Saturday, March 28, 2009

9th Circuit decision on laches and "public interest" factor in trademark injunction case

In a 2-1 decision in Internet Specialties West, Inc. v. Milon-DiGregorio Enterprises¸ No. 07-55087 (March 17, 2009), the Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction requiring an Internet service provider to stop using its domain name. One of the effects of the injunction was that the defendant’s 13,000 customers, who innocently used the infringing domain name as part of their individual email addresses (e.g.,, had to change their e-mail addresses.

The majority and dissent agreed on infringement. The fractures in the panel was mainly over laches and whether the “public interest” favored the injunction.

On laches, the issue was whether the defendant’s 6-year investment in its business—which resulted in growth from 2,000 subscribers to 13,000 subscribers—by itself was enough to show that the defendant was prejudiced by the plaintiff’s delay. The dissent thought that, under 9th Circuit precedent, this was a sufficient showing of prejudice. The majority ruled, however, that “mere expenditures in promoting the infringed name” was not enough under 9th Circuit authority: the defendant must also have developed “brand awareness” or “brand recognition” or “an identity as a business based on its mark”—which the majority thought the defendant failed to do prove.

As to the public interest aspect of the injunction, the majority and dissent disagreed on whether the inconvenience to 13,000 customers of informing all of their e-mail contacts of their new e-mail addresses outweighed the general public’s interest in not being confused.

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