So Fresh: Car-Scent Companies Duke It Out in Trademark Battle


The Car-Freshner Corporation prides itself in its Little Trees, those flimsy albeit potent diffusers of suffocating fragrance. In fact, Little Trees have freshness so on lock that OutKast might have to relinquish their title. But even more urgent is an ongoing legal battle between the Car-Freshner Corporation and their rival in car scent, Exotica Fresheners Company. Should the latter prevail, the Car-Freshner Corporation fears the dilution of its brand, their badge of freshness thrown into jeopardy.

Each company peddles a car freshener in a distinct shape. You’ve probably seen Car-Freshner’s pine; you may not have encountered the palm tree signifying Exotica’s brand. The problem: according to the Car-Freshner Corporation, Exotica has imitated them in just about everything else, including the colors, fragrance names, and packaging “topped with a yellow card emblazoned with a green tree logo and the product name written in an upward-slanting direction.”

And because Car-Freshner claims the unquestionable superiority of its product, it doesn’t want those shitty Exotica palm trees besmirching their good name. As Andy Newman of the New York Times reports, Car-Freshner “alleges that Exotica’s products are ‘likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception as to the source’ of the product, and to ‘falsely mislead consumers into believing’ that the products are ‘affiliated or connected with or are approved by’ Car-Freshner.”

We all choose a hill on which to die.

Of course, Exotica’s lawyer, David Antenucci argued to jurors that Car-Freshner is overreacting. It’s true “that there might resemblances,” but they are “superficial.” Ultimately, Antenucci asserted in court, “They have no evidence at all as to quality or confusion whatsoever.”

If Car-Freshner emerges victorious, Exotica must “stop using a design that [in their estimation] infringes on their trademark” and—as is custom—hand over a chunk of change. But it’s not clear that this will be the outcome. Although Car-Freshner has successfully taken Exotica to court in years past, this time the terms of debate are murkier.

New York University intellectual property law professor Christopher Sprigman tells the Times that Car-Freshner must demonstrate “that people will confuse the very shape of the defendant’s air fresheners and treat them as if they came from the same source…I’m pretty skeptical of this claim.”

Stay tuned, folks. The scent of your next Uber hangs in the balance.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via internets_dairy/Flickr.

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