Mark P. McKenna


This lecture focuses on the relationship between trademark and unfair competition. Specifically, this lecture discusses the way trademark law has evolved over time with respect to property concepts. There has been a lot of discussion in the literature about the ways trademark law has come to treat trademarks as property. Many scholars who have written about this “propertization” have described it as a shift from consumer to producer protection.

I have written a lot about this narrative over the course of my career—I think it is overly simplistic, and in some ways, wrong. Trademark law has al-ways protected marks as property and always significantly for the purpose of protecting producers.6 What has changed is that modern law conceives of the property interests much more broadly than it once did. So the important shift in trademark law was not one from a system focused exclusively on consumer interests to one focused on producers, or from no-property to property—it was a shift in terms of the nature of the property interest protected.

But even that revised narrative misses some important things about trade-mark law’s evolution because it is insufficiently attentive to significant changes in the doctrinal structure of trademark law over the course of the last century—specifically with respect to the relationship between trademark law and the broader law of unfair competition. Changes in that relationship, I will argue, did work a meaningful change in the “propertization” of trademark law. Relatedly, and necessarily, these same changes deemphasized legal rules that focused on the defendant’s conduct (rather than the plaintiff’s ownership interest).