Indiana Trademark Law: Stratotone Guitar Co. Has Priority Date for Stratotone Trademark; Westheimer Infringed
Fort Wayne, Indiana - District Judge Jon DeGuilo held that prior rights to the Stratotone trademark were abandoned and that the subsequent user held the superior right to the trademark.
This litigation arose as a result of a federal trademark complaint, filed in the Northern District of Indiana by Plaintiff Darryl Agler, doing business as The Stratotone Guitar Company of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Defendant is Westheimer Corporation of Northbrook, Illinois. In the complaint, Agler asserted that Westheimer had infringed the trademark "STRATOTONE" (the "Stratotone trademark"), Trademark Registration No. 3,986,754, which has been issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The claims listed in Agler's complaint were:
• Count I: Federal Unfair Competition and False Designation of Origin
• Count II: Federal Trademark Infringement
• Count III: Federal Trademark Counterfeiting
• Count IV: Common Law Unfair Competition and Trademark Infringement
• Count V: Unjust Enrichment
• Count VI: Conversion
• Count VII: Deception
• Count VIII: Indiana Crime Victim's Relief Act
Westheimer counterclaimed, asserting that Agler was infringing on its rights in the Stratotone trademark as well as an additional trademark for "Atom."
In this opinion, Judge DeGuilo ruled on Agler's motion for summary judgment on counts I through IV as well as Agler's motion for summary judgment on all of Westheimer's counterclaims.
The court first addressed the Stratatone trademark. Agler asserted, and Westheimer conceded, that the Stratatone mark was protected and that Westheimer's use of the mark was likely to cause confusion. The question for the court was which party had superior rights to the mark, as determined by whether Agler or Westheimer had priority to the trademark. That priority, in turn, was determined by who had established and maintained the earliest claim to the trademark.
It was undisputed that Agler had filed an "intent-to-use" application to register the Stratotone mark on March 7, 2006. Westheimer claimed that it had acquired rights that predated Agler's 2006 application through its 2009 purchase of trademark rights from Harmony Industries, a third party that had used the Stratotone trademark at least as early as 2001.
The court, however, reviewed the testimony of those involved with Harmony Industries and found that Harmony Industries had both ceased to use the trademark and had demonstrated no intent to use it for more than four years starting at least January 1, 2003. The holder of a trademark has only three years to formulate its intent to resume use before that trademark is presumed abandoned. Thus, Harmony Industries was held to have abandoned the trademark. In turn, because Harmony Industries had no trademark rights to convey in the Stratotone mark, Westheimer acquired none. Consequently, Agler was held to have an earlier priority date and, thus, superior rights to the trademark. The court granted Agler's motion with respect to his claims, and Westheimer's counterclaims, regarding the Stratotone trademark.
Regarding the Atom trademark, the court concluded that it did not have sufficient evidence to determine that Agler had acquired priority. It thus denied Agler's motion for summary judgment with respect to the claims involving the Atom trademark.