Dissimilarity Between Trademarked Goods and Allegedly Infringing Goods is Not Dispositive

Indianapolis, Indiana — In June 2013, Australian Gold, LLC of Indianapolis, Indiana sued Devoted Creations, LLC of Oldsmar, Florida in the Southern District of Indiana alleging trademark infringement of the mark LIVE LAUGH TAN, Trademark Registration No. 4,154,194, which has been registered with the U.S. Trademark Office. Devoted Creations moved to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim.

Australian Gold has been in the business of selling indoor-tanning preparations for over 20 years. Devoted Creations also sells indoor-tanning preparations. Australian Gold contended in its complaint that, since at least October 2010, it has used the registered mark “LIVE LAUGH TAN” as a trade name and trademark in conjunction with sales of its Australian Gold line of indoor-tanning products.

Devoted Creations, which competes directly with Australian Gold for customers, uses the name “LIVE LOVE TAN” to advertise its indoor-tanning preparations. Australian Gold alleges that Devoted Creations’ use of a similar trademark to sell products similar to those which it sells infringes on its intellectual property rights in the “LIVE LAUGH TAN” trademark. It further asserted that Devoted Creations was aware of the goodwill and reputation associated with Australian Gold’s trademark, and that Devoted Creations intentionally copied that trademark. Australian Gold sued for trademark infringement and unfair competition.

In this opinion, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson addressed the request of Defendant Devoted Creations to invoke Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and dismiss the case against it on the basis that Australian Gold had stated no plausible claim. Devoted Creations asserted that the claims against it failed because Devoted Creations’ use of a mark on one product – indoor tanning preparations – could not as a matter of law infringe on Australian Gold’s use of its own mark in conjunction with an entirely different product – tote bags, the class of products for which the trademark is registered.

Judge Magnus-Stinson pointed out that Devoted Creations made two errors. Devoted Creations’ first error was one of fact. Devoted Creations asserted that Australian Gold did not use the trademark in conjunction with the sale of tanning products but, rather, that the mark was used only for tote bags. The court did not accept this version of the facts. Instead, the court referred to the standard of review for a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), which asks whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” As Australian Gold had explicitly alleged in its complaint that its use of the trademark was “in conjunction with the marketing and sale of its AUSTRALIAN GOLD® line of indoor tanning preparations,” the court was not persuaded that a motion to dismiss was appropriate.

The second error was one of law. Even if it were true that the purported infringement occurred only on a different type of goods, that dissimilarity is not dispositive, as the analysis of likelihood of confusion requires the application of a seven-factor test.

Finally, the court reminded Devoted Creations and its counsel of the ethical duties imposed by “both Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b)(2) (stating that a motion presented to the Court functions as a certification by the presenting attorney that ‘the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law’) and 28 U.S.C § 1927 (providing for sanctions for unreasonably protracting litigation) when filing a motion with the Court.”

Practice Tip: The precedent in the Seventh Circuit is that similarity between a plaintiff’s goods and a defendant’s allegedly infringing goods is only one of seven factors considered in evaluating whether there is a likelihood of confusion. Dissimilarity alone is not dispositive. Even when products are “quite different,” an evaluation of the other factors is required. The factors are:

1. the similarity between the marks in appearance and suggestion;
2. the similarity of the products;
3. the area and manner of concurrent use;
4. the degree of care likely to be exercised by consumers;
5. the strength of the plaintiff’s mark;
6. any actual confusion; and
7. the intent of the defendant to “palm off” his product as that of another.

The complaint in this case was filed by Charles Meyer of Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry, LLP and was assigned Case No. 1:13-cv-00971-JMS-DML. The current order was handed down by District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the Southern District of Indiana.


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