Justia Trademark Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Bliss Collection, LLC v. Latham Companies, LLC
In 1999, Latham, McLean, and Vernooy formed Bliss to sell children’s clothing under the name “bella bliss.” In 2003, Shannon left Bliss and started Latham to sell her own children’s clothing under the name “little english.” Bliss’s logo is a lowercase “b” drawn out as if stitched in thread. Bliss has registered trademarks for this logo. Bliss has several designs that it claims as signature looks of the bella bliss brand that have “become famous and widely known and recognized as symbols of unique and high-quality garments.” There has been previous litigation between the parties.In 2020, Bliss filed federal claims for copyright, trademark, and trade dress infringement; false designation of origin and misappropriation of source; and unfair competition. The district court dismissed Bliss’s claims and granted Latham attorney’s fees for defending the copyright claim but found that Bliss filed its action in good faith and that the trademark and trade dress claims were not so “exceptionally meritless” that Latham merited a rare attorney’s fees award under 15 U.S.C. 1117. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Bliss stated claims for federal and state trademark infringement but has not stated a claim for trade dress infringement. The district court did not err in denying attorney’s fees to Latham for defending the trademark and trade dress infringement claims. View "Bliss Collection, LLC v. Latham Companies, LLC" on Justia Law
La Bamba Licensing, LLC v. La Bamba Authentic Mex. Cuisine, Inc.
La Bamba Licensing operates Mexican restaurants in the Midwest under the name “La Bamba.” In 1998, La Bamba registered “LA BAMBA” as a trademark for restaurant services and for various food items. Nearly two decades later, La Bamba Authentic Mexican Cuisine opened a Mexican restaurant under the name “La Bamba Authentic Mexican Cuisine” with one location in Lebanon, Kentucky—about 65 miles from one of La Bamba’s restaurants in Louisville. In May 2016, La Bamba sent Cuisine a cease-and-desist letter, citing La Bamba’s federal trademark registrations. La Bamba subsequently sued, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act and Kentucky common law. In October 2017, Cuisine changed the name of its restaurant to “La Villa Rica Authentic Mexican Cuisine, Inc.”The district court granted La Bamba summary judgment and awarded La Bamba $50,741.76 ($22,907.26 in profits; $27,309.50 for attorneys’ fees; and $525.00 for court costs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, Under the Lanham Act, a plaintiff who succeeds on an infringement claim “shall be entitled” subject to equitable principles, to recover a defendant’s profits, any damages sustained by the plaintiff, and the costs of the action, 15 U.S.C. 1117(a). The district court did not abuse its discretion in considering the relevant factors and making the awards. View "La Bamba Licensing, LLC v. La Bamba Authentic Mex. Cuisine, Inc." on Justia Law
DayCab Co, Inc. v. Prairie Technology, LLC
DayCab designs, manufactures, and sells conversion kits that convert a sleeper tractor cab into a tractor that does not have a sleeper unit (a daycab). DayCab’s founder, Wagers, started his conversion kit business in 1997 and created the first Peterbilt extended-cab conversion kits on the market, the “Fat Albert” models. Wagers stated that he “carefully selected” the “angles, curves, tapers, lines, profile and appearance” of the DayCab conversion kit “with the aim of making a very distinctive and attractive kit,” but “any number of other angles, curves, tapers, lines, profile and appearance” would have also served as a Peterbilt conversion product.Osman began making conversion kits in 1998 and obtained a utility patent for a panel used to convert a sleeper truck cab into a day cab. Each kit is manufactured and sold with an identification card with Osman’s company’s logo embedded in the fiberglass. Those companies named their conversion-kit products: “Cousin Albert,” “Uncle Albert,” and “Fat Boy.”DayCab sued, asserting claims under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), for trade dress infringement. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Genuine issues of material fact remain regarding the non-functionality element of DayCab’s trade dress claim as well as on the elements of secondary meaning and the likelihood of confusion. View "DayCab Co, Inc. v. Prairie Technology, LLC" on Justia Law
Max Rack, Inc. v. Core Health & Fitness, LLC
Skilken, the owner of Max Rack, Inc., invented a piece of gym equipment that he named the “Max Rack.” For years, his company sold Max Racks through a licensing agreement with Core. When Max Rack’s last patent expired, Core decided to sell an identical machine under a new name, “Freedom Rack.” Max Rack alleged that Core continued to sell “Max Racks” without authorization, and attempted to sell Freedom Racks by free-riding off the “Max Rack” name, Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114(1), 1117(a), 1125(a)(1)(A). A jury awarded Max Rack $1 million in damages and $250,000 in Core’s profits. The district court doubled the profits award to $500,000, and granted Max Rack attorney’s fees but overturned Max Rack’s damages award.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the $250,000 profits award as supported by sufficient evidence and the court’s rejection of the $1 million damages award, reversing the court’s decision to double the profits award and its decision to grant Max Rack attorney’s fees. This case does not qualify as “exceptional” and Core did not litigate in an “unreasonable manner.” Core’s unauthorized sales ended before trial. View "Max Rack, Inc. v. Core Health & Fitness, LLC" on Justia Law
Sunless, Inc. v. Palm Beach Tan, Inc.
Sunless sells tanning booths and spray tan solution under the “Mystic Tan” mark. Sunless claims that applying Mystic Tan solution in a Mystic Tan booth results in a “Mystic Tan Experience.” Palm Beach owns and franchises tanning salons. It owns several Mystic Tan-branded booths, and previously bought Mystic Tan-branded tanning solution to use in them; the booths were designed to accept only Mystic Tan solution. Palm Beach jury-rigged the booths so that they will operate with its own distinctly branded spray tan solution, unapproved by Sunless.Sunless sought a preliminary injunction under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125, arguing that the jury-rigging is likely to confuse consumers into believing they are getting a genuine “Mystic Tan Experience” when they are not. The district court denied the motion, finding that Sunless had failed to show, at this stage of the litigation, that Palm Beach’s salon customers would be confused. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Palm Beach never conceded that it sells a “Mystic Tan Experience” as an indivisible whole. Palm Beach argued there are two products: booths and solutions, each displaying its own distinct mark. Palm Beach continues to use the Mystic Tan-branded booths (which it owns outright), but neither uses nor claims to use Mystic Tan solutions. View "Sunless, Inc. v. Palm Beach Tan, Inc." on Justia Law
McKeon Products, Inc. v. Howard S. Leight & Associates, Inc.
McKeon has sold “MACK’S” earplugs to retail consumers since the 1960s. In the 1980s, Honeywell's predecessor began marketing and selling MAX-brand earplugs to distributors. The brand names are phonetically identical. In 1995, McKeon sued. The parties entered a settlement agreement that the district court approved by consent decree. To prevent customer confusion, Honeywell agreed not to sell its MAX-brand earplugs into the “Retail Market” but could continue to sell its earplugs in “the Industrial Safety Market and elsewhere." The agreement and the consent decree never contemplated the internet. In 2017, McKeon complained about sales of MAX-brand earplugs on Amazon and other retail websites.The district court ruled in favor of McKeon. The Sixth Circuit affirmed and remanded. Laches is available to Honeywell as an affirmative defense but does not apply to these facts. Parties subject to consent decrees cannot scale their prohibited conduct over time, using minor undetected violations to justify later larger infringements. Honeywell did not establish that McKeon should have discovered the breaching conduct before Honeywell drastically increased online sales. McKeon’s interpretation of the consent decree is the better reading. Concluding that Amazon is a “retail establishment” makes sense given the parties’ intent. View "McKeon Products, Inc. v. Howard S. Leight & Associates, Inc." on Justia Law
AWGI, LLC v. Atlas Trucking Co., LLC
Atlas Movers federally registered the “Atlas” mark for “transportation of household goods of others,” first using “Atlas” in 1948 when it formed Atlas Van Lines, providing transportation and logistics services, primarily moving household goods. Since 1970, its division, STG, has provided logistics services for non-household goods shipments. Atlas Movers eventually focused more on logistics, forming Atlas Relocation Services in 1995. In 2007, Atlas Movers began marketing its service as “Atlas Logistics.” and renamed its logistics company Atlas Logistics, which can ship, or arrange the shipment of, any commodity.Eaton manufactures and distributes steel. Eaton created Atlas Trucking in 1999, then expanded to ship goods other than steel and metal for companies in addition to its own. It developed Atlas Logistics in 2003 as an adjunct to Atlas Trucking. Eaton knew of Atlas Van Lines. Atlas Movers sued in 2017 for infringement. Eaton answered and counterclaimed that it owned the Atlas Logistics mark.The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Atlas Movers, upholding findings that Atlas Movers marketed “Atlas” to an extent that the public recognized it, that the parties’ services are related because they engage in at least some of the same transportation services, that the marks were functionally identical, and that there was actual confusion. View "AWGI, LLC v. Atlas Trucking Co., LLC" on Justia Law
The Ohio State University v. Redbubble, Inc.
Redbubble operates a global online marketplace. Around 600,000 independent artists, not employed by Redbubble, upload images onto Redbubble’s interface. Consumers scroll through those images and order customized items. Once a consumer places an order, Redbubble notifies the artist and arranges the manufacturing and shipping of the product with independent third parties. Redbubble never takes title to any product shown on its website and does not design, manufacture, or handle these products. The shipped packages bear Redbubble's logo. Redbubble handles customer service, including returns. Redbubble markets goods listed on its website as Redbubble products; for instance, it provides instructions on how to care for “Redbubble garments.” Customers often receive goods from Redbubble’s marketplace in Redbubble packaging.Some of Redbubble’s artists uploaded trademark-infringing images that appeared on Redbubble’s website; consumers paid Redbubble to receive products bearing images trademarked by OSU. Redbubble’s user agreement states that trademark holders, and not Redbubble, bear the burden of monitoring and redressing trademark violations. Redbubble did not remove the offending products from its website. OSU sued, alleging trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, and Ohio’s right-of-publicity law. The district court granted Redbubble summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Redbubble’s marketplace involves creating Redbubble products and garments that would not have existed but for Redbubble’s enterprise. The district court erred by entering summary judgment under an overly narrow reading of the Lanham Act. View "The Ohio State University v. Redbubble, Inc." on Justia Law
Evoqua Water Technologies, LLC v. M.W. Watermark, LLC
The parties manufacture and sell equipment that removes water from industrial waste. Gethin founded Watermark's predecessor, “J-Parts,” after leaving his position at JWI. JWI sued Gethin and J-Parts for false designation of origin, trademark dilution, trademark infringement, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract, and conversion. The parties settled. A stipulated final judgment permanently enjoined Watermark and Gethin and “their principals, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, successors and assigns” from using JWI’s trademarks and from “using, disclosing, or disseminating” JWI’s proprietary information. Evoqua eventually acquired JWI’s business and trade secrets, technical and business information and data, inventions, experience and expertise, other than software and patents, and JWI’s rights and obligations under its contracts, its trademarks, and its interest in litigation. Evoqua discontinued the J-MATE® product line. Watermark announced that it was releasing a sludge dryer product. Evoqua planned to reintroduce J-MATE® and expressed concerns that Watermark was violating the consent judgment and improperly using Evoqua’s trademarks. Evoqua sued, asserting copyright, trademark, and false-advertising claims and seeking to enforce the 2003 consent judgment. The district court held that the consent judgment was not assignable, so Evoqua lacked standing to enforce it and that the sales agreement unambiguously did not transfer copyrights. A jury rejected Evoqua’s false-advertising claim but found Watermark liable for trademark infringement. The Sixth Circuit vacated in part. The consent judgment is assignable and the sales agreement is ambiguous regarding copyrights. View "Evoqua Water Technologies, LLC v. M.W. Watermark, LLC" on Justia Law
AuSable River Trading Post v. Dovetail Solutions, Inc.
Every winter for about 60 years, Tawas, Michigan has been the home of the “Perchville” festival, including a polar bear swim and a fishing contest. The Chamber of Commerce organizes the event and registered the name Perchville as a trademark. While dues-paying members of the Chamber may use the Perchville mark, non-members must pay a ($750) licensing fee to use it. A local company, AuSable, wants to make Perchville-branded tee-shirts, and sued the Chamber to invalidate its mark. The district court declined. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. “Perchville” is a distinctive term eligible for protection under the Lanham Act, which protects “any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof” that a person uses “to identify and distinguish his or her goods” in the marketplace, 15 U.S.C. 1127. “No matter how you slice it, the term ‘Perchville’ is inherently distinctive. The name does not refer to a place. It serves only ‘to identify a particular’ event, namely the annual winter festival in Tawas. … The word almost certainly counts as fanciful, and at the very least is sufficiently suggestive to qualify as an inherently distinctive trademark.” View "AuSable River Trading Post v. Dovetail Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law