Justia Trademark Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Ironhawk filed suit against Dropbox for trademark infringement and unfair competition, alleging that Dropbox's use of the name Smart Sync intentionally infringes on Ironhawk's SmartSync trademark and is likely to cause confusion among consumers as to the affiliation of Ironhawk's product with Dropbox. After the district court concluded that Ironhawk could not prevail because a reasonable trier of fact could not find a likelihood of consumer confusion, Ironhawk appealed based on a theory of reverse confusion.The Ninth Circuit held that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to the likelihood of consumer confusion under a reverse confusion theory of infringement and thus reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Dropbox, vacating the judgment, and remanding for trial. The panel first concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Ironhawk's potential consumers include commercial customers. Applying the Sleekcraft factors, the panel then concluded that a reasonable trier of fact could find a likelihood of confusion. Therefore, Dropbox has not met its high burden of establishing that no genuine disputes of material fact exist as to the likelihood of confusion between Smart Sync and SmartSync. View "Ironhawk Technologies, Inc. v. Dropbox, Inc." on Justia Law

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Metal Jeans, an apparel brand and owner of the non-stylized "METAL" trademark, filed an infringement claim against Metal Sport, a powerlifting brand with a similar but stylized mark. The district court denied both parties' merits motions because material facts remained in dispute, but granted Metal Sport's separate motion for summary judgment on whether Metal Jeans was barred from pressing its infringement claim by the equitable doctrine of unclean hands. In doing so, the district court rejected Metal Jeans' counter-defense that Metal Sport also acted with unclean hands.In a separate memorandum disposition filed simultaneously with this opinion, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court improperly granted summary judgment against Metal Jeans. The panel wrote here to resolve an issue of first impression: the standard of review the panel employs when a district court concludes that a party has acted with unclean hands. The panel held that the appropriate standard of review of a district court's determination to grant summary judgment on the affirmative defense of unclean hands is abuse of discretion. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Metal Jeans, Inc. v. Metal Sport, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's summary judgment in favor of defendants on a copyright infringement claim and affirmed the district court's dismissal and grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on a trademark claim concerning the book "Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!," (the mash-up) a Dr. Seuss and Star Trek mash-up.The panel held that the mash-up does not make fair use of "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" (the original work). The panel explained that the purpose and character of the mash-up; the nature of the original work; the amount and substantiality of the original work; and the potential market for or value of Seuss, all weigh against fair use. The panel concluded that the bottom line is that ComicMix created, without seeking permission or a license, a non-transformative commercial work that targets and usurps the original work's potential market, and ComicMix cannot sustain a fair use defense. The panel also held that Seuss does not have a cognizable trademark infringement claim against ComicMix because the Lanham Act did not apply under the Rogers test. In this case, the allegedly valid trademarks in the title, the typeface, and the style of the original work were relevant to achieving the mash-up's artistic purpose, and the use of the claimed original work trademarks was not explicitly misleading. View "Dr. Seuss Enterprises, LP v. ComicMix LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Farmacy Beauty in an action brought by Arcona, alleging trademark counterfeiting claims based on the use of the trademarked term "EYE DEW" on its skincare products.The panel held that the plain language of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, requires a likelihood of confusion for a trademark counterfeiting claim. The panel will not presume consumer confusion in this case because the products are not identical. Therefore, summary judgment was proper because there is no genuine dispute of material fact about the likelihood of consumer confusion. View "Arcona, Inc. v. Farmacy Beauty, LLC" on Justia Law

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HM filed suit alleging infringement of HM's rights in the EAMES and AERON trade dresses under the Lanham Act. The jury found in favor of HM as to the Eames chairs and awarded infringement and dilution damages. As to the Aeron chair, the jury found in favor of OSP.The Ninth Circuit held that for a product's design to be protected under trademark law, the design must be nonfunctional. The panel affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of HM on its causes of action for the infringement of its registered and unregistered EAMES trade dresses and rejected OSP's argument that the utilitarian functionality of the Eames chairs' component parts renders their overall appearances functional as a matter of law; reversed the judgment in favor of OSP regarding the Aeron chair because the functionality jury instruction does not accurately track the panel's functionality caselaw; reversed the judgment in favor of HM on its cause of action for dilution because there was legally insufficient evidence to find that the claimed EAMES trade dresses were famous under 15 U.S.C. 1125(c)(2)(A); and remanded for a new trial. View "Blumenthal Distributing, Inc. v. Herman Miller, Inc." on Justia Law

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VIP filed suit seeking a declaration that its "Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker" toy did not infringe JDPI's trademark rights or, in the alternative, that Jack Daniel's trade dress and bottle design were not entitled to trademark protection. JDPI counterclaimed and alleged claims of trademark infringement and dilution.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to JDPI on the issues of aesthetic functionality and distinctiveness. The court held that the district court correctly found that Jack Daniel's trade dress and bottle design are distinctive and aesthetically nonfunctional, and thus entitled to trademark protection; VIP also failed to rebut the presumption of nonfunctionality and distinctiveness of the Jack Daniel's bottle design; the district court correctly rejected VIP's nominative fair use defense; and the district court correctly rejected VIP's request for cancellation of the registered mark and rejected VIP's nominative fair use defense.However, the panel held that the dog toy is an expressive work entitled to First Amendment protection. In this case, the district court erred in finding trademark infringement without first requiring JDPI to satisfy at least one of the two Rogers prongs. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's judgment as to the dilution claim, vacated the judgment on the trademark infringement claim, and remanded for further proceedings. View "VIP Products LLC v. Jack Daniel's Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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VVV appealed the district court's dismiss of its trademark claims based on three marks and the denial of leave to amend its complaint. The Ninth Circuit assumed, without deciding, that the district court correctly applied the elements of claim preclusion to this case, but found that an exception to claim preclusion applied.The panel explained that an interparty proceeding before the TTAB is a limited proceeding involving registration of a trademark, and the TTAB has no authority to determine the right to use, or the broader questions of infringement, unfair competition, damages or injunctive relief. In this case, TTAB had no power to decide VVV's claims of infringement, dilution, and unfair competition or to grant either injunctive relief or damages. Therefore, the panel held that it would be unfair to preclude VVV from litigating these claims and seeking relief when barriers existed that prevented it from doing so in the first action. The panel reversed and remanded for the district court to consider, in the first instance, whether issue preclusion applied. The panel also reversed the denial of leave to amend the complaint, and affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's claims as to the second and third marks. View "V.V.V. & Sons Edible Oils v. Meenakshi Overseas" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a Lanham Act action brought by Applied Underwriters, alleging claims for trademark infringement and unfair competition. Although the district court abused its discretion when it sanctioned Applied Underwriters and dismissed the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) absent an order requiring Applied Underwriters to file an amended complaint, the panel nevertheless affirmed the district court's earlier Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal because the use of Applied Underwriters' trademarks by defendants constituted nominative fair use. In this case, Applied Underwriters' service was not readily identifiable without use of the trademarks; defendants used only so much of the marks as was reasonably necessary; and use of the marks did not suggest sponsorship or endorsement. View "Applied Underwriters, Inc. v. Lichtenegger" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed an order granting defendants' petition for panel rehearing, withdrawing the panel’s opinion, and ordering the filing of a superseding opinion. The panel also filed a superseding opinion reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in a trademark infringement suit over the "Honey Badger" catchphrases under the Lanham Act.The panel held that, under the test in Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989), the Lanham Act applies to expressive works only where the public interest in avoiding consumer confusion outweighs the public interest in free expression. In this case, defendants have not used plaintiff's mark in the creation of a song, photograph, video game, or television show, but have largely just pasted plaintiff's mark into their greeting cards. The panel held that a jury could determine that this use of plaintiff's mark was explicitly misleading as to the source or content of the cards. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Gordon v. Drape Creative, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in a trademark infringement action over the "Honey Badger" catchphrases under the Lanham Act. The panel applied the test in Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989), to balance the competing interests at stake when a trademark owner claims that an expressive work infringes on its trademark rights. The panel held that the Rogers test was not an automatic safe harbor for any minimally expressive work that copies someone else's mark. In this case, a jury could determine that defendants did not add any value protected by the First Amendment but merely appropriated the goodwill associated with plaintiff's mark. Defendants have not used another’s mark in the creation of a song, photograph, video game, or television show, but have largely just pasted plaintiff's mark into their greeting cards. Therefore, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Gordon v. Drape Creative, Inc." on Justia Law