United States: Summary Judgment "Disfavored" For Resolving Fair Use Trademark Defense

Last Updated: September 11 2017
Article by Sarah Bro

Examining the issue of trademark fair use, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court grant of summary judgment in favor of a promotional products company and remanded the case for reconsideration of the lower court's finding that the company's use of a competitor's trademarks was wholly protected by the fair use defense. Marketquest Group, Inc. v. BIC Corp.; BIC USA, Inc.; Norwood Promotional Products, LLC, Case No. 15-55755 (9th Cir., July 7, 2017) (Smith, J).

In 2011, promotional products company Marketquest sued BIC and its promotion company, Norwood, for trademark infringement after Marketquest's registered ALL-IN-ONE mark appeared on Norwood's promotional products catalog, which combined the company's various categories of hard goods "in one" resource, and after Marketquest's THE WRITE CHOICE trademark appeared on BIC's 30th anniversary packaging for its pens. After the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court determined that Norwood's use of the trademarks created "some likelihood of confusion and therefore the potential for trademark infringement liability." However, the district court conducted no further analysis on the issue of confusion in finding that Norwood provided a "complete defense" to the claims of trademark infringement by alleging fair use of the marks. Marketquest appealed.

The Ninth Circuit first touched on the general disfavor toward summary judgment in trademark cases given the "intensely factual" nature of trademark infringement disputes. Turning to the merits of the case, the Court outlined the difference between forward and reverse confusion in the context of trademark infringement.

Forward confusion occurs when consumers believe that goods bearing a junior mark come from, or are affiliated with, a senior mark owner. Reverse confusion occurs when consumers that encounter the senior mark holder believe that they are actually doing business with the junior mark user, or that the parties are affiliated.

Marketquest argued that the dispute with BIC and Norwood qualified as reverse confusion, since customers began to associate Marketquest's registered trademarks with the defendants. The Ninth Circuit agreed and rejected Norwood's argument that Marketquest failed to specifically plead reverse confusion and thus was foreclosed from advancing such a claim. Instead, the Court explained that "when reverse confusion is compatible with the theory of infringement alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff need not specifically plead it."

Also in regard to the theory of reverse confusion, the Ninth Circuit examined the applicability of the Sleekcraft likelihood of confusion factors, and in particular the intent factor, which focuses on the defendant's intent in selecting the mark at issue. Here, the parties advanced conflicting views on the type of evidence required to establish intent. The Court explained that even though the "tenor of the intent inquiry shifts when considering reverse confusion due to the shift in the theory of confusion," there is no particular type of evidence necessary to establish intent, and the weight of the intent factor and the evidence presented will vary depending on the facts of a case.

On the fair use defense, the Ninth Circuit separately analyzed Norwood's and BIC's respective uses of the trademarks ALL-IN-ONE and THE WRITE CHOICE, noting that a defendant must show that its use of the mark at issue is (1) other than as a trademark, (2) descriptive of defendant's goods and (3) in good faith. The Court also looked to the degree of customer confusion in evaluating fair use.

Regarding the ALL-IN-ONE trademark, the Ninth Circuit concluded there was a "strong argument" that Norwood's use of the phrase on the 2011 consolidated "all-in-one" catalog was descriptive. However, since the company used the phrase not just on its consolidated catalog but also in certain promotional materials and an online advertisement, the Court found a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Norwood only used "All-in-One" in its primary, descriptive sense "other than as a trademark," or also as a trademark to indicate the source of goods.

As to the third element of fair use, the Ninth Circuit rejected the position advanced by Marketquest that Norwood's mere knowledge of its ownership and use of the ALL-IN-ONE trademark established Norwood's bad faith in using the phrase. Nevertheless, the Court determined that questions of fact remained as to whether Norwood's use of the mark was actually done in good faith. Finally, noting that consumer confusion is a factor in the fair use analysis because "use that is likely to cause confusion or that has caused confusion, is less likely to be objectively fair," the Court left it to the district court to determine on remand the relevance of the degree of consumer confusion in this case. 

The Ninth Circuit also briefly addressed THE WRITE CHOICE trademark, finding the district court's fair use analysis to be in error, since fair use is an affirmative defense that only comes into play once the party alleging infringement has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that confusion is likely. Because the district court did not find evidence of confusion and did not conduct a Sleekcraft analysis in the earlier proceeding, the Court explained that it was improper to conclude that Norwood even qualified to raise a fair use defense. Thus, the Court reversed and remanded the finding of fair use in the case of both trademarks. 

Summary Judgment "Disfavored" for Resolving Fair Use Trademark Defense

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.