In the trademark world, 2018 was notable for the number of well-known brands that chose to shorten and "universalize" their names, to simplify or drop their logos, or to rebrand entirely. Many dispensed with the unique fonts, words, and design elements that have long set them apart in favor of a pared down, sans-serif font popularized by the Silicon Valley. This type of "simplification," known as "blanding," is trending.

The desire to globalize and speak across language and cultural barriers in the face of the maturation or saturation of more traditional markets is self-explanatory. Yet while the finite boundaries of today’s digital real estate are obvious, the reality remains that the advertising ecosystem is larger than a single phone screen. And while "blanding" may be on-trend, it runs contrary to the fundamental tenets of brand value, purpose, and enforceability.

"The true measure of a brand is its ability to break through the static of the marketplace to generate a powerful consumer response. To "blend in" is, by definition, to not stand out. Dispensing with a unique look in favor of a common unadorned font threatens a brand’s ability to serve that basic function. And from an enforcement perspective, in the absence of any other distinctive features, overall appearance, and commercial impression will become less central to the likelihood of confusion analysis.

While the trend towards "blanding" may be an option for well-established brands, what does "blanding" mean for everyone else? How will less dominant brands generate market recognition without visual elements that differentiate it from competitors? Is this a short-lived trend, or here to stay? As infringement analysis is forced to evolve to keep up with this trend, we will be there to keep you posted.

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