BLOGS: Furniture Law Blog

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008, 5:04 PM

District Court Tells Art Van To Wrap It Up

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts has ordered Warren, MI-based furniture retailer Art Van Furniture to stop promoting a truck design that shows a sofa being unwrapped from a chocolate bar wrapper. Hershey's moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Art Van has said that they will continue their promotion of soliciting on-line votes for new truck designs - just without the "candy bar sofa" design as one possible choice.

A visit to Art Van's website reveals that it has removed the image.

Click here to read the Detroit News article.

Friday, October 24, 2008, 6:18 AM

Hershey Goes On A Tear Over Image On Furniture Delivery Truck

On Tuesday, October 21, 2008 Hershey Co. filed an action in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan claiming that the image of a couch emerging from a candy bar wrapper infringes Hershey's intellectual property.

The spat began when Michigan's largest furniture retailer posted several images of delivery trucks on its website in an online voting forum asking for visitors to the site to select their favorite design. Hershey clearly disfavored the image of a dark leather couch partially wrapped in a candy bar wrapper. Voting ends Oct. 31, 2008. Art Van claims the chocolate bar truck has not yet hit the road.

Hershey's action, 2:08-cv-14463, alleges federal statutory trademark and trade dress infringement, false association and sponsorship, trademark dilution and tarnishment, unfair competition, and conversion. Hershey is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Art Van submitted opposition papers on Oct. 22 and Hershey submitted its reply on Oct. 23. In its opposition, Art Van claims the image is a parody. In addition, a visit to Art Van's website shows that Art Van changed the color of the wrapper from brown to red. The chocolate bar truck is apparently also getting the most votes in Art Van's online voting. The matter appears fully briefed so watch for an order from U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts on this matter soon.

Hershey's is represented by Francis R. Ortiz of Dickinson Wright PLLC (Detroit, MI) and Jonathan G. Polak, Amy L. Wright, and Trent J. Sandifur, of Taft Stettinus & Hollister LLP (Indianapolis, IN).

The matter was reported on by The Detroit News and Forbes among others.

Sunday, October 19, 2008, 11:42 AM

Father-Son Accused In Knock-Off Case

Furnitre Today reports a criminal action involving the application of brand-name labels to cheaper furniture:

A father and son who own the furniture store Fine Interiors here were arraigned in court last week on charges they sold knock-off furniture. Douglas Morse and Benjamin Morse each face three counts of trademark counterfeiting, a felony charge, on charges that they removed name-brand tags on furniture, put them on cheaper versions and then sold the knock-offs at the price of the more expensive furniture, according to the northern Ohio News-Herald.

A link to Furniture Today's story may be found here. A link to the News-Herald story may be found here.

As Furniture Market Opens, Four New Law Suits Filed

As the High Point Market is set to open (Oct. 20-26, 2008), four new intellectual property law suits involving furniture have been filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Design patents are involved in all three and perhaps signal a new wave of design patents in view of the Federal Circuit recently strengthening design patents (see posting of Sept. 23, 2008 regarding the Egyptian Goddess case).

The first suit was filed Oct. 13, 2008 by Marge Carson, Inc. v. Schnadig Corporation. In this patent infringement action, Marge Carson asserts United States Patent No. D549,997 (the '997 Patent).

The accused product is the Bellini-A Room couch.

Addition views of the Bellini A Room couch may be found here.

One drawing from Marge Carson's '997 Patent shows the following design:

Marge Carson seeks preliminary and permanent relief, destruction of infringing products, and unspecified damages. The Marge Carson suit is Case No. 08-cv-737 (M.D.N.C.).

We note that Womble Carlyle represents plaintiff Marge Carson in this action.

Three additional actions were filed on Oct. 15, 2008. All three involve design patents. The first is Palliser Furniture, Ltd. v. Coaster Company of America, Case No. 08-cv-743 (M.D.N.C.) in which Palliser asserts infringement of United States Design Patent D493,966 along with statutory trade dress infringement, common law trade dress infringement, violation of North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and Unfair Competition. The complaint alleges that Coaster infringes Palliser's intellectual property rights in its "Tracer Ottoman."

The second suit is Casana Furniture, Ltd. v. Coaster Company of America, Case No. 08-cv-744 (M.D.N.C.). In this action, Casana Furniture, a new furniture company created from Palliser's casegoods division, asserts infringement of its intellectual property rights in its VALENCIA through infringement of United States Design Patent D474,615, along with claims of statutory trade dress infringement, common law trade dress infringement, violation of North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and Unfair Competition.

In the third action, Casana Furniture Company, Ltd. v. SLF, Inc. f/k/a Samuel Lawrence Furniture Company, Case No. 08-cv-746 (M.D.N.C.) asserts United States Design Patent No. D485,098, along with claims of statutory trade dress infringement, common law trade dress infringement, violation of North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and Unfair Competition.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008, 7:13 AM

Will A Stake From Your Competitor's Patent Pierce Your Plans?

The excitement of a new furniture collection can quickly turn to disappointment when the sheriff or U.S. Marshals deliver a Temporary Restraining Order to your business or showroom. The disappointment quickly falls into the depths of despair if federal court litigation follows. With the possibility looming of a large judgment, the time required by your key employees in depositions and document production and finally, and possibly most painful of all, the mounting legal fees resulting from our complex federal court system and adversaries tactics. How, you will be asked repeatedly, could this have been avoided? How can you avoid this next time?

One great advantage of the patent and trademark legal system that protects our new ideas and brands is the fact that most all of such rights are a matter of public record. While there are a few exceptions - trade secrets and unpublished patent applications, a targeted search of often-free electronic databases can yield a wealth of information, and identify land mines you may want to avoid.

The published and issued patents by the United States and most developed countries are available online in searchable databases. Patents can be searched by inventor (“P. Bagwell”); key words (e.g., “sofa bed”), subject matter classification (“Class 5 Beds/Subclass 12.1 Sofa Bed”), assignee or patent owner (“LANEVENTURE”), and of course patent number (such as the one you see on your competitor’s product!). Specifically, US patents can be searched at this site and European patents can be searched at this site. The resulting “hits” can be analyzed by patent counsel, who will identify both mine fields and even areas that might be in a void you want to rush to fill.

Conducting a clearance study also is vitally important prior to launching your new brand. Although conducting a search engine (e.g., Google®) inquiry on your own is invaluable, many governmental trademark databases also are available and must be searched for trademarks that share a look, sound or meaning with your proposed new word mark or logo. For example, US trademarks are searchable at this link. Your trademark attorney can help interpret the results, as well as suggest additional database for other possible conflict searches, e.g., trademarks registered only at the state level.

Spending some time and efforts searching for conflicts prior to launch can end up saving you tremendous headaches and legal fees later, and possibly avoid a visit from your local sheriff or friendly (or not so friendly!) U.S. Marshal.

French Heritage, Ethan Allen Settle Suit

We reported on September 2, 2008 that the business interference suit brought by French Heritage against Ethan Allen was set to begin trial. Furniture Today now reports that the parties have settled the dispute without disclosing details due to a confidentiality agreement. Furniture Today reports:

French Heritage, a manufacturer of case goods and accent furniture, had claimed it had an exclusivity agreement with Indonesian manufacturer PT Alis Jaya Ciptatama regarding the sourcing of Ethan Allen products. French Heritage also said it had formed a joint venture with the same factory called PT Alis French Heritage.

It claimed that Ethan Allen ended up sourcing goods directly from the factory without approval from French Heritage. It also said that Ethan Allen ultimately cut it out of the joint venture relationship, which French Heritage said ultimately represented a loss between $3 million and $4 million worth of production.

The case went to trial here Sept. 3 but French Heritage withdrew it Sept. 25, according to an official with Stamford Superior Court.

The full article may be found here.

Monday, October 6, 2008, 5:08 AM

Publicizing Patent Application Filings

With the recent expansion of the protections afforded by design patents (see post from Sept. 23, 2008 regarding the Egyptian Godess case), and the strength and leverage that utility patents afford, it makes sense for furniture companies to publicize when patents are issued. At least one furniture company has taken it a step further an announced the filing of a patent application.

Home Furnishings Business reports that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has accepted the application of Signature Home Furnishings of Cerritos, California, for a utility patent for the case case goods vendor's premium dresser mirror. The dresser and mirror apparently accommodates home entertainment functions with a motorized mirror that sinks into the dresser, revealing a flat-screen television as the mirror lowers. More on the piece can be found here.

Publicizing the filing and issuance of both design and utility patent applications can assist in the protection of furniture designs and innovations. In particular, publicizing the filing of a patent application may allowed for enhanced damages in later infringement actions.

NOTE: The Signature Home Furnishings application is not yet available on the Patent Office's website.

Thursday, October 2, 2008, 4:53 PM

California AG Sues For Formaldehyde In Baby Furniture

Child Craft, Delta Enterprise, Stork Craft, South Shore Industries, and Jardine Enterprises were all targeted in a lawsuit filed last week by the California Attorney General alleging that the manufacturers failed to warn consumers about dangerous levels of formaldehyde gas emitted from their baby furniture products.

More on the story can be found here.

Although focused on intellectual property law issues, Womble Carlyle's Furniture Law Blog notes the significant increase in environmental issues in the furniture industry, ranging from health-based issues, such as with the lawsuit in California, to industry initiatives to go "green." We will continue to follow such issues and specifically track the "green" movement in both trademark and patent law as it relates to the furniture and home furnishings industry.
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