The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week handed a trademark victory to Pom Wonderful, reversing a district court decision denying its request for an injunction against competitor Pur Beverages.
Pom Wonderful, maker of the popular POM pomegranate juice drinks, requested a preliminary injunction to bar the defendant from using the word “pŏm” for its pomegranate flavored energy drinks, as seen below.
The district court denied the request, stating that Pom Wonderful did not establish a likelihood of confusion between the marks.
On review, the Ninth Circuit focused on the Sleekcraft factors for likelihood of confusion. Regarding the physical similarities of the marks, the Ninth Circuit found far more in common between the marks than not. “Balancing the marks’ many visual similarities, perfect aural similarity, and perfect semantic similarity more heavily than the marks’ visual dissimilarities – as we must – the similarity factor weighs heavily in Pom Wonderful’s favor.” Furthermore, when considering this factor, strong marks are given greater weight than weak marks. As such, the district court clearly erred by giving more weight to the marks’ differences than their similarities.
The district court also erred in its “brick-and-mortar” trade channels analysis. “Because Pom Wonderful and Pur sell highly similar products in supermarkets located across the country, the marketing channel convergence factor weighs in Pom Wonderful’s favor. The district court clearly erred in . . . requiring Pom Wonderful to prove that its beverages were sold in the very same brick-and-mortar stores as Pur’s ‘pŏm’ beverage.” Though a perfect overlap of retailer locations increases likelihood of consumer confusion, its absence does not undermine the convergence of the marketing channels.
Finally, the district court mistakenly weighed the remaining factors – actual confusion, defendant’s intent, and product expansion –against Pom Wonderful. The absence of any evidence supporting these factors is to be considered merely neutral in a likelihood of confusion analysis.
In weighing the totality of the factors, the Ninth Circuit review revealed that five of the Sleekcraft factors weighed in favor of Pom Wonderful, none weighed in favor of Pur Beverages, and three factors were neutral. Since the district court’s errors created a ripple effect, influencing its decision regarding the remaining preliminary injunction requirements, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded.