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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hunting Goodwill: A History of the Concept of Goodwill in Trademark Law

  • Author(s): Bone, Robert G.
  • et al.

A deep tension lies at the heart of trademark law. On the one hand, the law’s core mission is to facilitate the transmission of accurate information to the market. Hence the touchstone of liability has always been the likelihood of consumer confusion. On the other hand, it is also customary to refer to trademark law as protecting goodwill in a mark. The problems arise because these two ways of formulating the goal push in different normative directions and create a policy tension that frustrates attempts to formulate a coherent body of doctrine.

This Article examines how the goodwill concept originally entered trademark law and traces its intellectual and social history and its impact on trademark doctrine. Ever since the 1920s, and with greater frequency during the past two decades, courts have relied on the idea that trademark law protects against appropriation of goodwill to justify some rather broad, and ultimately ill-advised, doctrinal expansions. These expansions seem sensible extensions of trademark principles from the point of view of goodwill appropriation because of the elasticity of the goodwill concept, which can extend to include brand, firm, and in its broadest form, inherent goodwill. In the end, understanding this history gives a useful perspective from which to evaluate the role of goodwill in trademark law today and to propose reforms that would eliminate its pernicious effects.

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