Weak Mark, Lack of Confusion Leads to Summary Judgment for Defendant

Judge Leonie M. Brinkema was not impressed with the trademark infringement case filed by Wag’N Enterprises, a pet-safety company based in Herndon, Virginia, against a California nonprofit known as Redrover. Entering summary judgment in favor of Redrover, she essentially found that no reasonable jury could find that Wag’N’s mark, “Wag’N Rover Respond’R” was confusingly similar to RedRover’s “RedRover Responder.”

Trademark infringement exists where a valid and protectable mark is used by the defendant in a way that causes a likelihood of confusion in consumers. If the plaintiff does not hold a federally registered trademark, a valid and protectable mark may still exist where “the mark is used in commerce and is distinctive.” In determining the likelihood of confusion, some factors that a court may consider are: (1) the strength or distinctiveness of the mark (i.e., whether it is generic, descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary, or fanciful); (2) the similarity of the marks; (3) the similarity of the goods/services the marks identify; (4) the similarity of the facilities the two parties use in their businesses; (5) the similarity of the advertising used by the two parties; (6) the defendant’s intent; and (7) actual confusion.

The court found that although Wag’N held valid and protectable marks in the registered name Wag’N Rover Respond’R and the unregistered but distinctive mark Rover Respond’R, there was no evidence that the RedRover Responders actually confused weakling.jpgconsumers. Specifically rejecting the Plaintiff’s argument that RedRover’s product “incorporates the essential essence” of its mark, the court noted that the marks do not share any identical words, the marks are not similar in meaning, and the companies have completely different logos with different typefaces, designs, and emphasis. Even if the names are similar, the court found, consumers do not see them in the same contexts, since Wag’N Rover Respond’R only has its name on its emergency kits and the mark RedRover Responders is found only on volunteer t-shirts and a brochure explaining the program.

The court also found in favor of RedRover Responders with regard to the remaining factors. Wag’N’s trademarks lacked “commercial strength” because there was no evidence of substantial advertising expenditures or that consumers associated the marks with Wag’N. In addition, the court found that RedRover did not name its program in bad faith, considering the testimony of RedRover’s CEO that she had never heard of Wag’N prior to the lawsuit, even after the company had run a trademark search.

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