Unfair competition laws are a type of catch-all provision designed to protect against unfair, unethical, and predatory practices in the marketplace. In many instances, a competitor's conduct may not precisely constitute infringement of trademark, copyright, patent, or trade secret. In those events, general unfair competition statutes, both at the federal and state level, ensure that conduct in the marketplace is based on standards of ethical business conduct.
All states have their own individual state statutes protecting against unfair competition. In addition, Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act (the U.S. Trademark Act) generally is referred to as a federal unfair competition law. Section 43(a) prohibits any false designation of origin or any false or misleading representation of fact in connection with the interstate offering or sale of goods or services that is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception in the marketplace. Section 43(a) protects even unregistered trademarks against infringement. A civil action may be brought in federal court for violation of Section 43(a). Finally, Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits unfair and deceptive acts and practices in or affecting commerce. Thus, parties injured by unfair competition often can depend on a variety of laws, from their state statutes, to the U.S. Trademark Act, to the Federal Trade Commission Act.