Do you have an advertisement for your goods or services (including trademarked goods/services) in which they are compared to those of a competitor? Is one of your competitors comparing your goods/services to theirs? That is comparative advertising, and it is generally permissible. However, all comparative advertisements must be truthful and must not be deceptive. Truthful comparative advertisements are beneficial to consumers and can help them make good purchasing decisions. In short, if you want to create a comparative advertisement and avoid any pitfalls, be honest, accurate, and truthful.
Comparative advertisements usually highlight measurable characteristics between goods/services, such as price. However, other metrics can be used, including comparing speed of service, better taste, quality of product, etc. in comparative advertisements.
Comparative advertisements are governed by a variety of regulations and laws. However, the main ones are The Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act) and Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. 1125(a) (aka the “Trademark Act”)). Your advertisement may attack or criticize a competitor’s goods/services as long as your statements are truthful and not deceptive. So, your comparison could be literally true, but it cannot be deceptive. To avoid deceptive comparisons, do not omit facts that may mislead a consumer who then makes a decision based on your misleading statement. Truthful comparative advertisements can help maintain a strong brand in your trademark.
There are multiple avenues to take when another company is improperly comparing its goods/services in a comparative advertisement. Demand letters (including takedown requests) may be sent to both the company with the comparative advertisement and its web hosting provider or outlet where the advertisement is displayed. You may file a complaint with the FTC, but this is usually only beneficial if there is a large amount of consumer harm instead of just a dispute between two competitors. If you have national advertisements and meet certain criteria, you may file a complaint with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. Finally, you may file a complaint in Federal Court under the Lanham Act (aka the “Trademark Act”). You may be entitled to injunctive relief (to stop the false advertiser from continuing to display the comparative advertisement during the case—and possibly even the display of your trademark) and/or for monetary damages to be awarded. In general, the party seeking monetary relief must prove that actual consumer deception or confusion occurred due to “material” statements or omissions in the comparative advertisement that caused actual harm.
At Lilenfeld PC, we can work with you to protect your company’s brand and trademark by getting an opposing company to stop using a deceptive comparative advertisement. We also can defend your comparative advertisement and trademark against another company if you received a demand letter or if a lawsuit was filed against you. If you have any questions or would like a consultation, please contact us.