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Fender Loses Lawsuit

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Scottsdale-based Fender Musical Instruments Corp. has lost a six-year legal battle to trademark the shapes of three of its most famous guitars.

 

The federal Trademark and Trial Appeal Board agreed with 17 smaller guitar companies that the shapes of the Stratocaster, Telecaster and Precision Bass have been so widely used for so long in the U.S. music industry that Fender alone does not own them.

 

The board, part of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, denied Fender's applications to register two-dimensional outlines of the guitar designs as its trademarks. The board published its decision March 25.

 

The decision was a huge victory for the guitar-making industry, said Ron Bienstock, a New York lawyer who represented Fender's opponents.

 

"Many of these companies were already making guitars using these outlines for 25 or 30 years," Bienstock said. "If Fender had registered them as trademarks, it would have had a monopoly on these shapes."

 

Fender could then ask the courts to order the small companies to stop making guitars, a move that he said would put "thousands" out of work. It also would have launched a new round of legal debates over what other guitar shapes would infringe on Fender's trademarks, he said.

 

Fender's lawyer, though, said the case was about defending the world's largest guitar manufacturer from foreign counterfeiters, not putting small firms out of business.

 

"As a top brand, just like Nike in footwear, we are a target," chief legal officer Mark Van Vleet said. "When people make a counterfeit product, they're going to knock us off because they know it's going to sell."

 

Fender filed for the trademarks as part of its global strategy to fight counterfeiters and protect its intellectual property, he said. The problem has gotten worse as copycats have guitars made in China, ship them to warehouses in the United States and sell them over the Internet, he said.

 

Fender is still deciding whether to appeal the trademark board's decision to a federal court, Van Vleet said.

 

Trademarks are words, symbols or even sounds that distinguish one company's product from another's and indicate to consumers a product's source. Companies register trademarks to get legal protection against copycats.

 

Fender founder Leo Fender introduced the Telecaster and the Precision Bass in 1951 and the Stratocaster in 1954. Musicians from the rock, jazz and country worlds have made the company's guitars famous.

 

Van Vleet said the company has trademarked its logo, outlines of its headstocks and other designs in countries around the world. The body designs were one thing it hadn't registered, he said, so in 2003, it applied for the U.S. trademarks on "a fancifully shaped configuration of the body portion of a guitar."

 

The trademark case hinged on consumers' perceptions, Van Vleet said.

 

"The whole question is, today when people see these shapes, do they associate Fender with being the source?" he said. The company commissioned a survey that sampled shoppers around the country and found that more than 60 percent of them identified the shapes as Fender's. It also submitted information on its sales, market share and advertising to the trademark board.

 

But Bienstock and the small guitar makers argued that others have used substantially similar designs for decades, making them generic and not distinctive to Fender.

 

The trademark board agreed that since at least the 1970s, U.S. consumers have been exposed to guitars in the three shapes from other companies. It also said Fender went for decades without claiming the body shapes as trademarks.

 

Van Vleet said the decision applies only to U.S. rights to the designs, and Fender has rights or is applying for them in other countries.

 

Fender has its corporate headquarters in Scottsdale and its manufacturing headquarters in Corona, Calif.

 

 

Anybody still wonder why Rickenbacker sues everyone?

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A landmark victory for thousands of Asian factory workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I have to agree it makes sense. Copies have been too prevalent for too long for Fender to hold a patent on a 2-D outline. And since Gibson lost the same type of battle, no surprise.

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If only they'd put their minds on perfect quality instead of money.. Still great products nonetheless, but imo it's different than the way Leo started Fender..

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A landmark victory for thousands of Asian factory workers.


But I have to agree it makes sense. Copies have been too prevalent for too long for Fender to hold a patent on a 2-D outline. And since Gibson lost the same type of battle, no surprise.

 

gibson fight was different. gibson HAS a trademark. the court just ruled the prs wasnt close enough to it to violate.

 

fender had nothing. calling this a lawsuit is probably misleading too as it brings up the notion that fender was suing other sand lost as gibson had to prs.

 

all they did was register the 3 marks in 2004, and people registered their reasons for it to be revoked and it was. just took a long time.

 

and no, this has nothing to do with why ric is so millitant. they own marks they must protect. fender had nothing and now never will have anything to protect here.

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The decision was a huge victory for the guitar-making industry, said Ron Bienstock, a New York lawyer who represented Fender's opponents.

 

"Many of these companies were already making guitars using these outlines for 25 or 30 years," Bienstock said. "If Fender had registered them as trademarks, it would have had a monopoly on these shapes."

 

Oddly, they allowed DiMarzio to trademark double cream bobbins (six screws and six slugs, and twelve hex screws).

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Oddly, they allowed DiMarzio to trademark double cream bobbins (six screws and six slugs, and twelve hex screws).

 

did dimarzio trademark them 50 years after releasing them to market and millions uppon millions of guitars were built by competitors using the same design?

 

if fender actually owned a trademark and was fighting for it, id support them all the way. but they dont.

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did dimarzio trademark them 50 years after releasing them to market and millions uppon millions of guitars were built by competitors using the same design?


if fender actually owned a trademark and was fighting for it, id support them all the way. but they dont.

 

Worse, they trademarked them 40 years after someone ELSE brought them to market.

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Still a Fender is a Fender not a copy of a Fender. So many companies make a better guitar than Fender for less money I can understand their concern. My advice to Fender is keep quality high and prices low.

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Does this include headstock shapes as well? That's where a Fender is a Fender IMO.

They already had trademarks on the headstocks. Since they lost the lawsuit on the bodies, they have been seriously going after guitar makers with headstocks even close to the Telecaster or Stratocaster.

 

I agree that they should focus more on quality and lower prices. They raised prices this year, but have failed to remain competitive. There are a lot of pretty nice, similar guitars coming out of Asia, for much less price.

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Scottsdale-based Fender Musical Instruments Corp. has lost a six-year legal battle to trademark the shapes of three of its most famous guitars.


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Anybody still wonder why Rickenbacker sues everyone?

 

You had me at "Hello".

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Worse, they trademarked them 40 years after someone ELSE brought them to market.

 

Brought them to market or kept them continuously on the market? Don't forget that unused trademarks fall back into the public domain and are fair game for appropriation by new users. In that respect (reusability) trademarks are quite different from other types of IP.

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If only they'd put their minds on perfect quality instead of money.. Still great products nonetheless, but imo it's different than the way Leo started Fender..

 

G&L FTW!

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