In Bluetooth SIG, Inc. v. FCA US LLC, No. 2:18-cv-01493-RAJ (W.D. Wash. May 29, 2020), a judge has determined that there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether BLUETOOTH is a protectable trademark. The case arose out of Fiat Chrysler’s use of the term “Bluetooth” without providing payment to Bluetooth SIG, Inc., which believe it or not, owns several federal trademark registrations for BLUETOOTH.

Fiat Chrysler has argued that the BLUETOOTH trademark registration should be canceled on account of the term being generic and functional. To support this argument, Fiat Chrysler submitted a survey in which 82% of the respondents believed that BLUETOOTH was a generic name rather than a trademark. Ultimately, the court decided that a trier of fact will need to determine if BLUETOOTH is generic and/or functional.

This will be an interesting case to watch. Personally, I don’t know many people who realize that BLUETOOTH is, in fact, a registered trademark. In my experience, an overwhelming majority of people have no idea. Therefore, a trier of fact determining that BLUETOOTH is generic would not be surprising.

This particular case could have a major impact on other protocol standards, such as USB and HDMI. I am sure those organizations will be watching this case closely. If BLUETOOTH is a protectable trademark, then these other similar organizations are probably in the clear. However, if BLUETOOTH is deemed not to be a protectable trademark, then the owners of USB and HMDI will be scrambling to inform consumers that their respective marks are brand names rather than generic terms.