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MANNING INTERNATIONAL v. HOME SHOPPING NETWORK

July 11, 2001

MANNING INTERNATIONAL INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOME SHOPPING NETWORK, INC., AND PORT CARLING CORPORATION DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert L. Carter, District Judge.

  OPINION

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a New York corporation with its principal place of business in New York City. Plaintiff is the exclusive domestic distributor of "Gilson-Created" opal gem stones, which are authentic laboratory-created opals with the same optical, physical and chemical properties as real opals. Plaintiff supplies 85%-90% of synthetic opals nationwide. Plaintiff has used the terms "laboratory-created," "synthetic" and "Gilson-Created" to identify and distinguish its goods continuously since June 1, 1990. None of these terms are registered trademarks.

HSN is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in St. Petersburg, Florida. HSN advertises and sells "Technibond Created Opal" products. Carling is a Nevada corporation with its principal place of business in Beverly Hills, California. Carling is the owner of the "Suzanne Sommers Collection" trademark, and engages in the advertising and sale of "Suzanne Somers' Created Opal" products. Defendants' opal products are allegedly cheap plastic imitations made out of polymer or resin filled silica lattice.

Plaintiff filed this complaint on January 4, 2001, seeking injunctive relief and damages based on defendants' marketing their plastic imitation opals as "laboratory-created," "synthetic" and "[manufacture name] -created" in interstate commercial advertisements, including via television and the internet. Plaintiff alleges that the use of these designations is intended to reflect the superior quality of plaintiff's authentic synthetic opals.*fn1

DISCUSSION

I.

The court may dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) only if it "`appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Cooper v. Parkay, 140 F.3d 433, 440 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46(1957)). In ruling on defendants' motion; the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff. See Bernheim v. Litt, 79 F.3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996).

II.

Counts I and III allege false designation of origin in violation of § 43(a)(1)(A) of the Lanham Act*fn2 and unfair competition under New York common law, respectively.*fn3 Defendants assert that these allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because the terms "laboratory-created," "synthetic" and "[manufacture name] -created" are generic, and therefore not entitled to trademark protection.*fn4

Defendants are correct that generic terms, that is, terms that refer to a class of product rather than a particular product, are not entitled to trademark protection. See Abercombie & Fitch Co. v. Hunting World. Inc., 537 F.2d 4, 9 (2d Cir. 1976). However, whether a term is generic or descriptive is a question of fact. See Textile Deliveries. Inc. v. Stagno, 1990 WL 155709, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 9, 1990) (Keenan, J.), aff'd, 52 F.3d 46 (2d Cir. 1995). At this early stage, when plaintiff has not had an opportunity to submit supportive proof, such a factual analysis is inappropriate.

Moreover, even assuming, arguendo, that the terms in question are generic, "such a finding does not close all avenues of relief." Forschner Group. Inc. v. Arrow Trading Co., Inc., 30 F.3d 348, 357 (2d Cir. 1994). Plaintiff may seek protection under § 43(a)(1)(A) if (1) goods or services are involved, (2) interstate commerce is affected, (3) "an association of origin by the consumer" between the generic term and the first user exists (i.e. secondary meaning), and (4) there is "a likelihood of consumer confusion" as to the goods' or services' source when the generic term is applied to the second user's goods or services. *fn5 See Genesee Brewing Co., Inc. v. Stroh Brewing Co., 124 F.3d 137, 150 (2d Cir. 1997) (citations omitted),; Sun Trading Distrib. Co. v. Evidence Music, 980 F. Supp. 722, 727 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (Chin, J.). The same claim may be made under New York common law of unfair competition, except that the state law action requires an additional element of bad faith or intent. See Genesee, 124 F.3d at 149.

Here, plaintiff asserts that by virtue of its dominance of the domestic synthetic opal market, the terms "synthetic," "laboratory-created" and "[manufacture name] -created" have acquired a secondary meaning, becoming synonymous with its own high-quality "Gilson-Created" opals.*fn6 Plaintiff alleges that defendants' use of these terms when marketing and selling their inferior opals in interstate commerce are literally false representations of fact that have caused and are likely to continue to "cause confusion" as to the association of plaintiff with defendants' products.*fn7 (Cmplt. ΒΆ 34.) Plaintiff further alleges that defendants intended to deceive consumers into thinking that their ...


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