Tuesday, February 08, 2011

9th Circuit: Amended Federal Dilution Law Does Not Require Defendant’s Mark to be “Identical or Nearly Identical” to Plaintiff’s

The 9th Circuit today revived a federal trademark dilution claim because the district court used the “identical or nearly identical” standard in its analysis of the claim. In Levi Strauss & Co. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Trading Co., No. 09-16322 (Feb. 8, 2011), Levi Strauss claimed that the stitching pattern on the back pockets of certain A&F jeans diluted Levi’s famous “arcuate” stitch design. The district court instructed the advisory jury to determine whether the patterns were identical or nearly so. Based in part on their advisory finding that the marks did not meet this standard, the district court found no dilution.

The 9th Circuit reversed and remanded. It found this standard to have its genesis in cases under state dilution laws and under the original version of the federal dilution act. Although more recent 9th Circuit decisions had repeated this standard in cases involving the 2006 amended version of the dilution statute, the Levi panel did not believe these decisions had squarely addressed the issue. Performing its own analysis, the panel held that the 2006 amendments provided no textual support for the “identical or nearly identical” standard. It specifically noted that the amended act targets dilution caused by “the similarity” between marks, and requires assessment of the “degree of similarity.” The panel believed that the lack of any reference to identicality or substantial similarity in the amended statute was a significant omission that precluded any more stringent requirement.

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