Tuesday, November 17, 2015

NY TIMES: Car-Scent Rivals Fight in Trademark Suit and Familiar Tree Prevails in Car-Scent Suit by Andy Newman

 NY Times story by Andy Newman
 Verdict story
Opening statements story


In the legal battle of the hanging automotive air fresheners,  all that is little are the trees.
At one table in a federal courtroom in Lower Manhattan on Monday sat representatives of the Car-Freshner Corporation of Watertown, N.Y., makers of a product familiar to anyone who has ever ridden in a cab or wanted their car to smell like one.
It is called Little Trees. The company’s logo is a mighty pine. Car-Freshner asserts in court papers that the look of its products is associated by the general public “with the concepts of freshness, cleanliness and pleasing scents.”
A lawyer for Car-Freshner, Jonathan Z. King,( pictured) told the eight jurors in his opening statement: “Those similarities are no accident. They’re a matter of design.”He also suggested that Exotica’s fresheners were inferior and that their presence weakened Car-Freshner’s brand.

At the other table were arrayed the legal forces of Exotica Fresheners Company of Holland, Ohio, maker of a competing product that hangs from considerably fewer rearview mirrors.
Car-Freshner, in addition to seeking an order that Exotica stop using a design that infringes on their trademark, seeks an unspecified amount of money. The trial is expected to take four days.
For all the similarities, an intellectual property professor at New York University’s law school, Christopher Sprigman, said Car-Freshner seemed to have a tough case.
They will have to show, he said, “that people will confuse the very different shape of the defendant’s air fresheners and treat them as if they came from the same source.” “I’m pretty skeptical of this claim,” he added.
Mr. Antonucci, with Exotica, made a similar point. He noted that consumers were not looking only at the yellow card but also at the whole product.
“Maybe maple versus oak, since I’m not a horticulturalist, that I could understand,” he said. “Pine versus palm? Please. The Pepsi swoosh versus the Coke swoosh? I think we can see the difference.”

Update: NPR interview

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