A handful of weeks ago, I wrote a Hemp/CBD litigation forecast in which I predicted that at some point a CBD organization will make use of the Lanham Act by claiming that a competitor is engaging in false or misleading marketing. (See right here). In that post I promised to go into the Lanham Act in additional detail and address an essential case on the United States Supreme Court’s docket this term. Right here goes:
What is the Lanham Act?
The Lanham Act, also identified as the Trademark Act of 1946, is the principal federal statute that governs trademarks, service marks, and unfair competitors. Though the Lanham Act is frequently believed of as a trademark statute, the Lanham Act also protects firms against unfair competitors from competitors who use false or misleading marketing or labeling. Notably, shoppers do not have standing below the Lanham Act.
The statutory language giving for false or misleading marketing claims is discovered in 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1):
Any particular person who, on or in connection with any goods or solutions, or any container for goods, utilizes in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any mixture thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of truth, or false or misleading representation of truth, which—
(A) is probably to trigger confusion, or to trigger error, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such particular person with one more particular person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, solutions, or industrial activities by one more particular person, or
(B) in industrial marketing or promotion, misrepresents the nature, traits, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or one more person’s goods, solutions, or industrial activities,
shall be liable in a civil action by any particular person who believes that he or she is or is probably to be broken by such act.
The Lanham Act’s stated aim is “protecting persons engaged in commerce inside the manage of Congress against unfair competitors.” In a seminal Lanham Act case in 2014 (Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Handle Elements, Inc) the Supreme Court explained that the notion of “unfair competition” has extended been “understood to be concerned with injuries to small business reputation and present and future sales.” The Supreme Court ruled persons with standing to bring Lanham Act claims consist of any plaintiff who can “allege an injury to a industrial interest in reputation or sales.”
What are the components of a false or misleading marketing claim below the Lanham Act?
To prevail on a Lanham Act claim, a plaintiff have to plead and prove that their competitor produced (1) a false or misleading statement, (two) in connection with industrial marketing or promotion, that (three) was material, (four) was produced in interstate commerce, and (five) broken or will probably harm the plaintiff.
The false or misleading requirement is shown if either (a) the challenged advertisement is actually false, i.e., “false on its face,” or (b) the advertisement, whilst not actually false, is nonetheless probably to mislead or confuse buyers. Literal falsity, on the other hand, might be confirmed by implication—where the words or pictures, viewed as in context, necessarily imply a false message, the advertisement is actually false.
“Puffery” is not actionable below the Lanham Act. Puffery is quintessential “sales speak,” i.e. an exaggeration or overstatement expressed in broad, vague, and commendatory language. As a single federal appellate court has stated, “The ‘puffing’ rule amounts to a seller’s privilege to lie his head off, so extended as he says nothing at all particular.” Puffery differs from misdescriptions or false representations of particular characteristic of a solution – which the Lanham Act forbids.
The “in connection with industrial marketing or promotion” element has been topic to different interpretations. Commonly speaking, it implies any widespread communication via print or broadcast media (and consists of the net) produced for the goal of influencing shoppers to obtain the defendant’s goods or solutions. Some courts have held this consists of dissemination of info at trade shows or to wholesalers that had been not actual shoppers of the merchandise.
Maintain in thoughts that there is a multitude of circumstances interpreting and applying the Lanham Act and every of its components. Do not just assume you have a claim – the law in the Ninth Circuit might not be the exact same in the Second Circuit and exacting investigation is typically necessary.
What treatments are obtainable below the Lanham Act?
A Lanham Act claim plaintiff might seek an injunction against the false or misleading marketing, monetary damages and, in some circumstances, attorneys’ charges. This is one more location in which cautious jurisdiction-particular investigation is required just before rushing to court. Injunctions—i.e. a court order compelling the defendant to cease the false or misleading advertising—are a standard remedy.
The court might also “in its discretion” award (a) defendant’s income resulting from the false or misleading marketing (a/k/a disgorgement), (b) any damages sustained by the plaintiff triggered by the false or misleading advertisment, and (c) fees for a “willful violation.” Critically, a plaintiff have to show a causal partnership among the false advertisement and a decline in the plaintiff’s projected income. This is typically quite tough. When searching for disgorgement, on the other hand, the plaintiff require only rely on defendant’s income and plaintiffs typically obtain this much easier to prove. (But see beneath re the Supreme Court).
One more twist on treatments is that the Lanham Act permits the court to order the defendant to engage in “corrective marketing.” This might imply the defendant has to retrain its sales personnel or invest revenue to “fix” the harm performed by the misleading or false advertisements. Courts are additional inclined to think about this remedy exactly where a defendant is producing false claims about its merchandise that bear on the public wellness. (See right here, right here, right here and here for the several causes why producing wellness claims about your CBD merchandise is a undesirable concept, and add prospective liability below the Lanham Act to the list).
What is the Lanham Act case just before the Supreme Court about?
In a word: damages. A split emerged in the previous decade no matter if the remedy of disgorgement demands establishing willfulness on the component of the defendant. The case is Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc. (Supreme Court Docket No. 18-1233). The query presented is “Whether, below section 35 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a), willful infringement is a prerequisite for an award of an infringer’s income for a violation of section 43(a), id. § 1125(a).” The federal appellate courts are split starkly: the Third via Seventh Circuit and the Federal Circuit do not need a plaintiff to establish willfulness for disgorgement of income, the remaining circuits do.
Though the query seems (by utilizing the term “infringer”) confined to trademark circumstances brought below the Lanham Act, most commentators count on the Supreme Court’s selection to apply to false marketing claims as nicely since section 1125(a) applies to false marketing claims. A ruling that willfulness is necessary for disgorgement would perform to the disadvantage of plaintiffs, a ruling willfulness is not would build additional danger for defendants. Our international group of intellectual house attorneys will be maintaining a close eye on this case so keep tuned.
Ought to you bring a Lanham Act lawsuit against a competitor producing false or misleading claims about their CBD merchandise?
Sadly, I’ll have to trot out the trope of “it all depends.” That answer is particularly correct right here since no matter if a Lanham Act claim is a superior worth proposition for your small business selection depends on the egregiousness of the false or misleading marketing, the difficulty of proving your lost income, the pending Supreme Court selection on disgorgement, and your willingness to incur attorneys’ charges that you might not recover. claims. If your aim is to cease a CBD market competitor from gaining market place share primarily based on false claims about its merchandise, think about issuing a cease-and-desist letter that raises the specter of a Lanham Act lawsuit as a very first step.