Tuesday, May 26, 2009

N. Stephan Kinsella on Trademarks

Suppose some Lachmannian changes the name of his failing hamburger chain from LachmannBurgers to Rothbard Burgers, which is already the name of another hamburger chain. I, as a consumer, am hungry for a RothbardBurger. I see one of the fake RothbardBurger joints run by the stealthy Lachmannian, and I buy a burger. Under current law, Rothbard, the "owner" of the RothbardBurgers trademark, can prevent the Lachmannian from using the mark RothbardBurgers to sell burgers because it is "confusingly similar" to his own trademark. That is, it is likely to mislead consumers as to the true source of the goods purchased. The law, then, gives a right to the trademark holder against the trademark infringer.

In my view, it is the consumers whose rights are violated, not the trademark holder's. In the foregoing example, I (the consumer) thought I was buying a RothbardBurger, but instead got a crummy LachmannBurger with its weird kaleidoscopic sauce. I should have a right to sue the Lachmannian for fraud and breach of contract (not to mention intentional infliction of emotional distress and misrepresentation of praxeological truths). However, it is difficult to see how this act of fraud, perpetrated by the Lachmannian on me, violates Rothbard's rights. The Lachmannian's actions do not physically invade Rothbard's property.
N. Stephen Kinsella, Against Intellectual Property

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