Shattering pyrex To Show A Massive Weakness In Trademark Law

from the turn-up-the-heat-and-it-shatters dept

Trademark at its best is a means to protect the public and consumers. A brand may be associated with a particular product and a particular level of quality. Consumers seeking exactly that product and quality will seek that brand; Trademark laws ensure they're getting the real thing.

Take Pyrex: it's heat-resistant glass, what we used in chemistry lab in high school, what you buy if you're cooking and baking with a lot of heat changes. Except it's not, as this highly amusing video demonstrates (start watching at about 28:00):
What I and everyone I know always called Pyrex is in fact borosilicate glass. I didn't even know the term "borosilicate" until I watched this. Pyrex has never been commonly referred to as "Pyrex brand borosilicate glass." It was just Pyrex, the stuff you used in a lab, that you could heat up and cool down without breaking.

Trademark treats brands as "property," controlled exclusively by "owners," who can buy and sell them:
In 1998, Corning divested its consumer products division which subsequently adopted the name World Kitchen, acquiring the rights to the pyrex® trademark. The company introduced clear tempered soda-lime glass kitchenware and bakeware under the pyrex® name. link
According to Wikipedia, Corning's responsibility extends to this formality:
When trademarked as PYREX® (all UPPER CASE LETTERS plus, in the USA, a trademark notice comprising a capital “R” in a circle) the trademark includes clear, low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass used for laboratory glassware and kitchenware, plus other kitchenware including opaque tempered high-thermal-expansion soda-lime glass, pyroceram, stoneware, and metal items See. e.g., http://www.amazon.co.uk/s?index=kitchen-uk&field-keywords=pyrex. European trademark usage differs from American and the encircled "R" is not present on European PYREX items.

When trademarked as pyrex® (all lower case letters plus a trademark notice comprising a capital “R” in a circle) the trademark includes clear tempered high-thermal-expansion soda-lime glass kitchenware, plus other non-glass kitchenware, made by World Kitchen. See, e.g., http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=bl_sr_kitchen?node=1055398&field-brandtextbin=Pyrex
I don't think this passes the "moron in a hurry" test, but it's not put to the test because Corning isn't having a dispute with a competitor. Rather, they are misleading consumers, and Trademark law as it currently exists offers no remedy.

Consumer Reports did a video about glass bakeware exploding, but didn't address the Trademark issue at all:
Imagine if a counterfeiter were passing off soda lime glass as Pyrex. The outcry would be huge. Government agencies would be busting down doors and arresting people and using it as a reason to pass ACTA. But if Corning and their licensees do it under the Pyrex brand, all we can do is shrug.

In his book Against Intellectual Property, Stephan Kinsella argues that Trademark should protect the rights of consumers. He suggests Trademark suits should be brought by consumers against monopolists, not by monopolists against competitors. I have no answers, and like I said I'm not a Trademark abolitionist. I certainly don't want to increase the reach of Trademark law; I generally don't think more lawsuits are an answer to anything. But it's a good story to show that Trademark isn't as functional as we'd like it to be.

Filed Under: consumer protection, pyrex, trademark
Companies: pyrex


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  1. icon
    Yartrebo (profile), 7 Feb 2012 @ 10:32am

    A Little Clarification

    Under current law, a trademark neither identifies a producer, nor a product. It's a piece of property that property that the owner can do pretty much as they wish.

    The mark owner can:
    - License it to any other company or person, including to multiple ones at the same time, which means that trademarks do _not_ identify the producer of a product or service.
    - Use it on any product, or multiple products at once, which means that trademarks do _not_ identify the product or service.
    - Can sell, give, or license it will, which means that trademarks do _not_ ensure any sort of continuity in time with respect to owner.
    - Can change the products at will, or change which products are sold under the trademark at will, which means that trademarks do _not_ ensure any sort of continuity in time with respect to product.

    PS: I'm quite upset with trademarks in general. This post was more to show how messed up the system is rather than support it.

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