Washington, D.C., March 23, 2000 -- In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court has overturned a jury verdict against Wal-Mart Stores and established an important new principle of intellectual property law. From now on, in order to gain trademark protection for a product design, the manufacturer must prove that consumers believe that the look of a product automatically identifies its creator. The decision will have important benefits for consumers, who will benefit from the Supreme Court's removal of barriers to competition that were created by the prior unsettled state of the law in this area.
Venable's partner William Coston successfully argued the case before the Supreme Court. Accepting many of the arguments presented by Venable, the Supreme Court reversed two lower court decisions that found that Wal-Mart had copied the designs of Samara Bros., a well-known maker of children's clothes. At trial, a jury had awarded Samara Bros. damages of over 1.2 million dollars. In the Supreme Court, Wal-Mart took a bold stand arguing that the claimed "Samara look" was not distinctive and that, without proof that consumers actually associate the purported "look" with its garments, Samara should not be entitled to trademark protection. The Supreme Court agreed, in a decision that revolutionizes the law in this area.
William Coston, who is Partner-in-Charge of Venable's Washington, D.C. office, said "This is a great victory for Wal-Mart and other discount retailers, but also for the consumer looking to purchase quality goods at competitive prices."
William D. Coston, Kenneth C. Bass, and John Cooney, partners in Venable's Technology Division and Wal-Mart's lead counsel, are available for interviews and commentary.
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