Trade Dress Infringement –The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a substantial jury award in a trade dress infringement case.

Posted on Sep 24 2013 10:27PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  I previously handled a significant trade dress case that has since resolved for my client but I still pay special attention to trade dress and trademark infringement cases.  They are often fascinating cases but they can also be very complex and expert intensive.  We do not have a lot of these types of cases in Tennessee but a recent Sixth Circuit decision I read about on the Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog caught my interest. 


The case is Groeneveld Transport Efficiency, Inc. v. Lubecore International, Inc., 2013 WL 4838792 (6th Cir. 2013).  It is a very lengthy opinion but is a very important case to review if you have a trade dress case in the Sixth Circuit (it will be a published opinion).  This opinion discussed whether trade dress protection applied to certain industrial grease pumps used in automated lubrication systems for commercial trucks.  The basic question, as framed by the Sixth Circuit, was whether a company “can use trade-dress law to protect its functional product design from competition with a copycat design made by another company where there is no reasonable likelihood that consumers would confuse the two companies’ products as emanating from a single source.” Groeneveld at 1.  This is a very important issue in trade dress law. 


Ultimately the Sixth Circuit reversed the $1,225,000.00 jury verdict award and found “Groeneveld presented no evidence showing that the individual components of its grease pump or their overall configuration are nonfunctional, it failed to carry its burden of creating a triable issue of fact with respect to nonfunctionality.” Groeneveld at 5.  This opinion also provided a lengthy discussion on likelihood of confusion issues.  In sum, the court stated that “we therefore conclude that the starkly different branding of the two grease pumps and the high degree of care presumably exercised by the pumps' sophisticated consumers—factors 3 and 6 of the Frisch factors—compel the conclusion that, as a matter of law, Groeneveld has failed to carry its burden of raising a triable issue regarding the likelihood of confusion.” Groeneveld at 12.  


If you are interested in this area of the law, this opinion is full of good information and provides a good analysis of some key points in the very important United States Supreme Court decision of Traffix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 121 S.Ct. 1255 (2001).  You can also read a more complete summary of the case from the blog post from the Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog. 


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TAGS: Trademark and Trade Dress Infringement Law
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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