The business world has moved from using trademarks—simple symbols identifying products—to brands—rich symbols that feed business strategy. At the same time, networked and empowered consumers are using brands, brand language, and branding strategies to make decisions about what they purchase, express preferences about how corporations conduct their business, and call for changes in corporate practices. These changes are the future of commerce. But trademark law has not kept pace with either.
This Article argues that because brands are governed by trademark law, the full realization of brands as information resources is hindered. Current trademark law is blinkered and confused, and consequently fails to manage all the interests at stake in the modern business environment. This failure flows from a core misunderstanding: trademark law has not grasped that it is managing brands, not trademarks. To address this shortcoming, this Article develops a new theory of trademarks: brand theory. This theory explains riddles within current trademark doctrine and provides the foundation for a new normative approach to trademarks. It expands the current information-based understanding of trademarks to embrace the possibility that trademarks can be true information resources for all stakeholders in a brand—corporations, consumers, and communities—rather than vessels for only one side’s views. In short, a brand theory of trademarks offers the opportunity to bring trademark law into the information age.