Lisa Larimore Ouillette, Associate Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, responds to the article posted hereyesterday, in a note entitled, Does Running Out Of (Some) Trademarks Matter?, 131 Harv. Law. Rev. Forum 116 (2018) [pdf here]. While praising the work of Professors Beebe and Fromer, Professor Ouillette suggests further avenues of research regarding the actual costs or the countervailing benefits of either depletion or congestion, before recommending any change in the current trademark system.
In this short space, I wish to laud the remarkable descriptive contribution of Are We Running Out of Trademarks? while sounding a note of caution on the normative implications. Beebe and Fromer’s data convincingly demonstrate that short, common word marks are becoming depleted and congested, and they present a number of plausible hypotheses about the negative welfare impact of this trend. Their findings suggest that trademark policy has been based on false assumptions and should be closely reexamined. But their data cannot elucidate the actual costs of depletion or congestion — particularly without noting how the market will adapt to reduce these costs — and cannot reveal if there are countervailing benefits. Generating concrete evidence of these costs and benefits seems like a necessary next step before recommending any significant changes to the current trademark system. After offering a laudatory evaluation of the value of Beebe and Fromer’s descriptive work, I explore why reforms in reaction to their research should proceed cautiously, and I suggest important avenues for future empirical work to build on these results.