Based on a recent restitution submission prepared by Faegre Drinker, a federal judge in Harrisburg, Pa. awarded Eli Lilly and Company $1.9 million in restitution from an individual convicted of trafficking in drugs bearing counterfeit trademarks of Lilly and other pharmaceutical companies. The defendant in this matter was sentenced to 70 months in prison and ordered to pay $3.6 million in restitution, the remainder split between the other companies based on the defendant’s conduct involving their trademarks. In this instance, crime clearly didn’t pay for the defendant and success was achieved by partnering with our client to fight counterfeiting and illegal importing. So how does this work?
You’ve done the work of securing a federal trademark registration and now face the matter of enforcement against a potential infringer. Are the classes and goods specified in that registration now a double-edged sword?
Say your business, Company A, sells a premium line of clothing for chefs, widely recognized in the restaurant industry for both its durability and stylish design. You’ve worked hard to build the brand and made sure to protect its reputation by registering Company A’s trademarks with the USPTO—in particular, Class 25 for clothing. Much to your dismay, however, a customer has brought to your attention Company B’s new line of kitchen utensils that uses a conspicuously similar name and logo. While initially sold at retail outlets, this new line of cutlery has grown in popularity with some of the nation’s top restaurants. When you reach out to Company B for an explanation, they direct you to your own now-glaring lack of any registration for goods in Class 21 for household utensils. Your brand, despite taking the cooking world by storm, is not quite famous enough to pursue a dilution claim. Are you out of luck in pursuing a claim for infringement?
The mechanics of litigation in the federal courts have changed dramatically over the course of the past two months. Intellectual property enforcement is certainly not immune to these changes. Now that stay at home orders have been in effect in many states, enforcing copyright, trademark and other intellectual property rights through litigation involves a different set of considerations. Here are a few of the more significant considerations you can’t afford to ignore:
On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Romag Fasteners Inc. v. Fossil Inc. et al., agreeing to weigh in on the question of whether plaintiffs in trademark infringement cases must demonstrate that defendants acted willfully in order for plaintiffs to receive a portion of defendants’ profits.
Whether willfulness is a prerequisite to an award of defendants’ profits in trademark infringement cases is a question that has deeply divided the U.S. circuit courts. Half of the circuits have answered the question in the affirmative. The other half have answered the question in the negative. These latter circuits that do not require a threshold showing of willfulness merely view willfulness as one of many factors considered in fashioning an equitable remedy.
If trademark infringement and dilution are frequent headaches for brand owners, counterfeiting – which the U.S. Trademark Act defines as use of “a spurious mark identical with, or substantially indistinguishable from, a registered mark” – is a migraine. As a practical matter, counterfeiting in most cases renders perfunctory the task of analyzing the “likelihood of confusion factors” required in traditional infringement cases. In counterfeit cases, the marks and goods are identical, and the counterfeit mark was applied with the intent to deceive consumers into believing that fake goods are genuine, so it’s reasonable to assume it will do exactly that.