Maytag could be forced to remove Attrezzi brand name

Maytag could be forced to remove Attrezzi brand name
 
Date February 14, 2005
Section(s) Local News
Brief  
 
By Michael McCord

Business Editor

The Portsmouth Herald

Special to the Daily News

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Jennifer Slade, the owner of Attrezzi Fine Kitchen Accessories, described her legal battle against the Maytag Corp. as a “battle for all the little guys.”

Now Slade can call it a victory.

On Tuesday, Slade won the first –and, she hopes, only — round in her trademark infringement case against Maytag when a U.S. District Court jury in Concord sided with her.

“I’m thrilled that the justice system did the right thing,” Slade said about the dispute that began in 2003 when she discovered that Maytag had released a new line of small appliances called Attrezzi – the name that Slade had registered in New Hampshire shortly after she opened her Market Street store in June 2002.

Slade’s victory didn’t come with a big money settlement. The jury’s verdict, said Jim Goggin, Slade’s lawyer, will lead to the court issuing a permanent injunction against Maytag, which will force the company to remove the Attrezzi brand name off its line of mixers and blenders.

An injunction, Goggin said, was all Slade had asked for in the first place.

“(Maytag) will no doubt ask that the verdict be set aside, but the judge has already said he won’t do it,” Goggin explained. “They could appeal, but we don’t see any grounds to appeal.”

Maytag Corporation continues to believe that its use of the Jenn-Airª Attrezziª trademark on small electric kitchen appliances does not infringe upon the use of Attrezzi by the New Hampshire company.

“We conducted the proper legal due diligence prior to launching its line of small electric kitchen appliances under the Jenn-Air Attrezzi name,” said Maytag spokesperson Karen Lynn. “We would not have proceeded if there was any doubt that our use infringed upon someone else’s intellectual property rights.”

Maytag is now weighing its options on whether or not to appeal the ruling.

The jury found that the name Attrezzi belongs to the Portsmouth store and that Maytag‘s use of the name was likely to cause confusion as to the source of products.

The jury also found that Maytag had willfully infringed on the Attrezzi trademark because it had known that the store existed nine months before it was to release the new product line.

Goggin said that during the pretrial discovery process, he saw that Maytag had conducted an internal review and “they assumed it was a reasonable business risk” that Slade would be unwilling or could not afford to pursue litigation against a large corporate entity.

“We think they thought a little store in New Hampshire wouldn’t fight them,” said Goggin. But Attrezzi was harmed because Maytag “stole our identify and name.”

Goggin said the confusion was obvious to his client because the store started receiving e-mails from angry customers about Maytag products.

The jury awarded Slade $5,400 for expenses and fees she incurred in opposing Maytag‘s trademark application.

Goggin said Slade could have been awarded a percentage of the profits from Maytag‘s Attrezzi line, but there were none for the jury to award. Sales of the products have yet to total enough to recoup the company’s sizable marketing costs in rolling out the new line.

He estimated that Slade’s legal expenses ran into the six-figure range. Because the jury ruled that Maytag had willfully infringed on Slade’s ownership of the Attrezzi name, Goggin said he plans to petition the judge to have Maytag pay those expenses.

“It’s a huge expense,” said Slade, who filed the suit in October 2003. “I didn’t expect it would go that far. More than once I said, ‘We can’t really be going to trial over this.'”

Slade discovered that Maytag had co-opted her store’s name in May 2003 while attending a trade show in San Francisco.

“I tried to informally work out an agreement,” she said. “It became clear to me after talking to three of their representatives that I wasn’t talking to anybody with decision-making authority.”

Slade said she wasn’t comfortable at first about going to court. “It’s hard. Nobody likes to be thought of as litigious.”

But she eventually realized Maytag didn’t seem interested in settling out of court.

“I think success to them meant that the problem would go away,” she said.

Still, Slade didn’t back down, despite the cost. “Once I started, I wasn’t just fighting for me. It was a battle for all the little guys,” she said.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she added. “I hope this is it, but with the legal system, when you think it’s over, it’s generally not over.”

Daily News staff contributed to this report.

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