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Two little letters have caused a major controversy between corporate giants, culminating in a lawsuit filed by ExxonMobil against FX Networks LLC and its studio affiliates, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. In September, FX launched its new network FXX, complete with a new logo featuring interlocking X’s (pictured at left). ExxonMobil, an oil and gas giant, says this new logo infringes its trademark rights, which have long incorporated an interlocking-X design.
ExxonMobil’s infringement claim is based on the consumer confusion FXX’s new logo might cause in the marketplace. In its complaint [PDF], ExxonMobil includes evidence of Internet postings [subscription required] that show users associating this new FXX logo with ExxonMobil’s longstanding use of its interlocking-X logo. But how many consumers will really confuse this new logo with ExxonMobil’s? Or is the issue one of endorsement and affiliation confusion?
A spokeswoman for FX Networks sent a comment to Bloomberg, saying that “[w]e are confident that viewers won’t tune into FXX looking for gas or motor oil and drivers won’t pull up to an Exxon pump station expecting to get ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’” However, ExxonMobil has, for decades, worked on building its brand through the use of trademarks, including some representations of the company using interlocking X’s alone, as well the “Exxon” and “ExxonMobil” branding. ExxonMobil does not want the public to become confused or assume some kind of relationship between the two companies: it has spent many years and millions of dollars building its brand’s goodwill, and it argues that allowing FX Networks continue using its interlocking-X logo would allow the network to capitalize on the brands ExxonMobil has worked to build.
When ExxonMobil requested that FX Networks alter its branding, the company refused, prompting this lawsuit to enjoin the network from using the design. Since trademark infringement claims focus on whether or not consumers will be confused, ExxonMobil is already building its case by compiling comments from the Internet that exhibit some confusion or assumptions that the new FXX logo is somehow associated with ExxonMobil.
At this point, neither company seems ready to back down from an impending fight over the use of interlocking X’s. ExxonMobil’s complaint clearly shows the company is prepared to defend the trademarks and brands it has built over many years. Nevertheless, FX Networks appears willing to fight for its new logo, evidenced by the comments made by its spokeswoman. The costs that these companies will incur, either through litigation or settlement negotiations, show the importance of researching trademarks before use. If FX Networks decides to fight this complaint in court, ExxonMobil will have an uphill battle to prove FX Networks’ new logo causes confusion for consumers in the marketplace.
[We maintain (1) that this image is not copyrightable for lack of Feistian originality (text); and (2) that this noncommercial trademark reference is a nominative (or other) fair use of this trademark. --Ed.]
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