Rapunzel, Let Down Your… Registered Trademark?

Richard Rimer

May 12, 2023

Fun Fact: Trademark law came into existence as a form of consumer protection.

Medieval consumers came to rely on the marks that were assigned to artisans by the guilds (i.e., “trade marks”). The original laws punished people who copied these “marks,” thereby trying to confuse consumers into buying their goods. “Likelihood of confusion” is still the standard applied today.

While the early laws were criminal (e.g., France would hang an innkeeper that sold common wine under a fraudulent label), today the laws are entirely civil. Companies sue other companies.

Given the policy behind trademark law, you might think a consumer could sue under the law. You would be wrong.

Recently consumer Rebecca Curtin brought an action against United Trademark Holdings to prevent UTH from acquiring a registration in the RAPUNZEL brand for dolls. Curtin explained that this registration would harm her as a consumer of dolls.  She alleged that the registration would decrease competition and increase prices for products related to that fictional character. (FWIW: Curtin is also a law professor.)

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board held that Curtin was not a suitable person to bring this case. The TTAB followed precedent that states a plaintiff must claim harm to reputation or sales. In other words, trademark law does not allow consumers to sue companies. 

Even if they think they will be harmed.

And even if they are law professors.