claire-anderson-60670-unsplashIt's easy to wonder, given how relatively easy it is to search the respective databases containing registered trademarks, why anyone would thus infringe upon those marks given that they could or should know the error of their ways. One view is that it's a simple oversight on the part of the offender, an honest mistake, a view that is both accurate and somewhat naive at once. The other interpretation is that there is malice aforethought, that the perpetrator intended to infringe upon the mark because there was gain to be had for them, which is also true and also cynical. Whatever the reason, there is profit to be had in violating someone else's trademark, otherwise it wouldn't happen. But the Supreme Court might be looking to change that in the near future.

The National Law Review reports that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that would determine whether there needs to be willful intent on the part of the offender in order to award profits from the infringing trademark. The case in question involves the watch- and apparel-maker Fossil and a former supplier, Romag Fasteners. Fossil was acquiring the fasteners through Romag's authorized Chinese manufacturer, Wing Yip Metal Manufactory Accessories, except that Wing Yip used fake parts and not actual Romag fasteners. Romag then took Fossil to court, claiming that Fossil weren't diligent enough in ensuring that Wing Yip was using authentic Romag parts in assembling the fasteners. (Why Romag doesn't hold itself to the same level of diligence and oversight is a question for a different day, I suppose.)

The initial court case went in favor of Romag, with a ruling that Fossil violated their trademark in using the counterfeit parts, although the $6.8 million in profits awarded to Romag by a jury was struck down by a U.S. District Court that upheld the decision. The question of intent is largely what's in question, at least so far as the award of profits is concerned; Fossil claims no malice or intent and that any infringement was merely accidental, while Romag obviously disputes the claim. And that dispute and the millions of dollars that hang in the balance are why the case has made its way to the Supreme Court.

As with all Supreme Court cases, this once case is the thing that will now clear up any inconsistency and confusion from lower court rulings and determine precedent for any number of cases to come in the future. Different courts have had different standards as to willful intent and awarding profits, and it's a matter where reasonable people might disagree without either side being obviously right or wrong. However you might fall on the issue, at least having one standard for cases moving forward should provide clarity, and perhaps a warning for those that infringe upon others' marks, willfully or not.

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