Pinkette Clothing v. Cosmetic Warriors
In Pinkette Clothing, Inc. v. Cosmetic Warriors Limited, dba Lush Handmade Cosmetics (“CWL”), CWL filed a trademark infringement suit against Pinkette, seeking cancellation of its trademark registration because of the likelihood of confusion as to the use of the label “LUSH” on clothing. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Pinkette, and found that CWL waited too long to bring its case and that the unreasonable delay prejudiced its opponent.
To understand the court’s holding, a brief procedural summary is essential. Pinkette filed a trademark registration for the use of the “LUSH” mark on clothing (sold in major department stores and smaller fashion boutiques) in 2009. CWL, who operates over 900 “LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics” retail stores throughout the world, asserted that Pinkette’s use of “LUSH” was confusingly similar to that of CWL’s use of the “LUSH” mark (which has been used since 1995). CWL claimed it was not aware of Pinkette’s LUSH mark until years after Pinkette’s mark was registered (while it did not oppose Pinkette’s registration of the LUSH mark in 2010, because Pinkette’s LUSH mark was registered, CWL was on constructive notice of Pinkette’s claim to ownership). CWL claims to have no actual knowledge of Pinkette’s use of the LUSH mark until late 2014 and, shortly thereafter, it filed a petition to cancel Pinkette’s registration with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Pinkette also filed an action in federal court seeking declaratory judgment (regarding not infringing on CWL’s trademark rights or, alternatively, that laches bars CWL from asserting rights against Pinkette).
In affirming the district court’s ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in applying laches to bar CWL cancellation and infringement claims against Pinkette because CWL waited too long to bring its case after it “should have known about its claims.” The Lanham Act contains no statute of limitations, and thus, courts apply a presumption in favor of the defense of laches if the plaintiff’s delay is longer than the most analogous state statute of limitations. In trademark cases, even if the defense is asserted within the most analogous state limitations period, the laches defense may still apply – this is unlike with patents and copyrights which have a federal statute of limitations. In this case, California’s analogous four-year statute of limitations for trademark infringement was the most analogous statute of limitations, and the court found that because the delay was beyond four years, a “strong presumption in favor of laches” applied. The court further concluded that due to the laches defense, CWL can neither enforce its trademark rights against Pinkette’s use of LUSH on clothing nor cancel Pinkette’s registration for use of the mark on clothing.
This case sheds light on the often forgotten equitable defense of laches and reminds all that it still applies in trademark cases even though the Supreme Court has eliminated it in the last few years in copyright and patent cases.