The Punchbowl company, which supplies consumers with online event invitations and birthday and holiday greetings, recently lost a trademark dispute with “Punchbowl News,” an online news site that covers events in Washington D.C.  The lesson of the case is that even when one entity uses the exact same mark as another, that alone doesn’t establish infringement.

One reason I write this blog is the fact that in doing so, I frequently learn new things. In this case, I learned that “Punchbowl” is the Secret Service code name for the U.S. Capitol building.  And that fact is significant here, because it explains why the creators of the news site chose that name.  It lets readers know, albeit in a roundabout way, that the site reports on happenings in D.C. and the Capitol. The site’s logo is a drawing of the Capitol Building inverted.

The fact that there was an independent reason for choosing that name tends to diminish the argument that it was chosen to benefit from Punchbowl’s success.  Moreover, the fact that the site consistently uses the words “Punchbowl News” demonstrates an effort to distinguish itself from the online greeting card company.

And all of these facts indicate that no reasonable consumer would be confused by the use of “Punchbowl” for the name of a news site.  Consumers looking for a greeting card are likely not going to head to a news site.  And conversely, people looking for news about Washington D.C. aren’t going to visit a greeting card site.

Trademark protection is vitally important.  But determining what constitutes infringement is a nuanced determination.