Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lessons In Trademarks: The Sunkist Case

Prelude:  In the Fall of 1990, while a student in the LL.M, Intellectual Property program at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois, I was enrolled in Trademark 101 taught by Adjunct Professors (and Attorneys) Ray Geraldson and Mark Partridge.  Our class text book was "Trademarks", by Beverly W. Pattishall and David C. Hilliard (Copyr. 1987).  One of my favorite cases and the subject of this blog post was:

California Fruit Growers Exchange v. Sunkist Baking Co., (U.S.C.A., 7th Cir. 166 F. 2d 971 (1947)).

Principles/Findings:  The Plaintiff Calif. Fruit Growers Exchange ("Exchange") marketed and sold citrus fruits throughout the U.S. and overseas under the trademark, SUNKIST.  Joining in as a co-plaintiff was a N.Y. corporation that sold canned and dried fruits, vegetables, butter and other goods under the trademark, SUN-KIST.  A co-existence agreement was executed before these proceedings by these two plaintiff's.

The Defendant, Sunkist Baking Co., "engaged in baking and selling bread and buns."  The District Court found there to be a likelihood of confusion and found for the plaintiff's.  On appeal, however, the 7th Circuit reversed and found there to be no likelihood of confusion between the plaintiffs' fruits and vegetables and the defendant's bread.

Comments:  The result would likely be very different today given the current state of dilution law and the recent enactment of the Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006.  At the time of this case, however, the Appellate Court was not enamored with the contractual "hocus-pocus" of the plaintiff's and what the court understood to be an inconsistent stance, e.g., how can the plaintiff's claim there is no confusion between themselves when they sell the same goods and still claim confusion with the defendant who does not sell the same goods.  Another topic for another day will cover co-existence agreements which are still employed today by parties seeking resolution vs. litigation.



•  Trademark Dilution Revision Act; Official Summary


•  Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006 Goes to President for Signature



Respectfully submitted,

William E. Maguire


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