The Lincoln Project Faces Accusations of Trademark Infringement
During the 2020 presidential election, The Lincoln Project became a formidable political action committee (PAC) formed by Republicans opposing Donald Trump. The organization quickly found itself involved in court battles against political rivals, but now it’s also facing accusations of trademark infringement from an educational group that shares the same name.
The Lincoln Project Trademark Infringement Case
In December 2019, the political action committee known as The Lincoln Project gained recognition as a conservative group going against the Republican president. Prominent members of the party made it their mission to prevent Donald Trump from securing a second term in office. Few people realized, however, that the PAC’s name was already in use.
In a filing submitted to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board on December 1, 2020, Christopher J. Small of Arden, NC claims to have used the name “The Lincoln Project” since as early as 2003. His claim includes evidence that the identifier has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 2009. Because of this, he asked that the PAC’s registration be denied.
Since Small founded his organization, it has served as an educational resource focusing on President Abraham Lincoln. The group is involved in historiography along with the production of videos, print materials and other media with Lincoln as the cornerstone. There’s little doubt that their use predates that of the PAC, but this doesn’t always constitute trademark infringement.
What the Law Says
Christopher Small’s filing with the TTAB claims that a likelihood of confusion exists among consumers. In fact, the opposition notice says consumers have already contacted the educational group believing they’re the political organization. The opposition alleges that – in some instances – these contacts have been threatening.
Consumer confusion is one element of trademark infringement, so if The Lincoln Project PAC is being confused with the other organization, the opposition may be successful. Confusion typically only exists, though, when two entities’ services overlap or are closely related.
If the TTAB finds merit in the claim of consumer confusion and that the provided services from both groups are similar, it may be difficult for the political group to say their use doesn’t constitute infringement. While the PAC is certainly more well-known – as seen by an Alexa ranking over 2 million spots higher than the older organization’s – this may not help them at trial.
What Comes Next
The educational iteration of The Lincoln Project existed for over a decade before the unrelated political action committee was founded. Whether their opposition is successful, though, may rely on their claim that they’ve “developed extremely valuable goodwill in the United States.” An active website with a “Shop” section shows their continued commercial use, but this may not matter.
The political group has until January 10, 2021 to respond to the opposition notice. The education organization claims their attempts to engage with the PAC have been fruitless thus far, but if the TTAB hands down a decision, both groups will have to accept it unless they appeal to federal courts. Until that time comes, the civil war between Lincoln Projects shall wage on.