Court of Appeals overturns ruling against manufacturer

Warner Norcross & Judd LLP partners Brian Wassom and Matthew Nelson recently received a favorable ruling on behalf of Leapers, Inc., a manufacturer of rifle scopes.

 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in a January 10 decision, overturned a lower court ruling that said that the rifle scope’s “knurling,” the crisscross grooves on the exterior of the scope, were functional in nature and therefore could not be protected by trademark law.

 In the Leapers v. SMTS case, company officials admitted that the knurling is a functional component of a rifle scope, however, the company applies a purely ornamental design to its knurling on its rifle scopes and that this design—not knurling generally—constitutes its trade dress.

 “The district court was correct that knurling is ‘inalterably functional’ in that it allows a rifle scope user to ‘grasp or grip a thing more securely,’” U.S Circuit Judge Eric L. Clay wrote. “However, plaintiff does not assert that its trade dress consists of knurling, rather, plaintiff alleges that its trade dress consists of a unique design that is printed into knurling.”

 Attorney Brian Wassom said, “The court rightly acknowledged there’s room for expressing creativity and commercial identity even in products that some people may not recognize as having a creative aspect. This ruling further affirms the importance and utility of trade dress protection for manufacturers in all industries.”

  The case now returns to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for further consideration.


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