The debate over trademark use has become a hot-button issue in intellectual property (IP) law. In Confusion over Use: Contextualism in Trademark Law, Graeme Dinwoodie and Mark Janis characterize it as a dispute over whether to limit trademark holder rights in a new and unanticipated way. Yet there is another – in our view more historically accurate - way to frame the trademark use debate: the question is whether courts should, absent specific statutory authorization, allow trademark holders to assert a new and unprecedented form of trademark infringement claim. The pop-up and keyword cases involve attempts to impose third-party liability under the guise of direct infringement suits. Dinwoodie and Janis's thorough account notwithstanding, it remains the fact that, before the recent spate of Internet-related cases, no court had ever recognized a trademark claim of the sort that trademark holders are now asserting. Trademark infringement suits have always involved allegations of infringement by parties who use marks in connection with the promotion of their own goods and services. The question raised by the trademark use cases, as we view it, is whether courts should countenance a radical departure from that traditional model without specific instruction from Congress. We think they should not.
In this paper, we explain the origins of trademark use doctrine in traditional limits on the scope of the trademark right and in the distinction between direct and contributory infringement. We also explain why we cannot simply rely on the likelihood of consumer confusion test to solve the problems the trademark use doctrine addresses, and we examine the difficult problem of defining the scope of the trademark use doctrine.