Trademark infringement analysis: the web is not just one channel of trade

In any trademark infringement suit, a successful plaintiff has to show, among other things, that the use of the defendant’s mark is likely to cause confusion as to the origin of the plaintiff’s goods or services. The various federal courts across the United States apply a number of different factors to determine whether the use of a mark is likely to cause confusion with a previously-existing mark.

In just about every iteration of this analysis, one of the factors a court will consider is the channels of trade in which the goods or services bearing the plaintiff and defendant’s marks are distributed. If products are distributed in the same channels of trade, confusion is more likely.

So what about products sold over the Internet? Does the fact that the products of both parties in a trademark infringement suit are available online automatically mean that they are in the same channel of trade? The recent case of Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. v. Haute Diggity Dog, LLC, from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, addressed that question. And the answer appears to be no.

In the Louis Vuitton case, the fact that the plaintiff’s luxury accessories (bearing the mark LOUIS VUITTON) and the defendant’s pet products (bearing the mark CHEWY VUITON) were both available online, did not “by itself . . . imply that the same trade channels were used for the purposes of determining likely customer confusion.” Looking to the case of Therma-Scan, Inc. v. Thermoscan, Inc., 295 F.3d 623, 633 (6th Cir. 2002), the court held that some other factors were also to be considered, such as whether both parties use the Internet as a substantial marketing and advertising channel, whether the parties’ marks are utilized in conjunction with web-based products, and whether the parties’ marketing channels overlap in any other way.

Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. v. Haute Diggity Dog, LLC, (Slip Op.) No. 06-321, 2006 WL 3182468 (E.D. Va., Nov. 3, 2006).