By: Rishele Ellison
“Strange Music,” founded by well-known Kansas City rap artists Tech N9ne in 1999, filed a trademark infringement claim against the newly formed California record label “Strainge Entertainment,” which is headed by founder Elliot Grainge, the son of Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge.
Strange Music filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri claiming that the new competitor is confusing rap and hip-hop consumers through the use of similar trademarks. In the 24-page lawsuit filed by Strange Music, they allege that Strainge violated Strange Music’s intellectual property rights by “unlawfully adopting the STRAINGE Marks, which are confusingly similar to the STRANGE Marks as used in connection with identical goods and services in the music industry.” They furthered their allegation by stating that “consumers are already confused, and are likely to continue to be confused.” Strange Music also contends that CEOs of Strainge Entertainment offered Stange Music an opportunity to join their distribution company, Caroline, but Strange Music wasn’t interested.
The suit further states that “Strainge Entertainment adopted the Strainge Marks egregiously, willfully, and intentionally to try to capitalize on Strange Music’s notoriety, goodwill, and reputation in the music industry.” In addition to a preliminary and permanent injunction against Strainge Entertainment, Strange is seeking actual damages (“in an amount to be proven at trial”) to include legal costs and attorneys’ fees.
Being that Strange Music was used in commerce in 1999, well before “Strainge Music” was conceived, it seems that this a is a clear open and shut case. But, for good measure, let’s compare the facts.
So, what is trademark infringement? To put it simply, trademark infringement is present when there is a likelihood of confusion between two different marks used in commerce to identity similar goods and/or services. A party that files for trademark infringement (Strange Music, in this instance) has the burden of proof of demonstrating that the owner of the mark (1) has a protectable interest in the mark, and that (2) the opposing party’s use of their mark is likely to cause consumer confusion.
When determining whether a mark has the potential to cause a likelihood of confusion with another registered mark is through the Sound, Appearance, Meaning (S.A.M.) analysis. Thus, we will start with sound. “Strange” and “Strainge” definitely sound the same. Appearance wise, the two words look identical enough to be confusing. The “i” looks like a typo, and the addition of one letter doesn’t change the appearance of the word enough to make any significant difference. As for the meaning? This is where things can get tricky! As of today, “strainge” is not recognized as an actual word in the English dictionary. However, due to it’s phonetic pronunciation, it’s likely that the owner of the mark intended for people to associate their variation of the word “strainge” with the English word “strange.” If that were the case, then it would mean that they would indeed have the same meaning. Despite the idea that the names may have different origins, the mere fact that they’re both in the entertainment industry gives them the same objective, mission, and, dare I say, meaning.
Personally, it seems highly unlikely that Strainge Entertainment would win this case. Even if Strainge Music attempted to trademark its name at this point, their application has a high likelihood of rejection by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Representatives for Strainge Entertainment have been contacted but have offered no statement on this matter.