Court splits over trade dress, trademark claims In 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a trademark holder seeking a preliminary injunction after filing suit against an alleged infringer must establish the likelihood of irreparable harm, rather than relying on a presumption of harm. Not until this year, though, has the court elaborated on the kind of proof required. Its recent ruling sheds light on what does — and doesn’t — demonstrate irreparable harm.
The hurdle for proving trade dress infringement is high. This is partly because, as the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently explained, a plaintiff must produce evidence of nonfunctionality — a unique challenge since a plaintiff must prove evidence of an absence and product design often serves purposes beyond mere identification of the product’s source. In the case in question, though, the court determined that the plaintiff had succeeded.
Some product features are ornamental and others are functional. One manufacturer recently learned that the hard way when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that its bag’s design and shape were functional — and therefore not protected as trade dress.
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