In a victory for plaintiffs bringing Lanham Act claims to protect their trademarks, the Supreme Court held on April 23, 2020, that a plaintiff is not required to show that the defendant “willfully” infringed its trademark in order to recover the defendant’s ill-gotten profits under the Act. The ruling favors Lanham Act false advertising plaintiffs as well.
In Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc., 140 S. Ct. 1492 (2020), Romag and Fossil signed an agreement allowing Fossil to use Romag’s fasteners in Fossil’s handbags and other products. Romag later discovered that the production factories Fossil hired in China were using counterfeit Romag fasteners while Fossil did little to stop them. Romag alleged that Fossil infringed on Romag’s trademark rights and falsely represented that Fossil’s fasteners came from Romag. The jury agreed and found that Fossil had acted “in callous disregard” of Romag’s rights. However, the jury also found that Fossil did not act willfully. Relying on Second Circuit precedent requiring a plaintiff seeking profits to prove that the defendant’s infringement was willful, the district court ruled that Romag could not recover Fossil’s profits. After the Federal Circuit affirmed, the Supreme Court agreed to resolve the circuit split on this issue.