Too Close for Comfort


G.M. is suing Avanti Motors for producing a vehicle, the Studebaker XUV, that looks like the Hummer H2. "The Studebaker XUV is so similar to the H2 that the public will be confused by the knockoff of the H2," says a G.M. attorney. "G.M. will not allow its world-famous trademark rights to be violated."

It's doubtful that buyers will be tricked into thinking that Avanti's car is actually G.M.'s. At some point before plunking down $75,000+, they'll probably at least glance at the medallion that identifies the brand. The lawsuit is not aimed at preventing fraud; it's a way of protecting "intellectual property" that the law does not recognize. Since the way a car looks cannot be patented or copyrighted, G.M. is claiming a trademark violation. Ironically, G.M. was sued last year by DaimlerChrysler for using the trademarked Jeep grill design on the H2.

[Thanks to Jim Nelson.]

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  1. Is the design even registered as a trademark? Not that that matters for state law protection.

    However, one of the factors in determining an infringement is the sophistication of the buyers and any actual confusion that exists. Given the amount of purchase and the relatively small pool of buyers, I doubt this suit will survive.

    However, given the nature of trademark law, GM has to make this suit regardless. Not pursuing action against potential infringement can be used as evidence that you’re no longer claiming the trademark.

  2. I think the important thing here, is did GM actually ‘trademark’ the vehicle’s appearance? As a concept, if you follow the link to the Chrysler/GM lawsuit, at least the Chrysler thing was sort of convincing because of they do in fact have a trade mark on the Jeep grill appearance. They lost that lawsuit anyway.

    I think what they are claiming is that the Hummer trademark includes any vehicles which appear to look like Hummers, which I don’t think will stand up in court. In that case, what about other vehicles that looked like Hummers before GM bought the rights? Check out the Lamborghini LM-002, which I think is about as old as the original Hummvee.

  3. Studebaker? I mean, really….Studebaker?

  4. This is nuts. You can’t tell one car from another any more without looking at the medallion.

    My guess is this a slap suit from GM to run Avanti into the ground. It wouldn’t happen in the UK where the loser pays for the suit.

  5. They’re all made of plastic and break down after a trip to the corner store. They *all* stole eachothers design. They’re all pieces of !@#$.

  6. Studebaker XUV? Wasn’t that featured in Robocop?

  7. In contrast to what Jacob says in the post, you can patent the ‘appearance’ of something using a ‘Design Patent’. All carmakers pursue these for their cars – I saw some of them posted (along with recently granted utility patents) in the cafeteria at Chrysler when I used to work there. In any case, I think in order to violate the patent you would have to pretty much reproduce the thing as an exact copy. Despite significant similarities, the H2 and the XUV are different vehicle designs.

    I had a laugh a few years ago when I was working on a Ford vehicle program and happend to see what looked like a Chrysler minivan in one of their test labs. I thought it was a Chrysler that they bought to do some competitor analysis on, which is something auto companies frequently do. It looked exactly like a Chrysler Town & Country. Turned out to be the new Windstar that they’re currently selling. If GM can sue over the hummer, then Ford owes DC some big cash…

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