Trademark Lawsuit Over Website Text Comparing Products Baffles the Judge–AR Pillow v. Cottrell

24 05 2012

By Eric Goldman

AR Pillow Inc. v. Cottrell, 2012 WL 868109 (W.D.Wash. March 13, 2012). The complaint.

. . .

The plaintiff is largely complaining about text on the defendant’s website explaining why the plaintiff’s product isn’t as good as the defendant’s. From my perspective, the explanation doesn’t constitute a trademark “use” at all because the trademark is being used as a referent. See, e.g., Naked Cowboy v. CBS, 2012 WL 592539 (S.D.N.Y. Feb 23, 2012). Thus, the court should dismiss the trademark claim for non-trademark use. But if the court doesn’t do that, at least it should dismiss as a nominative use. See, e.g., 1 800 GET THIN v. Hiltzik. There is absolutely no question that the defendant’s reference qualifies as a nominative use under Ninth Circuit law. Yet, and here’s where a piece of me dies, the opinion doesn’t discuss nominative use AT ALL. What???

Instead of relying on the two most obvious grounds, the court engages in doctrinal contortions to fit this case into a standard likelihood of consumer confusion analysis. As I’ve explained elsewhere, the multi-factor LOCC test simply makes no sense when the trademark is being used as a referent. My paradigmatic example is the Ballysucks case, where the LOCC analysis is ridiculous because the court is trying to compare a vendor with a griper who registered a “sucks” domain. The LOCC test doesn’t work any better here. The judge almost seems to know that the LOCC test isn’t the right test but doesn’t seem to know what else to do. . . .

Fortunately, the judge overcomes his crappy analysis by reaching the right result, concluding that there’s insufficient evidence of consumer confusion. Yay for good outcomes.


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