When Cartoons Attack: Inspector Gadget Home Inspections Accused of Infringing Cartoon Character’s Trademark

When Cartoons Attack: Inspector Gadget Home Inspections Accused of Infringing Cartoon Character’s Trademark

Is there a likelihood of confusion between Inspector Gadget, the robotic, bumbling, cartoon detective, and Inspector Gadget Home Inspections, the home, mold and termite inspection service? Cookie Jar Entertainment Inc., owner of the cartoon Inspector Gadget's intellectual property rights, thinks so.

On March 16th, Cookie Jar filed a complaint against Inspector Gadget Home Inspections, asserting the following federal claims:

  • Trademark Infringement/Dilution
  • False Designation of Origin
  • Violation of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act

In its complaint, Cookie Jar alleges that the defendant operates a home inspection business under the name "Inspector Gadget Home Inspections." In connection therewith, the defendant filed a trademark application to register the trademark "Inspector Gadget Home Inspections" and also registered and is using the Internet domain name inspectorgadget.net.

The complaint accuses the defendant of misusing Cookie Jar's Inspector Gadget trademark in its business name and domain name, thereby significantly injuring Cookie Jar's reputation and goodwill and diluting the distinctiveness of the Inspector Gadget trademark. On the issue of confusion, Cookie Jar alleges:

Defendant adopted and placed Cookie Jar's entire INSPECTOR GADGETS trademark into Defendant's business name in an intentional and deliberate manner designed to attract consumers to his business based upon their confused, mistaken and/or deceived belief that the products and services of Defendant are sponsored by, endorsed by, or approved by Cookie Jar and/or that Defendant is somehow sponsored by, endorsed by, or affiliated with or Cookie Jar, when it is not.

Defendant intentionally, willfully and deliberately registered the Internet domain name <inspectorgadget.net>, that incorporates Cookie Jar's entire INSPECTOR GADGETS trademark, in order to attract consumers to his business based upon their confused, mistaken and/or deceived belief that the products and services of Defendant are sponsored by, endorsed by, or approved by Cookie Jar and/or that Defendant is somehow sponsored by, endorsed by, or affiliated with Cookie Jar, when it is not.

While confusion, in this case, remains to be seen, it's not unusual for animated or imaginary characters to accuse others of creating confusion. Before the Inspector Gadget lawsuit, Toucan Sam, King Kong and Godzilla all took their trademark claims to court. Those cases are listed below:

Kellogg Co. v. Toucan Golf, Inc., 337 F.3d 616 (6th Cir. Mich. 2003) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law]

Kellogg claimed that Toucan Golf, Inc.'s word mark and its corresponding toucan logo created a likelihood of confusion with, and diluted the distinctiveness of, Kellogg's five federally-registered and incontestable "Toucan Sam" logos and word mark.

Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., 746 F.2d 112 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1984) [enhanced version]

Universal alleged that the Donkey Kong name, character and story constituted false designation of origin because Nintendo's actions falsely suggested that its product originated with or was authorized, sponsored or approved by the owner of the King Kong name, character and story.

Toho Co. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 645 F.2d 788 (9th Cir. Cal. 1981) [enhanced version]

Toho accused Sears of improperly using a likeness of Toho's movie character, Godzilla. Sears sold garbage bags in boxes which displayed the word "Bagzilla," depicted a personified reptilian creature, and carried the legend "Monstrously Strong Bags."

For a better understanding of this case, read:

1-11 The Law of Advertising § 11.02 The Lanham Trademark Act and Advertising (Non-subscribers can purchase The Law of Advertising at the LexisNexis Bookstore)

A principal goal of almost all business owners is to build an association, in the minds of purchasers of their goods and services, between those goods and services and their source and quality so as to assure repeat purchases, customer loyalty and trust. This goal is best accomplished by adopting a mark which is disseminated as widely as possible through advertising. ...

1-6 Trademark and Unfair Competition Deskbook § 6.05 Similarity of Goods and Services (Non-subscribers can purchase Trademark and Unfair Competition Deskbook at the LexisNexis Bookstore)

Courts tend to presume confusion is likely where goods sold under the same or similar marks are themselves similar, the same, or closely related. This presumption is founded on the premise that consumers have been conditioned to assume that manufacturers and merchants usually manufacture and market their goods and services within related fields. Thus ....

3-28 Business Torts § 28.05 Trademark Dilution (Non-subscribers can purchase Business Torts at the LexisNexis Bookstore)

The theory of trademark dilution offers an alternative and additional claim for owners of strong, well-recognized trademarks against the users of similar marks. Trademark dilution is the weakening of a mark's ability to clearly and unmistakably distinguish the product's source. 1 Trademark dilution claims often arise when a defendant has used the plaintiff's trademark ....

1-2A Gilson on Trademarks § 2A.05 Likelihood of Confusion (Non-subscribers can purchase Gilson on Trademarks at the LexisNexis Bookstore)

At the very heart of a trademark infringement claim lies the issue of likelihood of confusion. It can affect every aspect of the litigation, foreshadowing a meticulous factor-by-factor search for the overall equities of the case. 1

It is settled public policy that the Lanham Act exists to protect consumers from being confused ....

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