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We have all seen people walking around with their ears covered by the popular Beats by Dr. Dre headphones with the circle b logo. According to Forbes magazine, those headphones helped propel Dr. Dre to the top of the list of 2012’s top-earning musicians, with earnings of $110 Million. Needless to say, those headphones have been very, very good to Dr. Dre and Beats Electronics, LLC, and they want to keep it that way; even if that means preventing others from capitalizing on the “beats” moniker.
Under U.S. trademark law, the owner of a trademark can oppose the registration of other trademarks that will cause a “likelihood of confusion.” Beats Electronics, which owns a number of beats-related trademarks for use on headphones, speakers and other electronics, is on all-out-mission to block trademark applications using the words “beats,” “beat,” and even “beatz” in what some consider an overly aggressive offensive. One of the biggest targets of Beats Electronics’ opposition strategy is Sony Computer Entertainment, maker of the PlayStation, which seeks to trademark “beats” for computer games, toy figures and online gaming services. Beats Electronics asserts that the public is likely to be confused by the registration of Sony’s “beats” trademark. Beats Electronics has also opposed trademark applications by other third parties containing the word beats (or close variations thereof), even though some of those marks are attached to such unrelated items as clothing, software programs, and electronic greeting cards. Some of the trademarks that have been opposed include “Nasty Beats,” “Life Beats,” “Fresh Off the Beats,” “Our Beats,” “Urban Beatz,” “Beats 4 Cheap,” and “Filthy Beats.”
Beats Electronics also contends that allowing the other “beats” trademarks will cause “dilution” of its trademarks. The concept of trademark dilution developed from the premise that some trademarks are so well known and “famous” that they deserve a higher level of protection beyond the “likelihood of confusion” analysis. In order for the owner of a trademark to show dilution, it must show that it owns a famous mark. Examples of famous marks include Coca-Cola, Nike, Facebook, McDonalds and Apple. Beats Electronics apparently believes that its trademarks are just as famous, and deserve the same level of protection.
It remains to be seen how successful Beats Electronics’ strategy will be in the Trademark Office, but it is already proving to be a failure in the court of public opinion.