We’ve spilled a lot of digital ink here over the past several years discussing the protection of non-traditional trademarks. We’ve also written about the importance of layering various intellectual property rights (trademark, copyright, and patent) to accomplish the competitive goals of a business. And, we’ve enjoyed writing about non-traditional vodka branding here and here

My business partner just finished building his deck. In addition to the bureaucratic ordeal, that is obtaining permitting, he decided to go the extra frustrating mile and install composite deck boards versus treated wood. Fair enough. There was just one little wrinkle: Normal deck screws will "mushroom" on you unless they are pre-drilled, or worse, split the board entirely. If you’re not careful, you can go through a few boards before you figure it out. And the boards are (not surprisingly) much more expensive.

To solve the problem, builders are instructed to use special screws.SplitStop™ screws seem to be the preferred choice – they have the patents (5,516,248, 5199,839, if you’re curious) – although others "claim" to work just as well. A simple Google search returns no less than 10 competing brands, all making a seemingly fair case that their screw is the right screw for the job. But none of them have the SplitStop patent, and numerous articles by independent reviewers bemoan the confusion in the marketplace.

In addition to the "patent" confusion, throw in a dose of "trademark" confusion, and you have a veritable IP mess. Titan Metal Werks (who owns the SplitStop name and patents) also markets the DeckEase™ product. Compare that to TrapEase™ (marketed by competitor FastenMaster).

And therein lies the question: What is Titan to do? Are the others infringing? Perhaps. Are they causing confusion in the market? Certainly. Is the confusion hurting the reputation of the Titan brands? Probably. Will Titan be able to get them to stop? Doubtful.


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