NEW YORK - Does a tree by any other name smell as sweet? Can a jury tell tree species apart? These are the questions that will be answered as Car-Freshener Corporation of Watertown, New York, presses its suit in federal court in lower Manhattan against Exotica Fresheners Company of Holland, Ohio.

Car-Freshener makes those little pine tree-shaped fresheners that hang from your rear view mirror and make your car smell like the Northwoods of Wisconsin after a heavy rainfall. 

Exotica makes a competing product, shaped like a palm tree, complete with coconuts. Does it make your car smell like a tropical beach after a heavy rain? Not sure, but Car-Freshener thinks the similarity in product design and packaging infringes upon its brand. Exotica lawyers think the tree species are so distinct that isn't a problem.

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Car Freshener's packaging consists of a plastic package that has a silhouette of a fir tree logo on it. Exotica's scented palm trees complete with fronds are visible through the cellophane. 

Car-Freshener  believes Exotica's packaging infringes upon its trademark.

Car-Freshener's suit alleges that Exotica's products are "likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception as to the source" of the product, and to "falsely mislead consumers into believing" the products are "affiliated or connected with or are approved by" Car-Freshener.

These companies tangled before: in 1995, when Exotica agreed to stop selling "Royal Pine" fresheners, which Car-Fresheners had trademarked.

The New York Times reported this story and quoted an intellectual property professor at NYU law school, Christopher Sprigman, who said Car-Freshener seemed to have a tough case: "They will have to show that people will confuse the very different shape of the defendant's air fresheners and treat them as if they came from the same source; I'm pretty skeptical of this claim."

 

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