Landlord May be Held Liable for Trademark Infringement
If you are a landlord renting a property to a tenant who is found to be selling counterfeit goods, you may be held liable for trademark infringement. However, a landlord can only be held liable if there is evidence that the landlord had actual knowledge that the tenant was engaged in infringing acts, or they were willfully negligent to the infringing activities.
Court Decision in Eleventh Circuit Highlights Landlord Liability
An actual case of a landlord being held liable for a tenant’s trademark infringing activities can be found in Luxottica Group v. Airport Mini Mall, LLC, 932 F.3d 1303 (11th Cir. August 2019). In this case, a subsidiary corporation Oakley, Inc. and its parent company Luxottica Group filed a civil lawsuit against the owners of a shopping mall in Georgia. The basis for the lawsuit was alleging the shopping mall owners were liable based on contributory trademark infringement under a federal law known as the Lanham Act.
The infringing activities involved high-end luxury sunglasses. The lawsuit alleged that Luxottica and Oakley, Inc. sold luxury sunglasses using Ray-Ban and Oakley trademarks. The owners of the shopping mall also managed the interior of the mall and were the landlords for businesses within the mall. The lawsuit revealed that the shopping mall owners were aware of three separate raids by law enforcement officials of businesses within the mall that were actively selling counterfeit sunglasses.
The shopping mall owners reportedly gained actual knowledge of the infringing activities since they received copies of search warrants from law enforcement and knew which businesses were the focus of the raids. In addition, there is evidence of correspondence sent from Luxottica to the shopping mall owners informing them that some of their subtenants were engaged in selling counterfeit sunglasses that infringed upon the trademarks owned by Ray-Ban and Oakley.
Another key factor is that the shopping mall owners apparently failed to take any action to remedy or halt the subtenants from engaging in the sale of counterfeit products within their property. For example, the shopping mall owners never even attempted to evict the subtenants or terminate their leases.
The lawsuit went to trial and a jury found the shopping mall owners liable for contributory trademark infringement. The jury awarded $1.9 million in damages to Luxottica as a result. The shopping mall owners appealed the jury verdict. Nevertheless, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the nearly-two-million-dollar jury verdict.
The Lanham Act
The Lanham Act is a federal law that establishes a defendant can be held liable for contributory infringement when the defendant induces or knowingly facilitates the trademark infringement.
In order to establish contributory trademark infringement under the Lanham Act, a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the following during a lawsuit:
- There was direct trademark infringement by someone; and
- A defendant intentionally induces the infringer, or supplied a product to the infringer, with either actual knowledge or constructive knowledge of the infringing acts.
If you are wondering, “what is constructive knowledge? Well, a prime example is willful blindness, which occurs when a defendant suspects a wrongful act but deliberately fails to investigate the act.
Have Questions About How to Protect Your Trademark? Contact the Highly Reputable Trademark Lawyer in Los Angeles
If you have a trademark that you suspect is being infringed, or you want to ensure proper protection, the trademark lawyers at Omni Legal Group is here to help. Omni Legal Group is a premier Patent, Trademark, and Copyright law firm located in Los Angeles. For further information or to schedule a consultation please contact Omni Legal Group at 855.433.2226 or visit www.OmniLegalGroup.com to learn more.