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On the publicity front, the oil sands spinoff Pixar Petroleum will have a bit of an uphill climb – the first 1,000 or so Google search results for the term 'Pixar' are almost all related to the animation studio behind Toy Story and Cars. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images/Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
On the publicity front, the oil sands spinoff Pixar Petroleum will have a bit of an uphill climb – the first 1,000 or so Google search results for the term 'Pixar' are almost all related to the animation studio behind Toy Story and Cars. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images/Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

When you hear the name Pixar, do you think of oil? Add to ...

One makes movies. The other’s into oil.

Two companies that couldn’t be much further apart in the business world are now finding at least one thing in common: A name.

This week, Paramount Resources Ltd. announced it is reorganizing all its oil sands interests into a new wholly owned subsidiary. That subsidiary will be called Pixar Petroleum Corp.

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Why the oil company decided to name its corporate offshoot after one of the world’s most beloved animation studios is a bit of a mystery. Like Nike or Google, the term Pixar is overwhelmingly associated with one company – in this case, the studio behind hit movies such as Toy Story and Cars. A search of Industry Canada’s database of some 60,000 Canadian companies returns none with the term “Pixar” in the name.

(Pixar Animation Studios representatives and Paramount Resources chief executive officer Clay Riddell did not respond to requests for comment).

On the publicity front, Pixar Petroleum will have a bit of an uphill climb – at least the first 1,000 or so Google search results for the term “Pixar” are almost all related to the animation studio. (Paramount Resources, which was founded some 60 years after Paramount Pictures, already suffers from a milder version of the same problem).

Given how vastly different the two companies’ areas of operation are, it is also unclear how likely Pixar (the animation studio) is to take action against Pixar (the oil company) over the name. A quick check of Alberta-based oil companies shows a number with familiar-sounding names, such as E-T Energy, which presumably has never been mistaken for the long-necked alien.

Trademark lawyer Scott Schwartz says that, under U.S. law, the animation studio would have two potential claims to make against a company that chooses a similar name – trademark infringement and trademark dilution. The test for infringement hinges on whether the marks are the same (in this case, they are almost identical) and whether the goods and services each company offers are similar (in this case, they are not).

“At first blush, refinery services are very different from movie making, even in this age of diversification,” Mr. Schwartz said.

However the trademark dilution test is significantly different, and relies instead on the possibility of confusion between one company and the other. On that front, the oil company’s habit of picking names that double as movie studios probably would work against it.

“If someone else uses Pixar, does that call to mind the movie studio? And if so, then it’s trademark dilution,” Mr. Schwartz said.

“In this case, if the headline really is, ‘Paramount spins off Pixar,’ that could cause some consumers to raise their eyebrows.”

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