Mary Kay, the cosmetics giant, has sued RetailMeNot, an online source for shopping coupons, for trademark infringement. Mary Kay has argued in its complaint that RetailMeNot has been using it’s name without valid authorization.
Mary Kay believes that by offering coupons to consumers, RetailMeNot causes them to falsely assume that the coupon source is affiliated with the beauty brand, even though no relationship or affiliation exists between the two.
Mary Kay’s major point of difference with other cosmetic companies is that it sells its products through a network of independent beauty consultants. Mary Kay argues that the coupons are affecting its relationship with these consultants because they are pressured to accept coupons that aren’t offered by Mary Kay.
Because of this damage to the beauty brand’s business, Mary Kay asked the court for damages as well as an injunction preventing RetailMeNot from using its name.
I thought that this was an interesting case, because personally I had never heard of a brand suing a company that provides coupons and coupon codes. The basis of a trademark infringement claim is the likelihood of confusion, which means that consumers aren’t aware of the origin of the product or service.
This case is a little different than the usual trademark infringement case because oftentimes when a brand sues for trademark infringement, it’s because the infringer is in most cases pretending to be the brand. This isn’t the case here. Rather, this case is about whether RetailMeNot has the right to offer coupon codes for Mary Kay products.
Mary Kay is arguing that buy offering coupon codes, RetailMeNot is confusing consumers and making them believe that they are authorized to give these coupon codes and that in fact Mary Kay supplied the coupons and/or coupon codes to RetailMeNot.
RetailMeNot will probably argue that they have every right to offer coupon codes and that by doing so they are not positing that they are affiliated with the brand, but rather just offering a service to consumers who are looking for a deal.
It will be interesting to see how this case plays it, because it could have an impact on many websites that offer coupon codes like RetailMeNot or even bloggers who offer deals and coupon codes as well.