Trademarked fraternity paddles

Paddle Tramps Manufacturing made wooden paddles with the emblems of several fraternities, a group of 32 fraternities sued to enjoin it for trademark infringement and unfair competition, and the company defended with unclean hands and laches.  Abraham v. Alpha Chi Omega, No. 12-10525 (revised Feb. 7, 2013).  The district court entered partial injunctive relief after a jury trial found for the company on the defenses.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the instructions given, finding that the appellant’s arguments about unclean hands conflated elements of trademark liability with elements of the defense and that the laches instruction fairly handled the concept of “progressive encroachment.”   The Court also found sufficient evidence to support the “undue prejudice” element of laches, although calling it a “close question,” and found that the district court properly balanced the equities — especially injury to the alleged infringer — in crafting the injunction.  The opinion discusses and distinguishes other cases denying relief in related situations.  Professor Rebecca Tushnet further analyzes the case on her intellectual property blog.

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