These car air freshener companies are fighting over the trademark on their very similar products.

The Tree-Shaped Air Fresheners You’ve Seen in Every Cab Ever Are the Subject of a Hilarious Legal Battle

The Tree-Shaped Air Fresheners You’ve Seen in Every Cab Ever Are the Subject of a Hilarious Legal Battle

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 17 2015 1:10 PM

Two Companies That Make Tree-Shaped Air Fresheners Are Battling It Out in Court

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The embattled pine.

Photo by Greg Kahn/Getty Images

Here is a fun story from the New York Times, about, of all things, car air fresheners. It takes place in a federal courtroom in Lower Manhattan, where on Monday two companies, Car-Freshner Corp. and Exotica Fresheners Co., convened to contemplate their scented paper pine trees and palm trees. From the Times:

Car-Freshner sells Little Trees in a cellophane package topped with a yellow card emblazoned with a green tree logo and the product name written in an upward-slanting direction. Its fragrance varieties include “Morning Fresh,” which is a pink tree; “New Car,” which is blue; and a vanilla tree with an American flag pattern on it.
Exotica also sells its tree-shaped fresheners in a cellophane package topped with a yellow card emblazoned with a green tree logo and the product name written in an upward-slanting direction. Its fragrance varieties also include “Morning Fresh,” which is a pink tree; “New Car,” which is blue; and, yes, a vanilla tree with an American flag pattern on it.
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The big difference between the two? Car-Freshner Corp. sells pine trees; Exotica sells palms. The companies appeared before a judge because Car-Freshner is suing Exotica for trademark infringement. Car-Freshner explains in a filing that for more than 60 years it has been the maker of “world famous air fresheners in the distinct Tree design shape sold under the LITTLE TREES brand.” Car-Freshner alleges that Exotica Fresheners “has a long history of attempting to free-ride” on its “goodwill and reputation by using confusingly similar packaging, scent names, and logos in connection with its competing air freshener products.” This alleged infringement “dates back to at least as early as 1995, when Defendant infringed Plaintiffs’ federally registered trademarks, ROYAL PINE and VANILLAROMA.”

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Court filing

Car-Freshner argues that the close resemblance of Exotica’s products and packaging to its own are likely to degrade the brand and trick customers into purchasing an off-label air freshener. Exotica, for its part, maintains that any branding overlap is superficial. As the company’s lawyer David Antonucci reportedly put it to jurors: “Pine versus palm? Please. The Pepsi swoosh versus the Coke swoosh? I think we can see the difference.”

The trial is expected to take four days; Car-Freshner would like to see Exotica stop using designs that closely mirror its own and is also seeking monetary damages. Until then, beware of all palm trees posing as pines.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.