Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Metal Jeans, Inc. v. Metal Sport, Inc. (9th Cir. - Feb. 16, 2021)

Judge VanDyke gives a nicely concise three-paragraph description of the underlying facts behind today's Ninth Circuit opinion:

"Gary Topolewski is the owner of Metal Jeans and the former president and owner of Topolewski America, Inc. (“TA”). In 1990,1 Topolewski began selling METALbranded clothing and initially marketed these products through hard-rock music magazines. Over the years, Metal Jeans has promoted its apparel to a variety of consumer segments, including motorcyclists, skaters, snowboarders, lumberjacks, “head-bangers,” and (naturally) those who “drop[] napalm on the enemy.”

TA obtained the METAL mark for use on jeans, shirts, and boots in 1999. In 2005, Topolewski told the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) that TA had continuously used the METAL mark on jeans, shirts, and boots since 1999. That turned out to be untrue—as to boots—and in a separate 2008 proceeding, Topolewski’s false statement led the PTO to cancel TA’s registration of the METAL mark. Topolewski immediately reapplied for the mark, but this time, through Metal Jeans. Metal Jeans obtained the METAL registration in 2013.

Metal Sport, on the other hand, is the exclusive licensee of a stylized “METAL” mark featuring a blocky, rough-edged font. Owned by retired Finnish powerlifter Ano Turtiainen, the mark is Turtiainen’s own creation. He drew the stylized mark sometime around 1997 and thereafter began selling specialized powerlifting apparel, gear, and accessories featuring his design. Turtiainen registered the stylized mark in August 2016."

So Metal Jeans sues Metal Sports in 2015 for trademark infringement.  The case gets litigated for four years, at which point the district judge grants summary judgment to the defendant on an unclean hands defense.  The Ninth Circuit reverses, so the case goes back to the district court for yet more litigation.

It's a tiny, niche blue jeans company suing a tiny, niche powerlifting company for trademark infringement.  My keen sense is that the parties have spent -- and now will continue to spend -- infinitely more on legal fees than this thing could ever possibly be worth.

But oh well.  It's America.  You're entitled to spend as much money on lawyers as you'd like.

And we'll happily take your business, thank you very much.