Beyond Search Costs: The Linguistic and Trust Functions of Trademarks
54 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2009 Last revised: 20 Mar 2011
Date Written: March 8, 2011
Modern trademark scholarship and jurisprudence view trademark law as an institution aimed at improving the amount and quality of information available in the marketplace by reducing search costs. By providing a concise and unequivocal identifier of the particular source of particular goods, trademarks facilitate the exchange between buyers and sellers, and provide producers with an incentive to maintain their goods and services at defined and persistent qualities.
Working within this paradigm, this Article highlights that reducing search costs and providing incentives to maintain quality are related yet distinct functions and shows that recognizing their distinct nature enriches our understanding of trademark law. The Article first develops a distinction between two functions of trademarks: a linguistic and a trust functions. Then, the Article demonstrates how the distinction provides a matrix for evaluating the normative strength of various trademark rules and doctrines. Under this matrix, rules that promote both functions would be considered normatively strong; rules that promote neither function would be normatively weak; and rules that promote one function but not the other would be normatively ambiguous, their strength depending on the results of a closer cost-benefit analysis.
Keywords: trademark, search costs, dilution, comparative advertising, initial interest confusion
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