Avoiding product-name trademark infringement

by Rushing McCarl LLP Jan. 03, 2022

How similar does a product name need to be to a competitor’s trademark to constitute trademark infringement? In Cruise LLC et al v. Ford Motor Company,  No. 3:21-cv-05685 (N.D. Cal. July 23, 2021), two automobile companies butted heads over this issue.

General Motors filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company claiming that the name for Ford’s hands-free self-driving system, “BlueCruise,” was too similar to GM’s, named “Cruise.” 

Cruise was originally an independent startup that was bought by GM in 2016, and its technology has been used by GM since 2017. BlueCruise, on the other hand, is Ford’s technology that offers self-driving technology for Ford vehicles. GM and Cruise argued that the names were so similar that it would cause confusion between the systems. A major hurdle for GM was the car industry’s generic use of the word “cruise” in various contexts.

In early October, the judge conditionally dismissed the case based on the companies’ representations that they were likely to settle.

Several factors influence whether a product name infringes a competitor’s trademark. The central consideration is that the names must not cause consumers to be confused about the products.

In choosing a product name, companies have to be careful to research competitors’ products. They should also consider whether a chosen name includes words of such common usage that consumers are unlikely to associate them with a particular brand. Finally, they should document all steps relating to how projects are designed and named, and they should consult with experienced legal counsel before releasing major branded technologies into the marketplace.

The case is Cruise LLC et al v. Ford Motor Company, No. 3:21-cv-05685 (N.D. Cal. 2021)

Rushing McCarl LLP helps California businesses resolve disputes, mitigate legal risks, and protect their rights and hard-won assets.