TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc.

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TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 29, 2000
Decided March 20, 2001
Full case name TrafFix Devices, Incorporated, Petitioner v. Marketing Displays, Incorporated
Citations 532 U.S. 23 (more)
121 S. Ct. 1255; 149 L. Ed. 2d 164; 2001 U.S. LEXIS 2457; 69 U.S.L.W. 4172; 58 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1001; 2001 Cal. Daily Op. Service 2223; 2001 Daily Journal DAR 2796; 2001 Colo. J. C.A.R. 1496; 14 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 135
Holding
There can be no trademark protection for something that is functional.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Kennedy, joined by unanimous

TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23 (2001),[1] was a United States Supreme Court decision in the area of trademark law, holding that a functional design could not be trademarked, and that a patented design was presumed to be functional.

Background[edit]

The plaintiff, Marketing Display, Inc., held patents (US 3662482 , US 3646696 ) on a two-spring design to keep traffic signs standing in strong winds. After the plaintiff's patents expired, the defendant, TrafFix Devices, Inc., began manufacturing their own signs using the design. The plaintiff sued for trade dress infringement based on copying of the recognizable design. The issue the Courts dealt with concerned the legal question of whether trade dress protection could apply to the subject of an expired patent.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held that there can be no trademark protection for something that is functional because that would work as a detriment to competitors based on something other than reputation, which is the key consideration in trademark law.

The Court noted that the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the characteristic for which protection is sought is not functional—but having a patent for a design raises a very strong presumption that the design was functional. A design is functional if it serves any purpose that makes the product work better, or makes the product less expensive to produce. That an alternative design is available does not undercut the functionality of a given design.

Here, Justice Kennedy said, the design was clearly functional, and the plaintiff could not carry the burden of proving otherwise because the very characteristic that is sought to be protected by trademark is the one whose functionality was previously sought to be covered by patent.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • ^ 532 U.S. 23 (Text of the opinion on Findlaw.com)