Tuesday, June 29, 2010

9th Circuit (Kozinski) opinion on dilution of non-coined marks

VISA claimed that "eVisa" for "multilingual education and information" services on the Internet diluted its famous mark by blurring. In Visa Int'l Serv. Ass'n v. JSL Corp., No. 08-15206 (9th Cir. June 28, 2010), the 9th Circuit agreed.

Judge Kozinski's opinion focused on issues that can arise when the plaintiff's mark is a real word in the dictionary (e.g., "VISA," as opposed to a coined term like XEROX). Two ways this circumstance can affect a dilution-by-blurring claim are whether the plaintiff's mark is distinctive enough to be protected under the dilution statute and whether the defendant can claim a fair descriptive use.

The court held that even a word appearing in the dictionary can be distinctive enough to qualify for dilution protection (under 15 USC § 1125(c)(1)), so long as the plaintiff isn't using it descriptively. Judge Kozinski mentioned TIDE and CAMEL, among other examples sprinkled throughout the court's opinion.

The court also rejected what appeared to be the defendant's "fair descriptive use" defense (15 USC § 1125(c)(3)(A)), saying using eVisa for multilingual education did not evoke the dictionary definition of "visa."

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