Friday, January 07, 2005

What is With the 10th Circuit and Tire Trademark Cases?

The 10th Circuit -- not exactly a trademark law hotbed -- issued its second published trademark decision in a month. And on tires, to boot, which is kind of weird for a circuit that doesn't get many trademark cases, yet were the folks who gave us the seminal reverse confusion decision in 1977 in Big O Tires.

But I digress. In Team Tires Plus, Ltd. v. Tires Plus, Inc. (January 6, 2005), the 10th Circuit burned a little rubber on the district court. The plaintiff used TIRES PLUS for franchising services to tire stores. The defendant TIRES PLUS was an unrelated tire store. The district court ruled that since franchising and tire-selling are not the same thing, the plaintiff's infringement case had no traction.

The 10th Circuit held that the district court's simplistic analysis hydroplaned right over the key issue of likelihood of confusion. The court noted that while in the days of solid rubber tires such a binary view may have held sway, it has long gone the way of the Model T.

Having jacked up and replaced the district court's threadbare reasoning, the 10th Circuit rolled the case back to the trial court for proper inflation of the multi-factor likelihood of confusion test.

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