Posts Tagged: "trade dress"

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Sanctions in Energy Drink Dispute for Failure to Provide Computation of Damages

On Wednesday, August 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling against Vital Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (VPX) in the form of sanctions for violating its discovery obligations in a trade dress dispute with Monster Energy Company. The Eleventh Circuit also denied Monster’s motion for sanctions in the form of attorney’s fees and double costs.

What Recent Case Law Tells Us About the Importance of Consumer Surveys in Trademark Cases

On August 3, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled against plaintiff Vital Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s claim of trade dress infringement against defendant Monster Energy Co. due in part to plaintiff’s failure to demonstrate secondary meaning or likelihood of confusion. On June 7, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted defendant lululemon’s motion for summary judgment regarding allegations of trademark infringement, basing its decision in part on plaintiff’s failure to show likelihood of confusion. Similarly, in May 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against plaintiff Christophe Roberts’ request for preliminary injunction against defendant Puma’s alleged trademark infringement due in part to his inability to show consumer confusion. In each of these opinions, the court noted the absence of survey evidence (or, in the Vital Pharmaceuticals case, the inadequacy of an “almost comically flawed” survey). These recent rulings underscore the increasingly important role well-designed surveys play in courts’ consideration of evidence of consumer confusion and/or secondary meaning in trademark and trade dress cases.

Amici Ask SCOTUS to Correct Third Circuit’s ‘Overly Simplistic’ Formulation of Trademark Functionality in Ezaki Glico

On July 29, several IP organizations and one global snack conglomerate filed amicus briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court asking the nation’s highest court to grant a petition for writ of certiorari to take up Ezaki Glico Kabushiki Kaisha v. Lotte International America Corp. At issue in the appeal is a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit regarding the definition of “functionality” in trademark law. In finding the stick-shaped, chocolate-covered Pocky cookies sold by Ezaki Glico to be “functional” because of the usefulness of their design, amici argue that the Third Circuit erred in its application of functionality doctrine in a way that threatens trade dress protections for any product when any part of the product’s design provides some usefulness.

Trade Dress Considerations for Food and Beverage Products

Companies trying to compete for supermarket shelf space and consumer attention frequently turn to packaging and product designs that will stand out. If the product succeeds, one unfortunate side effect for the brand owner is the market can become flooded with “me too” products that attempt to ride on the coattails of that success. How do owners of unique products protect themselves? Trade dress protection is one legal tool that companies should consider.

Third Circuit Finds Stick-Shaped Cookie Trade Dress Invalid

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a decision of the district court that granted summary judgment to Lotte International America Corp. because Ezaki Glico’s cookie design was functional and not entitled to trade dress protection in Kaisha v. Lotte International America Corp. Noting that trade dress protection does not extend to functional or useful features, and there was no dispute that Pocky’s design was useful, the Third Circuit explained that the trade dress was invalid and “[t]hat’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

Ninth Circuit Reverses Functionality and Fame Findings in Office Chair Trademark Case

On June 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in Blumenthal Distributing v. Herman Miller, Inc. in which the appellate court reversed some parts of a Central District of California ruling on trade dress and trademark infringement claims related to office chairs sold by Herman Miller, and affirmed others. The Ninth Circuit’s decision discusses at length the issue of functionality, an area of trademark law which is undefined by statute and is notable for overturning parts of the district court decision because of an erroneous jury instruction based upon the Ninth Circuit’s own model rules. The decision also includes a partial dissent by Circuit Judge Michelle Friedland on the issue of dilution, with Judge Friedland arguing that Herman Miller hadn’t proven the requisite fame to prevail on its trademark dilution claims.

CAFC Says District Court Abused Its Discretion in Granting Attorney’s Fees Under Sections 285 and 1117(a)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit today reversed a district court decision awarding attorney’s fees to Luv n’ Care Ltd. (LNC) against Munchkin, Inc. The Federal Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in granting LNC’s motion for attorney’s fees as “LNC’s fee motion insufficiently presented the required facts and analysis needed to establish that Munchkin’s patent, trademark, and trade dress infringement claims were so substantively meritless to render the case exceptional.” The Court also pointed to its recent ruling in Amneal Pharmaceuticals v. Almirall regarding attorney’s fees with respect to Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings, though it did not reach that issue in the present case. The opinion was authored by Judge Chen.

Bad Spaniels Make Bad Law: Ninth Circuit Says Dog Toy is an Expressive Work Entitled to First Amendment Protection

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a squeaking dog toy resembling a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey is an expressive work entitled to First Amendment protection.  VIP Prods. LLC v. Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc., No. 18-16012 (9th Cir. Mar. 31, 2020).  The court  reversed a bench trial verdict that the toy infringed and diluted the JACK DANIEL’S trade dress and remanded for further reconsideration by the district court.  Before the district court may find that the toy infringed Jack Daniel’s famous trade dress, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court must first apply the Second Circuit’s Rogers test, which will require it to consider whether VIP’s use of the trade dress was artistically relevant to the toy’s expressive character, and whether VIP’s use of the trade dress explicitly misleads consumers as to the source of the toy.  The Rogerstest, though, has only been applied to expressive works such as books, songs, video games and movies; it has never been applied to consumer products like handbags and perfume, even if those products were intended as parodies.  The Ninth Circuit’s decision expands the scope of First Amendment protection far beyond traditionally expressive works, and risks exposing a wide variety of brand owners to infringements based on alleged parody.

Advising a Department Store on Its Brand Strategy? Get Creative or Go the Way of Barneys

Whenever I wanted my grandmother to reveal a deep secret—such as what I was getting for my birthday—she would reply by asking, “Does Gimbels tell Macy’s?” That was when the Gimbels and Macy’s department stores battled for market share like colossi astride Herald Square. Gimbels is long gone from the New York metropolitan area retail market—as are, from all levels of pricing—Alexander’s, B. Altman and Company, Bamberger’s, Bonwit Teller, Galleries Lafayette, E. J. Korvette, the Lord & Taylor flagship on Fifth Avenue, Stern’s, Takashimaya, and Two Guys, among others. And to that list we can now add Barneys. As I never tire of advising our clients, trademarks are the awards that the law bestows upon a well-operated brand, and brand—in fashion and luxury, and in retailing of all but the most elemental variety—is about story. That is, the brand has to tell a story that is clear and identifiable to the customer—a story so compelling that he or she will elect to participate in it by making purchases. Enter an Hermès and you are sharing in a gentrified vision of France as authentic to the XVIe arrondissement as to a canter on horseback through the fields of the Loire. Walk down the block to Salvatore Ferragamo and inhabit that world of Florentine grace and worldliness that has guided the West since the Renaissance. Maintaining a distinct brand image is often challenging for a manufacturer/design company, especially if it operates its own boutiques. But it can by even more demanding for a large, multi-brand retailer, especially now. 

The Insurance-Intellectual Property Interface: Traps for the Unwary

Intellectual property litigators are often required to assess and pursue insurance coverage that may be available for policyholders they represent in ongoing litigation. More than assuring prompt notice of a potentially covered claim is required to meet these responsibilities. There are five issues intellectual property defense counsel need to focus on in assuring that insurance coverage opportunities are properly vetted.

Monster Energy Appeals to Ninth Circuit Following District Court Denial of Injunction Against ISN

In the most recent development in a case between energy drink brand Monster Energy Company and maker of automotive tools Integrated Supply Network, LLC (ISN), the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on July 2 denied Monster’s request for a permanent injunction against ISN. Monster appealed on July 3 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and ISN cross-appealed on July 12. The district court found that Monster did not offer evidence demonstrating that ISN’s infringement had actually caused a loss of control over its business reputation leading to irreparable harm and loss of prospective customers. Additionally, the court reasoned that evidence regarding consumer confusion does not necessarily demonstrate irreparable harm. Even where ISN had not ceased infringing activity, Monster still had not proven irreparable harm as required to justify a permanent injunction, said the court.

Seventh Circuit Clarifies When Utility Patents Can Be Used as Evidence of Functionality in Trade Dress Cases

On June 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided Bodum USA, Inc. v. A Top New Casting Inc., No. 18-3030, 2019 (7th Cir. June 12, 2019). The case was based on Bodum’s allegation that A Top infringed Bodum’s unregistered trade dress in its Chambord® French press coffee maker design and squarely addressed the doctrine of “functionality” of trade dress. The court addressed two important issues related to functionality: (1) what type of evidence is necessary to prove functionality of a particular design and (2) under what circumstances are utility patents relevant to that analysis?

China Court Delivers First Judgment in Favor of a Foreign Company Under Anti-Unfair Competition Law

British automaker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has been engaged in a multi-jurisdiction battle against Chinese automaker Jiangling Motors (Jiangling) over JLR’s assertions that Jiangling copied distinctive design features of JLR’s RANGE ROVER Evoque (EVOQUE) in the LANDWIND X7 vehicle. JLR previously successfully took action in Brazil and the European Union, resulting in injunctions against the sale of Jiangling’s LANDWIND vehicle in those jurisdictions. JLR’s latest efforts has yielded additional success against Jiangling’s sale and production of the LANDWIND X7 in China, Jiangling’s home base. On March 13, the Beijing Chaoyang District Court in China found Jiangling liable for unfair competition in connection with the sale and manufacturing of the LANDWIND X7, finding that certain design features of the LANDWIND vehicle are “essentially identical” to JLR’s distinctive design features for the EVOQUE. This decision is the first case under China’s 2017 Anti-Unfair Competition Law to find in favor of a foreign company in the auto industry.

BIC Files Complaints at the ITC, EDNY Alleging Trademark Infringement of Pocket Lighters

Although many readers might be more familiar with patent infringement claims asserted in Section 337 actions at the ITC, BIC Vice President and General Counsel Steve Burkhart notes that trademark and trade dress infringement claims in a Section 337 context aren’t terribly different. “We’ve had our three-dimensional trademark registration for decades,” Burkhart said, adding that one of the defendants in the ITC action was familiar with BIC’s trademark because it was cited as a basis for denying their own trademark application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “Quantitatively, you may see more Section 337 filings on the patent side but there are many examples in the patent and trademark areas where filings encounter denials because of prior art,” Burkhart said.

Federal Circuit Maintains Full-Court Press on Converse’s Chuck Taylor Trade Dress

On October 30, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a decision from the International Trade Court invalidating the Converse Chuck Taylor sneaker design trade dress.  Converse Inc. v. ITC, No. 2016-2497, 2018 WL 5536405 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 30, 2018).  At first glance, this appeared to be great news for Converse.  However, the decision highlights multiple obstacles that Converse, and other brand owners, will continue to face as they seek to enforce product design trade dress in the US.