Constitution, to the extent it is legitimate and not just the de facto result of a successful coup d’etat, unwisely authorizes Congress to enact copyright and patent law, no provision is made for trademark law. Instead, trademark law is based on an unconstitutionally expanded reading of the Interstate Commerce clause. As James J. Kilpatrick noted in The Sovereign States: Notes of a Citizen of Virginia, in describing the Supreme Court’s illegitimate expansion of power under the guise of the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause:

It was an insidious process, conducted with the care of the cat that stalks her prey – now creeping forward, now pausing to sniff the air; now advancing, now lying still as the bird takes alarm; then edging forward again, and so, step by inexorable step, moving to the ultimate seizure.

But it started at the very beginning of the United States. Tom Dilorenzo, in The Founding Father of Constitutional Subversion, explains:

“Hamilton was also likely to be the first to twist the meaning of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gave the central government the ability to regulate interstate commerce, supposedly to promote free trade between the states. Hamilton argued that the Clause was really a license for the government to regulate all commerce, intrastate as well as interstate. For “What regulation of [interstate] commerce does not extend to the internal commerce of every State?” he asked. His political compatriots were all too happy to carry this argument forward in order to give themselves the ability to regulate all commerce in America.”

So don’t stop with copyright and patent: abolish the unconstitutional Lanham Act, and its unjustifiable grant of trademark rights to trademark holders instead of defrauded customers, and maintain the link to fraud (knockoffs are fine; no anti-dilution law).


Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.

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