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Oil giant ExxonMobil won a small victory in a Texas federal court this week. A judge allowed its trademark dilution claims to proceed against the FXX network over the "XX" design in their logos.
Both ExxonMobil and the FXX network (owned by Fox) feature stylized interlocking Xs in their logos; Exxon is claiming under Texas state law that FXX is watering down the commercial impact of its logo. The Hollywood Reporter notes that FXX already owns the standard trademark to "FXX," claiming this bars any trademark dilution claims against the network.
The federal judge sided with Exxon and allowed the suit to proceed, but why?
Although ExxonMobil filed its suit in federal court, one of the seven claims it made against FXX was actually under Texas trademark dilution law.
In terms of federal law, the Federal Trademark Dilution Act serves to prevent third parties from making marks which don't exactly infringe on an existing trademark, but serve to diminish or dilute its effectiveness.
Texas' trademark dilution law would allow Exxon to prove it had a "famous" mark (its "XX" logo) in the state of Texas prior to FXX's genesis, and could allow a court to block its FXX from using the "XX" part of its logo anywhere in the state. Since FXX aims to be national cable network, this isn't exactly an option.
While most trademark claims under state law are pre-empted by federal law under the Lanham Act, a federal judge determined that in this case, Exxon could sue under Texas law. And it relied largely on the difference between a standard character and "special form" trademark.
The powers that be at Fox had successfully registered a standard character trademark for "FXX," which had not been opposed by Exxon. While standard character marks give general protection over a name and spelling, federal courts have ruled that they do not make any claims on font, color, or size.
By contrast, special form trademarks can grant ownership over design elements (like the interlocking U and T in the University of Texas' logo), but Fox hadn't acquired that for FXX's interlocking Xs. Since there was no special form trademark covering the issue, there was no federal pre-emption of Exxon's claim about the style element of two Xs overlapping.
The judge's ruling doesn't mean Exxon has won its Texas trademark dilution claim. Rather, it just won the right to continue litigating the issue despite FXX's standard character trademark.
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