Indiana Trade Dress Litigation Update – KM Innovations v. Opportunities, Inc.

This is a trade dress lawsuit involving the product packaging for synthetic fiber snowballs. See the Complaint below for a description of the similarities and some really grainy comparison photos.

Plaintiff is based in New Castle, Indiana. Defendant is based in Colo, Iowa, which has a population of 876 and is named after a railroad official’s dog.

KM Innovations LLC v. Opportunities, Inc.

Court Case Number: 1:14-cv-00199-SEB-DML
File Date: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Plaintiff: KM Innovations LLC
Plaintiff Counsel: Dean E. McConnell of McConnell Intellectual Property Law
Defendant: Opportunities, Inc.
Cause: Trade Dress Infringement, Unfair Competition
Court: Southern District of Indiana
Judge: Judge Sarah Evans Barker
Referred To: Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch

Indiana Trade Dress Litigation Update – Patachou v. Crust

Here’s an interesting case involving the trade dress of two Indianapolis neopolitan pizzerias (i.e. “fancy pizza”). Broad Ripple-based Napolese, owned by the same restauranteur as popular local brunch spot Patachou, has complained that the new Crust Pizzeria Napoletana has copied the look and feel of Napolese. Crust is owned by another local restauranteur, Mohey Osman, of The Egyptian Cafe fame.

Images from Complaint

Images from Complaint

In case you haven’t read it in awhile, here’s the preeminent decision in this area, the Supreme Court ruling in Two Pesos v. Taco Cabana.

I won’t get into the facts of Two Pesos (read the decision) or of the current Complaint (see below) but I have the following thoughts:

1. Taco Cabana was a chain with 6 locations open for 7 years by the time of the lawsuit. Napolese has had one location in Broad Ripple for four years. Is the Napolese trade dress well known, much less famous (to support the dilution claim), outside of mid-Marion County suburbanites?

2. Trade dress infringement cases are almost always brought in federal court. The Napolese complaint was filed in Marion County Court with no federal claims. This surely wasn’t by mistake, and makes me think a few things:

a. Napolese doesn’t consider their trade dress to be very strong beyond the local level.

The Complaint relies heavily on the fame of the Patachou brand but is light on discussion of the strength of the Napolese trade dress specifically, although the Napolese trade is what is actually at issue).

b. Napolese doesn’t want the formalities and high legal costs associated with federal court.

Few do.

c. Napolese may not intend to follow through with the lawsuit.

It’s possible the Complaint may just be a cost-effective method (cheaper than advertising) to alert the public that Crust is not associated with Napolese and also expose the many similarities, making Crust look tacky in the process. Napolese may be gambling that media pressure on Crust will force some modifications and they can drop the lawsuit before they get too deep.

The reality is that defending a lawsuit (particularly with a prestigious firm like Woodard Emhardt as counsel) is much more expensive than changing your logo and menu colors. The trade dress of Napolese and Crust is probably similar enough to defeat any counterclaim that this is a “frivolous” complaint, which could entitle Crust to attorney fees, so Napolese has the upper hand to drive this litigation as far as they want it to go.

3. One more thing to consider is the similarity of the trade dress of other neapolitan pizzerias across the state/country. If neopolitan pizzerias frequently utilize the stone oven/shield logo/bar stool/whatever, that info could affect both the “distinctiveness” analysis for the Napolese trade dress and the “likelihood of confusion” analysis in comparing Crust trade dress. I don’t usually eat fancy pizza so I can’t comment here.

What are your thoughts on the Complaint? More info about the lawsuit is available in the Indianapolis Star. Stay tuned to this blog for updates.

Patachou, Inc. v. Mohey Osman d/b/a Crust, and Crust

Court Case Number: 49D12 13 10 CT 038659
File Date: October 18, 2013
Plaintiff: Patachou, Inc.
Plaintiff Counsel: Jonathan G. Polak of Taft/
Defendant: Mohey Osman d/b/a Crust, and Crust
Defendant Counsel: Charles Meyer of Woodard, Emhardt, Moriarty, McNett & Henry
Cause: Common Law Trademark Infringement, Common Law Trade Dress Infringement, Dilution, Forgery, Preliminary and Permanent Injunctive Relief, Corrective Advertising Damages
Court: Marion County Court
Judge: TBD

Indiana Trade Dress Litigation Update – Mortar Net USA v. Masonry Reinforcing Corporation of America

Mortar Net continues its attempts to protect its “dovetail-shaped line of fibrous mesh products for use in masonry applications” (see example in Exhibit A below). Mortar Net’s counsel have a pretty clear hurdle to overcome in the “functionality doctrine,” which prevents manufacturers from protecting specific features of a product by means of trademark law. If a feature gives a producer a competitive advantage which is not related entirely to its function as a brand identifier, then it cannot be trademarked, regardless of advertising and promotional efforts. Such features are more appropriately protected under patent law. This is Mortar Net’s third filing of the year (see Related Cases below) and all have been assigned to a different judge, so maybe they’ll get lucky and find a judge willing to extend trademark protection to their dovetail design.

Stay tuned for updates.

Related Cases:

Mortar Net USA Ltd v. Masonry Reinforcing Corporation of America

Court Case Number:    2:12-cv-00252-PPS-PRC
File Date:    Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Plaintiff:     Mortar Net USA Ltd
Plaintiff Counsel:     Daniel W Glavin of O’Neill McFadden & Willett LLP
Defendant:     Masonry Reinforcing Corporation of America
Cause:    Trade Dress Infringement, Federal Trademark Infringement, Trademark Infringement, Federal Unfair Competition, Common Law Infringement Infringement, Common Law Unfair Competition
Court:    Northern District of Indiana
Judge:     Chief Judge Philip P Simon
Referred To: Magistrate Judge Paul R Cherry

Complaint:

Exhibit A:

Indiana Trade Dress Litigation Update – Mortar Net USA Ltd. v. Keene Building Product Co.

Mortar Net USA Ltd. v. Keene Building Product Co.

Court Case Number:    2:12-cv-00148-JVB-PRC
File Date:    Monday, April 16, 2012
Plaintiff:     Mortar Net USA Ltd.
Plaintiff Counsel:     Daniel W. Glavin of O’Neill McFadden & Willett LLP, Michael H Baniak
Defendant:     Keene Building Product Co.
Cause:    Federal Trade Dress Infringement, Federal Trademark Infringement, Trademark Infringement, Federal Unfair Competition, Common Law Trademark Infringement, Common Law Unfair Competition
Court:    Northern District of Indiana
Judge:     Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen
Referred To: Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry