Little Trees Air Freshener Company Ads Warn People Not To Mess With Its Trademark

from the seems-a-bit-proactive dept

We've seen a variety of overly aggressive actions concerning trademarks lately that go well beyond the stated purpose (and the letter of the law) concerning trademarks. However, one of our readers, BendWeather, sent in something we hadn't seen before. He was reading the latest (paper) copy of PhotoShop User Magazine and discovered the following advertisement:
Little-Trees-Ad
Now, I have no problem with the company, Little Trees, that makes those "car-fresheners" enforcing their trademarks when there's a real violation of the trademark, but it seems quite odd to become so proactive that you would take out an ad specifically warning people that it's a trademark violation "no matter how you use it." That, of course, is false and a misstatement of trademark law... as is the information on Little Trees' own web page about its trademark, where the company incorrectly claims that "the law requires that we take action when someone is using them without permission."

That is not true. The law requires that a trademark holder actively police infringement on its trademarks and activity that would likely cause confusion or dilution of the trademark. That does not mean any use that is without permission. For example, in writing this post about Little Trees' trademark policy we did not ask permission, nor should we need it, since we are commenting on the policy itself. We are not competing with the company, confusing anyone as to the origins of the mark, or diluting the value of the mark, unless you consider explaining how the company is overly stating the rights associated with the mark as diminishing its value (which would be quite the legal argument).

Also, in looking at the ad, the company is being somewhat misleading in claiming that the image is "private property." It is not. It is covered by trademark, which is not the same thing as private property, and the company is doing a disservice to everyone claiming that they are the same thing.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Little Tree, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 5:29pm

    Big Ass

    Next time they should consult with a little lawyer before making such a big ass of themselves.

    It is probably an attempt at free advertising

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Erv Server, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:11pm

    see the forest thru the trees

    I wonder if they aren't directly speaking to someone in particular

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Poster, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:18pm

    It's inevitable now...

    In before Techdirt gets sued.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:31pm

    The fact the ad appears in a Photoshop user magazine should tell you somehing...if only you would listen.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    The Devil's Advocate, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:57pm

    Well actually...

    There are knock-offs of the Little Trees design floating around at budget stores. I've seen a few in my days of bargain hunting.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    reed, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 7:20pm

    Your in big trouble

    I am a lawyer who represents the Little Tree Company. You have re-printed our ad in order to benefit your tech blog without our express permission. Since you gather revenue from your advertising we believe you now owe us a large sum of money.

    We can fight this out in a long protracted legal battle, or you can just settle NOW.

    Please make your check payable to Litte Tree Legal Services. You pick the amount and we will let you know if we are insulted.

    -The Legal Mafia

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    big bad john aka john the knife, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 7:33pm

    Re: Your in big trouble

    To The Legal Mafia:

    I'm an enforcer for the Really Big Tree Enforcement Agency and we are notifying that you are in violation of our property (which is whatever we say it is) rights. Scrape together as much $$ as you can, anything over 7 figures, and if we accept it, we won't break your legs and leave you in a dumpster. Then, send send the same amount every week in perpetuity, or else...

    -Big Tree Enforcement

    P.S. Uncle Guido says hi to Vinnie and to tell him that his cousin Frankie is looking for him - he better be scarce for awhile.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 7:36pm

    Well given that I guess copies of the "Tree" air freshener aren't legal, and I've no idea how to tell the real from the fake, I guess I just won't buy any "Tree" shaped air freshener just to be safe that I'm not supporting any "bad guys" :)

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Jeff, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 7:40pm

    Morons

    I think I'll design a car pillow, that gives off a nice scent when you squeeze it, and call it CAR FRESHNER!

    Little Trees couldn't possibly sue as there is no way in hell someone would get confused between the difference of a pillow, and a fookin tree.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 12:16am

    Re:

    Did listen, Little Trees is STILL WRONG.
    Sorry.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 1:12am

    Is there an epidemic of Little Trees photo manipulation? Well, I did just see a T-Shirt that had a little tree on it and said "what if this was the only tree left to hug?"

    but I don't see how that is detrimental to the business of selling Air Fresheners.

     

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  12.  
    icon
    Peter Blaise Monahon (profile), Jan 17th, 2009 @ 6:14am

    No surprise here, just trademark owners going about their business

    .

    No surprise here, just trademark owners going about their business .. if inarticulately (hey, they make stinkin' flat pine tree car ornaments, after all - and only for a buck!)

    Opening post:

    "... a misstatement of trademark law... as is the information on Little Trees' own web page about its trademark, where the company incorrectly claims that "the law requires that we take action when someone is using them without permission." ..."

    "... That is not true. The law requires that a trademark holder actively police infringement on its trademarks and activity that would likely cause confusion or dilution of the trademark ..."

    BOTH WRONG!

    The "law" does not "require" ANYTHING!

    However, as stated, precedent seems to show that registered trademark holders get better protection in court and in actions at the US Trademark Office when they can show that they have been aggressively acting to prevent their trademark from becoming generic or "diluted".

    Since Photoshop users tend to be a funnel where familiar images of trademarks get played with, it makes absolute sense for trademark owners to jump into Photoshop user's faces and say,

    "Hey, create your own stuff, this is ours!"

    You think this is bad? You think this is inarticulate misunderstanding of trademark law and intellectual property law (not "private" property law - geesh!), read some public documents from supposedly in-the-know trademark lawyers themselves!

    Hahahahahahah!

    .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Zaphod, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 7:20am

    In the spirit of levity...

    I'd love to see "Glow Ons" (cough, cough) pull off (ahem) an ad stunt like this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    gene_cavanaugh, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 10:19am

    Little Trees trademark

    RIGHT ON, Michael! I agree completely, though I would say that instead of "law requires" it is more accurate to say the "law allows", since the law simply permits you to combat dilution of the trademark, if you so choose.
    It is very unfortunate that sometimes well-heeled lobbyists or companies do get law enforcement involved - that is a severe distortion of the law, IMO.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 11:58am

    The law isn't so Simple...it's just twisted by the attorneys for and against

    Read this case for a primer on a true case tried in a court of law. Attorney Bruce Kaser is the defendant, it's also interesting that Bruces Kaser is a practicing IP attorney. Kaser in testimony perjured himself to the court. At Hearing dated Oct. 30, 2002, when asked “Do you have a time frame when you expect to enter into the marketplace with this product?”, Mr. Kaser answered, “I don’t have a specific time frame right now.” (Id.) Mr. Kaser testified that petitioner is not presently engaged in any other business except developing the product, and that petitioner has not engaged in any other business in the past except developing the product. (Id. at 73.) Yet, Kaser is the the Attorney of Record in the matter Q-Pharma, Inc. v. Andrew Jergens Corp., No. C01-1312P (W.D. Wash. Sept. 10, 2002)http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/federal/judicial/fed/opinions/03opinions/03-1184.html DECIDED: August 14, 1996 http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/federal/judicial/fed/opinions/95opinions/95-1531.html Bruce A. Kaser, Miller, Nash, Wiener, Hager & Carlsen, of Seattle, Washington, argued for defendant-appellee. Argued and Submitted May 6, 2002—Seattle, Washington Bruce A. Kaser, Miller Nash LLP, Seattle, Washington, for the appellant. http://vlex.com/vid/18470393 9 At the time the petition to cancel was filed, Mr. Kaser was a lawyer at Miller Nash LLP, the law firm which filed the proceeding on behalf of petitioner and which remains counsel of record for petitioner. Mr. Kaser now is a partner at another law firm, David Wright Tremaine. 10 Indeed, it appears that petitioner, Nobelle.com LC, is as likely to end up in the winery or orchard business as it is to end up in the business of manufacturing and selling telephone products. When he was asked “Are you seeking to engage in any other business other than the power supply products for Nobelle.com?”, Mr. Kaser replied in the affirmative, explaining that “There’s a very good chance that I’ll be starting up a local orchard or perhaps a winery and I may use the name in connection with that. I haven’t decided.” (Kaser depo. at 73.)

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 12:06pm

    Re: The law isn't so Simple...it's just twisted by the attorneys for and against

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Audie Hopson, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 12:14pm

    Law requires vs Law allows

    This is nothing new, telephone companies, credit card providers, and many others use such terminology any time they want to raise their rates. Simply blame it on the regulators! Apparently bald faced lie's are permissible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    mark, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 1:16pm

    Those things make really good emergency fire starters, like if you get stranded somewhere...

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Chris, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 1:54pm

    Company has bad attitude...the lose a customer, simple.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Peter, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 2:38pm

    Dufus companies

    Their products aren't worth anything at all. Unless of course you want to make your car smell like a french prostitute, (darnit now I have insulted hardworking French prostitutes, Sorry girls).
    Their understanding of Trademark law and infringement has been damaged by the odor of their inventory. Its amazing how much damage can be done to mental capacity by disgustng overpowering odiforous chemical compounds.
    Keep your little trashy trees you crap mongers. Its suprising that you haven't trademarked them as vacuum cleaners, after all, they really SUCK.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Bill M., Jan 17th, 2009 @ 8:15pm

    It's not just a cute little ad...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2009 @ 12:49am

    Re: No surprise here, just trademark owners going about their business

    It's amazing that people will go out and pay thousands of dollars for sophisticated computers and software and then "play with" the Little Trees trademark. I'd raise quite a stink (Pine scented of course) if I were them too. This must be stopped!
    - viva los usuarios del photoshop de los pequeños árboles

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Earl, Jan 18th, 2009 @ 1:01am

    My air Freshiner ain't mine?

    Ifin I got one of these things hangin in my ol pickup, it's private property ... even if I put it in my trailer or Bobby Lee's out house? Dang, I thought I could do what I wanted with it without havin to ask permision from some darned ol lawyer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    charlie potatoes, Jan 18th, 2009 @ 11:55am

    BOYCOTT

    Ok, I never bought one of their crappy little smelly assed trees, but now ... I intend to buy even less.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2009 @ 2:12pm

    Uh - oh

    Now come every December I will need to pay a license fee for the privledge of having the likeness of a pine tree in my livingroom.
    Damnit

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    RI, Jan 18th, 2009 @ 2:46pm

    OH No

    I bought one from a store. It was private property. Now I can't use it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous of Course, Jan 18th, 2009 @ 10:01pm

    Icons

    Now all I can think about is the movie
    Repo Man. Damn you, Little Trees!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2009 @ 10:47pm

    Sounds like the perfect spark to set off a new PHOTOSHOP CONTEST!! WOO WOO

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    JPFife, Jan 19th, 2009 @ 2:16am

    Quote: "We have over twenty registered trademarks (as well as many unregistered ones), "

    Unregistered trademarks? Surely a non sequitur.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Rez, Jan 20th, 2009 @ 3:19pm

    Little Trees, Se7en?

    All I can think of when I see 'Little Trees' that scene in the movie "Se7en," where the cops break into a filthy apartment strung with literally hundreds of Little Trees, only to find the mutilated, desiccated, near-dead victim of "John Doe." I'm sure *that* did wonders for Little Tree sales.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Vrtigo1, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 8:13am

    You're inserting claims where none exist

    The ad doesn't claim a trademark violation, "no matter how you use it". It may insinuate it, but it doesn't go so far to actually say it. It claims that the design is private property, which is not the same thing as claiming a trademark violation. As pointed out in the post, the "private property" phrase is dubious, but you should be clear on the two separate issues here.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 25th, 2009 @ 10:58pm

    Re: OH No

    lol

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Bruce Kaser, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 9:39pm

    Re: The law isn't so Simple...it's just twisted by the attorneys for and against

    Hey, anonymous coward, your comments are interesting. Just so you know, it did take a while for the hazelnut trees to go in...and I was planning something different then than now. But the first 30 acres finally went into the ground about 5 years ago. We're planning on adding another 19 acres in two years. If you are interested, it takes about 10 years for the trees to become fully productive; yield is slightly more than one ton per acre; and the price has been holding steady at around $1.00 per pound (slightly less this year)...not much money in hazelnuts, really, unless you shell them and sell under a label. You'll be interested in knowing that a new tree variety was released this year that is fully resistant to the eastern Filbert blight. Know anything about the Jefferson variety? Send me your real email address and I'll email you a couple of photos of the orchard in the wintertime, at least if you think you are interested. As for the wine...that got started a little late too. But you can check out my picture at www.rockmeadowcellars.com along with some good friends. Let me know if you want on the mailing list, although we can't ship out of state. Yep. Its not what I want to do, just yet, but I'm trying. If things go well, I'll be doing something different in about 10 years...watch out for an interesting Pinot label, then, if you like Pinot. Thanks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    CadeRageous, May 8th, 2009 @ 12:40pm

    have been for months

    I've seen these funny/terribly designed ads for months. They place them in many design rags. But this does heighten their icon status in a way too.

    We all love the little trees--don't lie.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 1:21pm

    They have to make money somehow

    You know what is funny is that they (CAR-FRESHNER) actually employs people to surf the web to find "illegal" images of their stupid air fresheners. They have jobs in the "legal" department.

    More funny than that is they encourage all employees to turn in any "sightings" of trees in any media so that their Legal team can see if it is licensed or not.

    Even more funny than that is in return. the employee who reports the "sighting" can get a coupon for a free lunch at their god-forsaken cafeteria.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Gareth Botha, Sep 10th, 2010 @ 6:38am

    I see these Little Tree ads in HOW Magazine, Print Magazine and Communication Arts magazine too. Is there some reason they are targeting graphic designers, I wonder? I've found it rather off-putting. The ad appears to talk down to and patronize their audience. I'll never be buying any of their products after seeing their ads.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Mark May, Jun 29th, 2011 @ 3:06am

    hi

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Am Mark May and i want to buy some Air Fresheners, i want you to email me with the types you have as well as the flavor you have.
    Thank you

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Little Tree Lover, Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 12:16am

    Little Trees

    My dad has one of the Little Trees in Vanillaroma in the car its a real one but in the shops I sea tons of American brands trying to copy it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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