Court Shoots Down Strip Club’s Rhino Trademark Lawsuit Against Gun Company

trademark-dismiss-confusion-spearmint-rhino-chiappa-firearms-gun.jpgIn an opinion that shocked no one except Spearmint Rhino, the Court dismissed WITH PREJUDICE – a rarity at such an early stage in litigation – the strip club operator’s trademark infringement case against Chiappa Firearms. Spearmint sued Chiappa for using a rhino outline as a trademark on its guns alleging that its use is “likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive because, among other reasons, consumers are likely to believe that there is an affiliation, connection, or association between” Spearmint and Chiappa. As predicted, the Court disagreed with Spearmint because consumers are unlikely to confuse its G-strings with guns.

Chiappa filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, wherein the court is requested to decide whether, assuming all the allegations in the complaint are true, the plaintiff has still failed to present a case entitling it to damages. The Court, however, must consider whether the claim is plausible on its face based on alleged facts. Thus, a complaint which alleges only labels and conclusions to meet the elements of the cause of action will not survive dismissal. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).

To prevail on its trademark infringement claim, Spearmint had to show that it had a protectable trademark and that a “reasonably prudent consumer” is likely to be confused as to the origin of a good or service. DreamWerks Production Group, Inc. v. SKG Studio, 142 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 1992). To evaluate likelihood of confusion, Courts analyze the following non-exhaustive factors including: (1) strength of the mark; (2) relatedness to the goods; (3) similarity of sight, sound, and meaning; (4) evidence of actual confusion; (5) marketing channels; (6) type of goods and purchaser care; (7) intent; and (8) likelihood of expansion. AMF, Inc. v. Sleekcraft Boats, 559 F.2d 341 (9th Cir. 1979).

Courts, as here, do not have to blindly believe the infringement allegations because a plaintiff has to show that likelihood of confusion must “be probable, not simply a possibility.” Murray v. Cable NBC, 82 F.3d 861 (9th Cir. 1996). If not shown, the Court may determine that likelihood of confusion does not exist as a matter of law. Toho Co. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 645 F.2d 788 (9th Cir. 1981).

The Court determined that Spearmint could not establish likelihood of confusion because “Plaintiff has not been able to demonstrate a single instance of actual consumer confusion, and indeed cannot show that any reasonable consumer is likely to be confused as to the relationship between these two companies. Plaintiff mainly provides services in the form of adult entertainment, while Defendants mainly provide goods in the form of handguns. It is highly unlikely that a consumer would accidentally purchase one when he intended to purchase the other.” In other words, because consumers are unlikely to be confused and shoot each other with G-strings, Spearmint’s trademark infringement claim failed as a matter of law. So, like clay pigeons, fell Spearmint’s false designation of origin and §17200 unfair competition claims.

Spearmint’s trademark dilution claim also fell in the Court’s crosshairs because although Rhino introduced evidence that its mark was “at least somewhat well known, it fails to assert sufficient facts to support a finding that the Rhino mark is famous under the Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006. Courts have consistently held that only the most truly prominent brands, such as Kodak, Coca Cola, Budweiser, or Barbie count as famous under the statute.”

The case is Spearmint Rhino Companies Worldwide, Inc. v. Chiappa Firearms, Ltd., et al., CV11-05682 R (C.D. Cal. 2011).