Too often the silence of contracting parties must be filled by the voice of the courts. Such is the case here, where we are called upon to resolve a trademark dispute in which no written contract designates ownership, and, in the process, to clarify the paradigm through which common law ownership of an unregistered trademark is determined when the initial sale of goods bearing the mark is between a manufacturer and its exclusive distributor. The District Court in this case awarded ownership to the manufacturer, but did so on the basis of the first use test, and found the distributor liable for infringement and fraud before rejecting its defense of acquiescence and awarding damages under the Lanham Act. Because the District Court failed to recognize and apply the rebuttable presumption of manufacturer ownership that we conclude pertains where priority of ownership is not otherwise established, and because the District Court incorrectly relied on gross sales unadjusted to reflect sales of infringing products to calculate damages, we will affirm on alternative grounds as to ownership, will affirm as to fraud and acquiescence, and will vacate and remand as to damages.
by Gehrke & Associates, SC
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