Such luxuries no longer appear to be afforded to potential trade mark defendants in Colorado. As any lawyer knows, before you march off to court to issue a complaint on the behalf of your client you generally need four things: A claimant, at least one defendant, a cause of action and evidence is also quite nice. But strange things have been going on in Colorado's District Court when two weeks ago a complaint was filed on 9 August 2010 that only identified the complainant and little else. The AmeriKat is sure, like herself, you are scratching your head right now asking : "Who would file such a complaint?"
"3. Defendants John Does 1-100, Jane Does 1-100 and XYZ Company who are sued herein under fictitious names because their true names and capacities are unknown at this time. This complaint will be amended when their true names and capacities are ascertained."Yes, you did read that correctly. But it continues:
So, to recap, the complainant does not know who the defendants are, nor are they certain whether the defendants are actually in the jurisdiction at the time, just that they will be at some point when they figure out who they are. Right....
"4. Upon information and belief, the individual defendants will be present in and about the District of Colorado, Denver in connection with the claims asserted below and are or will be subject to the jurisdiction of this Court.
5. On information and belief, defendant XYZ Company through its agents, servants and employees, is or will be present in and about the District of Colorado, Denver and is or will be subject to the jurisdiction of this Court. "
The AmeriKat asks you to just keep that at the back of your mind while she serves you the next platter of complaint absurdity relating to the unlawful conduct complained of:
The unlawful action complained of, namely the trade mark infringement, has not even occurred. None of these mythical defendants have actually sold or distributed anything. And since no action has occurred, and assuming no infringing product has thus been obtained, one wonders how the complaint can then even speak to the quality and characteristics of the merchandise. Further, the relief sought not only includes the standard damages and injunction, but also an order for the seizure of the goods within the vicinity of the festival by law enforcement officials under Section 1116 (d) of the Lanham Act . [Someone please define "vicinity" for the AmeriKat]
"15. On information and belief, Defendants will sell and distribute unauthorized T-shirts, jerseys and other merchandise bearing any or all of the Festival Trademarks in the vicinity of the Festival before, during and after the performances.
16. The Unauthorized Merchandise is of the same general appearance as Plantiff's Festival Merchandise and is likely to cause confusion among prospective purchasers...
17. The Unauthorized Merchandise sold by Defendants is generally of inferior quality. The sale of such merchandise has injured and is likely to injure the reputation of the Plaintiff which has developed by virtue of their reputation for high quality associated with the Plaintiff."
A further memorandum was filed by AEG relating to the reasons why the injunction should be granted. The reasons being that "there is no defense to the claims brought" and that "it has demonstrated a substantial likelihood that it will succeed on the merits." ["What merits!", hisses the Amerikat, "how are there merits when you don't even have a case?!"]
But the complaint, which emanates from the law firm of Hicks, Mims, Kaplan & Burns based in Santa Monica, California, is not the first of its kind. As reported by the Hollywood Reporter, such pre-infringement complaints are part of a growing trend by rights owners and in fact have been used for many years for one-of events such as concerts.
Earlier this summer, the marketing division of Universal Music Group (UMG) - Bravado International Group - filed a similar lawsuit prior to a series of concerts to be held at Madison Square Garden by Lady Gaga. This complaint emanated from the New York law offices of Wolf & Samson and is in similar form to that of the AEG complaint. This time it was the LADY GAGA mark, her image, likeness and merchandise that was the subject matter of the complaint.(picture, left - USTPO certificate of the Lady Gaga trade mark) The complaint states that the identity of the defendants "are not presently known" and also requests the authorization of the US Court Marshall and other law enforcement agents for seizure of counterfeit products.
It seems that off the back of the Bravado lawsuit other concert promoters, like AEG and LiveNation, are getting into the mix this summer. But how can one's lawsuit not be successful if no one shows up to contest the complaint? And how can anyone show up if they don't even know who they are or indeed have yet to do anything wrong?
Some trade mark lawyers may be thinking that there is nothing wrong with with this. Criminal law in fact empowers the seizure of counterfeit goods and other similar remedies as temporary measures. And in reality who is really prejudiced - the counterfeit bootleggers whose goods are seized are in fact infringing and are often without a realistic defence and the claimant's objective is immediately achieved without the hassle of having to later track the "nomadic" bootleggers after the event of infringement. Such anticipatory trade mark infringement claims may even save the Court's time, it is argued.
The AmeriKat can see the attractiveness of these arguments and complaints as being in the interests of the claimant but there is something very unattractive about this trend. Not only does she have issues with the fact that no cause of action has actually occurred, but she is unsettled by the nature of the remedies sought. Of course there are several instances where a court allows injunctions prior to the occurrence of a cause of action, but interim injunctions and search orders (like the Anton Piller order in the UK) demand that the claimant show that there is an extremely strong prima facie case against the defendant. Further, will the seizure remedy sought only ever be limited to the vicinity of the concert ground or stadium? Could a wider seizure area be granted in the future? What are the restraints placed on such complaints?
Practice it may be for now, but this is a practice that is far from perfect and seemingly prone to abuse.