If You Don't Get The Matching Brand Paper Towel Out Of A Dispenser In A Restroom... Is That Trademark Infringement?

from the wash-your-hands,-everybody dept

The more you travel, the more you realize just how many different options there are in restrooms around the globe to enable people to dry their hands. However, if you see a particular brand of paper towel dispenser, do you expect that a related brand of paper towels will come out of them? And should it be trademark infringement if they do not? Apparently, the company Georgia Pacific makes the EnMotion brand of paper towel dispensers for restrooms -- and includes a contractual provision that those used will only use EnMotion brand paper towels. Another company came up with competing paper towels that worked in the EnMotion dispenser. GP sued the company making the replacement paper towels, claiming contributory trademark infringement -- saying it's akin to a Coca-Cola soda machine, where people expect Coca-Cola to come out of it. That may be true... but does anyone actually expect a specific brand of paper towel to come out of a random dispenser? GP, of course, found "experts" to conduct studies that said yes, but that seems difficult to believe. Perhaps I'm missing something, but does anyone out there actually expect a specific brand of paper towels out of a particular dispenser?

GP is claiming that the other company is guilty of contributory trademark infringement, which would mean that anyone using these replacement paper towels could be guilty of direct trademark infringement, which seems like a blatantly ridiculous reading of trademark law. The lower court agreed that this was ridiculous and found no evidence of any kind of confusion among the distributors involved in selling and stocking the EnMotion dispensers. However, the appeals court points out that it also needs to be considered whether or not the real end-users were confused -- and notes that there's significant evidence that people might be confused. I still don't buy it. I can't recall ever even caring what brand paper towels comes out of a dispenser. If asked I might just say the same brand as the dispenser company, but that's just because it's the easiest answer, not because it needs to be.

For now, the case has been sent back to the lower court to determine whether or not end-users are really confused. Perhaps the court can hold part of the session in the court's restrooms to determine whether or not there's a real "likelihood of confusion."

Filed Under: enmotion, paper towels, trademark
Companies: georgia pacific

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2010 @ 12:09pm

    soap dispensers

    I just bought some Waxie foaming soap to go in my Gojo foaming soap dispenser. I knew they would fit, because I saw them used interchangeably at my fitness center a few years back.

    Well, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the soap just wouldn't pop into the dispenser. Although the two different brands of soap appear to come out of identical bottles (not just the shape, but the numbers on the plastic are identical), they're fitted with different collars that have bits of plastic sticking out so that they fit into the dispenser like a lock and key.

    So I broke off the right bit of plastic, and voila, it fit right in. Whew--I was afraid I'd have to spend money on a new dispenser or something.

    I was hoping that the Waxie cucumber melon foaming body wash & shampoo would have a different formulation than the Gojo cucumber melon foaming body wash & shampoo, but now I fear that they both buy it from the same manufacturer...

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