The Ninth Circuit no longer requires that marks be identical or nearly identical for federal dilution claim. Here is the opinion.
Levi Strauss & Co. filed a federal trademark dilution claim against Abercrombie & Fitch for infringing Levi’s back pocket stitch design for Levi jeans. The case made it to a jury trial during which the trial court (Northern District of California) asked the jury to make advisory rulings on fact issues, including whether the two designs were “identical or nearly identical.” The jury answered that they were neither, from which the District Court entered judgment in A&F’s favor on the dilution claim. Levi appealed.
The Ninth Circuit observed that the “identical or nearly identical” standard has origins in state law and was incongruous with the federal Trademark Dilution Revision Act’s (15 U.S.C. § 1125(c)) scheme. The TDRA allows for relief when there is similarity between defendant’s mark and plaintiff’s famous mark which impairs the distinctiveness of the famous mark. Given that, the Court ruled that all three previously used dilution standards – identicalness, near identicalness and substantial similarity – were too strenuous under TDRA.
Now, at least in the Ninth Circuit, a TDRA plaintiff must only show that the marks are similar and that the junior mark is likely to impair the distinctiveness of the famous mark.