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Let me start by saying I’m not a lawyer. But I’m a curious sort, and I like to dig into a topic. Over the weekend, I saw a tweet from Mike Levine, director of Ford’s North American production communications, about a General Motors filing a lawsuit against Ford for the use of BlueCruise to describe its Level 2 semi-autonomous technology.

Rather than regurgitate what everyone else is saying, I figured I should ask the real question that needs to be answered: Is Ford truly infringing on GM’s Super Cruise trademark?

A GM Authority article from 2016 posts a picture of the trademark filing, and you can clearly see SUPERCRUISE (one word instead of the two it’s become), will be used to represent “computer software, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, global positioning system and radar object detectors for the semi-autonomous driving of motor vehicles.”

That does sound an awful lot like what BlueCruise is.

According to a Ford Motor Co. press release introducing the technology:

“Using both advanced camera and radar-sensing technologies and building upon Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Lane Centering and Speed Sign Recognition, BlueCruise adds a new level of convenience for drivers with vehicles equipped with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology.”

So, BlueCruise isn’t replacing Co-Pilot360, it’s an evolution of Co-Pilot360.

That’s what BlueCruise is, but what about the name? Can Ford legally use “Cruise” as a part of its name for this technology?

On a legal advice website, I found a question pertaining to the word “Goddess” and someone who wanted to use this word, which is already used in number trademark filings, combined with another word (GoddessGloves) as a part of her own business and trademark. There were a few different legal responses to this, but the most salient comments included the following:

  • “The marks are taken as a whole. The term Goddess is used on hundreds of trademarks.”
  • “Changing a letter or adding a symbol will not sufficiently change the mark so that if the other entity uses the word goddess for similar goods and services that travel in the same chain of commerce as your goods, then there may be a likelihood of confusion and your use may be infringing.”
  • “[I]t may be possible to add a word to another word that is already used as a trademark, and create a sufficiently large difference in the appearance, sound, meaning, and commercial impression of the overall trademark to avoid a likelihood of confusion. However, whether this is possible, and what will be required to make it possible, depends on the degree to which the goods or services are related.”
  • “The touchstone of trade mark law is consumer confusion. The final determination will likely come down to whether consumers are or are likely to be confused by your trade mark and think they are buying or getting a product from another source.”

The primary theme I see popping up here is this: Will a consumer be confused by the name?

Though the technologies are similar, which one of the commenters says could be problematic with the word “Goddess,” my question is this: Will someone really go to a Ford dealership expecting to buy a vehicle with Super Cruise?

The bottom line on the BlueCruise lawsuit

Obviously, there are a lot of nuances here, and lawyers can argue about anything. But the one thing Levine mentions in his tweet about the BlueCruise lawsuit that strikes a chord is this: “Any number of companies use the word ‘cruise’ to brand driver assist technology.”

With that in mind, was GM really the first to trademark this name for technology? Nope.

Cruise, and thus cruise control, is used on every modern vehicle and no one is suing over that. So, is “cruise” a generic enough term that the GM suit has no merit? Or is the fact that SUPERCRUISE as it was trademarked is too similar in nature to BlueCruise that there could be confusion in the marketplace?

Seriously, comment below. I’d like to know your thoughts.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is a syndicated automotive writer. Jill also manages the “Drive, She Said” blog for ChicagoNow and posts reviews to DriveChicago. She is the president emeritus of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. She also serves as a judge for the Automotive Heritage Foundation Journalism Awards. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Chicago Sun-Times News Group and Pioneer Press Newspapers.

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