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‘Natural Zone of Expansion’ Broadens Trademark Rights

Trademark protection generally extends only to the goods and services the trademark owner actually offers. However, the law recognizes that a trademark owner’s zone of protection is somewhat expanded to included related goods and services. This theory of “natural zone of expansion” contemplates that consumers understand a connection between various goods or services, and a business that offers some items in connection with a brand is likely to be connected with the offering of similar goods or service under that brand. If a business has a registration for its mark for pants and shirts, for example, that owner can most likely stop a third party from using the mark for shorts. The gray area — and the one usually litigated — is the extent of what additional items fall within the natural zone of expansion, and which party first used the mark for the related goods or services in dispute. The same term has a related meaning in determining the geographic reach of a brand: If a mark is used in one region, the owner may also have rights in adjacent territories to which expansion seems appropriate.

Ned T. Himmelrich
410-576-4171 • nhimmelrich@gfrlaw.com