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The Great Legal Fight of Our Times: The Battle of the Trees

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In the high-stakes world of automobiles, secrets and ideas are closely guarded. This makes sense—in a market that is so vast, if your idea proves to have mass appeal, then you could stand to become very, very wealthy, especially if your product become iconic. This applies to everything relating to cars—tires, engines, technology—even those little air freshener trees.


Aka the bling of every taxi in America

Especially those little air freshener trees right now, actually, as Car-Freshener Corporation of Watertown, New York, is suing rival Exotica Fresheners Company of Holland, Ohio.

Car-Freshener is the maker of the now-famous pine-tree-shaped air fresheners that adorn rear-view mirrors across the nation.

Exotica Fresheners is the maker of a somewhat less famous palm-tree shaped air freshener.

The fight is over several startling similarities between the old, established Car-Freshener’s products and Exotica’s: both are sold wrapped in plastic, topped with a yellow card with a green tree logo, with fragrances named “Morning Fresh” (a pink tree), “New Car” (a blue tree), and vanilla (American flag).

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car-freshener green apple

Car-Freshener’s Green Apple “Little Tree”

Exotica green apple

Exotica’s Green Apple

Yeah, it sounds like pretty obvious copyright infringement to us, too.

On top of that, this isn’t the first time Car-Freshener has taken Exotica to court. Twenty years ago, Car-Freshener forced Exotica to cease production of its scents “Royal Pine” and “Vanillaroma,” as Car-Freshener had trademarked the names. Then, four years ago, Car-Freshener took Exotica to court and won over the “Black Ice” and “Icey Black” varieties that the latter was making, which seemed to have been derived from Car-Freshener’s “Black Ice” scent.

All in all, Car-Freshener is seeking a cease order on Exotica’s designs that infringe on Car-Freshener’s, and asking for an unspecified amount of money.

For all that, though, intellectual property professor Christopher Sprigman of New York University said Car-Freshener would have a very tough time winning the case, as Car-Freshener would have to prove that people will confuse the two brand’s products and think they came from the same company, which Sprigman doubts will happen.

Exotica’s lawyer, David Antonucci, made basically the same claim. “I submit to you that they have no evidence at all as to quality or confusion whatsoever” he said to the court, later adding, “Maybe maple versus oak, since I’m not a horticulturalist, that I could understand. Pine versus palm? Please. The Pepsi swoosh versus the Coke swoosh? I think we can see the difference.”

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Pepsi logo

Totally the same thing, apparently

As little as we would like to equate the less-successful of two producers of rear-view-mirror air fresheners with two of the most successful companies that exist, the comments from Professor Sprigman make us wonder.

News Source: The New York Times