In a year too often filled with unforeseen developments of every kind, a final surprise for many who were not paying close attention has emerged from December’s marathon stimulus and budget negotiations. This week, Congress included a trio of notable and hotly debated intellectual property measures in its multi-trillion-dollar spending and relief package. These bills, if signed into law as expected, could fundamentally alter the manner in which intellectual property owners protect and enforce their rights.
Nearly a year ago, we previewed the U.S. Supreme Court’s then-upcoming decision in Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil Group, Inc.—a case set to provide some much needed clarity on the question of whether plaintiffs in trademark infringement cases must demonstrate that defendants acted willfully in order for plaintiffs to recover defendants’ profits.
Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court resolving the circuit split on this issue and holding that a plaintiff alleging trademark infringement under § 1125(a) of the Lanham Act is not required to prove willful infringement as a precondition to recovering lost profits. The Court reasoned that the clear and unambiguous language of the Lanham Act’s remedies provision only requires a precondition of willfulness when awarding profits for trademark dilution under § 1125(c), not trademark infringement under § 1125(a). The Court was careful to note that willfulness, though not a precondition to awarding profits, remains an important factor a court should consider when assessing damages. It simply is not, however, an “inflexible” threshold inquiry.