United States: The Ninth Circuit Writes The Script On Pleading And Proving Reverse Confusion Claims

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit clarified the requirements for pleading and establishing a trademark infringement claim under a "reverse confusion" theory in Marketquest Group v. BIC, Case No. 15-55755 (9th Cir. July 7, 2017). The court relieved plaintiffs from having to specifically plead reverse confusion if it is compatible with the theory of infringement alleged in the complaint, and supported a more malleable standard for proving intent in reverse confusion cases. The court also held that good faith is an element—not just a factor—of a fair use defense, and that the fair use defense may only be raised after a likelihood of confusion is established. Marketquest further reinforces courts' reluctance to decide trademark cases on summary judgment, and makes it more difficult for defendants to dispose of reverse confusion claims through pretrial motions.

A Tale of Two Catalogues: Background on Marketquest's Claims

A trademark owner can assert a claim for trademark infringement under the Lanham Act under two theories: forward confusion and reverse confusion. See Surfvivor Media v. Survivor Productions, 406 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2005). Forward confusion occurs when consumers believe that goods bearing the junior mark came from, or were sponsored by, the senior mark holder. By contrast, reverse confusion occurs when consumers dealing with the senior mark holder believe that they are doing business with the junior mark holder.

In the Marketquest case, the plaintiff owned the trademarks "All-in-One" and "The Write Choice" for the production and sale of promotional products. In 2009, Defendants BIC Corp. and BIC USA, Inc., acquired Norwood, a promotional products company, and in 2010 Norwood published a promotional products catalogue for 2011 that featured the phrase "All-in-One" on both the cover and inside the catalogue. The year before, BIC had also used the phrase "The WRITE Pen Choice for 30 Years" in connection with a 30th anniversary promotion of its pens. Marketquest sued the defendants alleging infringement of its "All-in-One" and "The Write Choice" marks. Following discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, holding that even though there was some likelihood of confusion, fair use provided a complete defense to the allegations of infringement of both the "All-in-One" and "The Write Choice" marks.

Reverse Confusion Claims: Easy to Write and Now Harder to Defend

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment, noting repeatedly in its opinion that "summary judgment is generally disfavored in the trademark arena" due to "the intensely factual nature of trademark disputes." See KP Permanent Make-Up v. Lasting Impression I, 408 F.3d 596, 602 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

First, the court held that reverse confusion is not a separate claim that must be specifically pleaded, but instead is a theory of likely confusion that may be alleged by itself or in addition to forward confusion. The court held that Marketquest's pleading was adequate to support a cause of action for trademark infringement under a reverse confusion theory of likely confusion, even though Marketquest had only specifically alleged forward confusion, alleged no examples of confusion or market saturation, and generally alleged that there was some confusion "as to whether some affiliation, connection, or association exist[ed]" among the parties.

Second, the court held that the intent factor in the likelihood of confusion analysis varies with the type of confusion being considered, and no specific type of evidence is required to establish intent. Because neither party typically wishes to siphon off the other's goodwill in reverse confusion cases, the court noted, a defendant's mere knowledge of the senior user's mark may not be sufficient to establish intent. Knowledge, however, was one of the several potential signs of intent. Other facts potentially suggesting the intent to confuse included evidence that a defendant deliberately intended to push a plaintiff out of the market by flooding the market with advertising to create reverse confusion, evidence that the defendant should have known of the mark, a failure to conduct a reasonably adequate trademark search, or otherwise culpably disregarded the risk of reverse confusion.

Third, the court held that good faith is an element of the fair use defense and not merely a factor to consider. As with intent, the court noted there is no bright-line rule or required type of evidence to establish good or bad faith.

Finally, the court held that fair use is an affirmative defense that comes into play only after likelihood of confusion is established. Here, the district court erred in applying the fair use analysis to the defendants' use of "The Write Choice" mark after determining that Marketquest had presented no evidence of likely confusion. If there is no likelihood of confusion, then a plaintiff's claims fail and there is no need to consider the affirmative defense of fair use. But because likelihood of confusion is a fact-intensive question, it is difficult to resolve at the summary judgment stage. And a court cannot reach the merits of a fair use defense on summary judgment unless the defendant concedes (or loses) on the confusion claims. The effect of the court's ruling is that it will be harder for defendants to rely on a fair use defense at the summary judgment stage.

Takeaways: The Story of Reverse Confusion Is Written Long Before the Lawsuit Begins

Marketquest makes it easier for plaintiffs to assert a reverse confusion theory of trademark infringement, as it is now sufficient for plaintiffs to allege that consumers were confused "as to whether some affiliation, connection, or association exist[ed]" between the parties to plead both forward and reverse confusion theories. The decision's malleable intent standard also creates considerable uncertainty over what constitutes intent in reverse confusion cases. Given the court's expansive view of evidence supporting intent and good faith, businesses that are often hit with reverse confusion claims—such as viral startups—should take care in selecting a trademark. The initial steps to select a mark can later form the basis for showing intent or bad faith.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
25 Sep 2018, Conference, California, United States

We're excited to introduce Women's IP Strategy, a 2-day conference that tackles both the IP, legal as well as broader career development obstacles, risks and rewards for women lawyers working in male-dominant industries.

2 Oct 2018, Webinar, California, United States

This CLE webinar will offer suggestions to litigators to help them comply with the new GDPR during e-discovery.

10 Oct 2018, Webinar, California, United States

For the past years, 3D printing has significantly revolutionized the business industry as it provides innovations and improvement to pre-existing processes.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions