628 F.2d 1086 (8th Cir. 1980), 79-2003, SquirtCo v. Seven-Up Co.

Docket Nº:79-2003, 79-2054.
Citation:628 F.2d 1086
Party Name:207 U.S.P.Q. 897 SQUIRTCO, Cross-Appellee, v. The SEVEN-UP COMPANY, a Missouri Corporation and Seven-Up U.S.A., Inc., a Missouri Corporation, Cross-Appellants.
Case Date:August 20, 1980
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 1086

628 F.2d 1086 (8th Cir. 1980)

207 U.S.P.Q. 897

SQUIRTCO, Cross-Appellee,

v.

The SEVEN-UP COMPANY, a Missouri Corporation and Seven-Up

U.S.A., Inc., a Missouri Corporation, Cross-Appellants.

Nos. 79-2003, 79-2054.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 20, 1980

Submitted April 14, 1980.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Edmund C. Rogers (on brief), Rogers, Eilers & Howell, argued, St. Louis, Mo.; John M. Howell and McPherson D. Moore, St. Louis, Mo., on brief, for Seven-Up Co.

Daniel Van Dyke (on brief), Price, Heneveld, Huizenga & Cooper, argued, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Randall G. Litton and Thomas M. McKinley, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Armstrong, Teasdale, Kramer & Vaughan, St. Louis, Mo., on brief, for SquirtCo.

Before STEPHENSON and McMILLIAN, Circuit Judges, and VIETOR, [*] District Judge.

McMILLIAN, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal in a trademark action brought by the Squirt Company, which has since changed its name to SquirtCo, against The Seven-Up Company and Seven-Up U.S.A., Inc., over introduction of the QUIRST trademark. Seven-Up appeals from the district court's permanent injunction against its use of QUIRST on a noncarbonated lemonade drink because it infringed on SquirtCo's use of SQUIRT on a carbonated grapefruit drink. SquirtCo cross-appeals from the dismissal of its pendent claim for tortious interference by Seven-Up with contracts between SquirtCo and its franchisees. We affirm the injunction on use of the QUIRST trademark, but we vacate the tortious interference dismissal and remand to the district court with directions to make findings of fact on the tortious interference claim.

SQUIRT was coined as a trademark for soft drinks in 1937, apparently as a reference to the tendency of grapefruit to squirt when eaten with a spoon. It was first registered by SquirtCo in 1939. It has been in continuous use ever since. The trademark QUIRST was coined in late 1977 by an advertising agency hired by Seven-Up to find a name for a new product to "quench thirst." 1 After consumer surveys and trademark availability searches, QUIRST was adopted as the name for the new product on February 15, 1978. On March 24, 1978, SquirtCo learned from one of its franchisees of Seven-Up's plans to introduce the QUIRST trademark and protested orally to Seven-Up on that same day and in writing on March 28, 1978. Seven-Up continued its plan for market entry.

SquirtCo filed the original action on April 7, 1978. In May of 1978, Seven-Up began marketing its QUIRST soft drink. The district

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court denied SquirtCo's motion for a preliminary injunction. In response to a motion by both parties, the court separated the issues of liability and damages, and ordered that the trial relate only to the issue of liability.

After a full trial sitting without a jury, the court set out the evidence in great detail and made the following findings, which we summarize here, in its unpublished memorandum opinion:

1. SQUIRT as a trademark is both strong and distinctive.

2. There is a similarity in sound between the SQUIRT and QUIRST marks.

3. The marks are used on highly similar products non-cola, fruit-flavored soft drinks.

4. The products are in direct competition for the same customers.

5. The evidence, particularly the large advertising budget for market entry, does not indicate that Seven-Up intended to pass off QUIRST soft drink as SQUIRT soft drink. 2

6. Questioning of purchasers of SQUIRT soft drink and QUIRST soft drink at a grocery store does not prove actual confusion between the SQUIRT and QUIRST marks, especially as the purchasers are not available for cross-examination. 3

7. Opinion surveys do demonstrate the possibility of confusion between the SQUIRT and QUIRST marks. 4

8. Consumers exercise a low degree of care in purchasing soft drinks because they

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are low cost and have a short product life after purchase.

The court concluded:

In summary, the presence of the strong and distinct SQUIRT trademark, the extensive similarity between the SQUIRT and QUIRST marks, the close competitive proximity and similarity between the products, the low to moderate degree of care likely to be exercised by purchasers of soft drinks and the Maritz, Chicago and Phoenix surveys, are all signs of a likelihood of confusion. These considerations lead us to the conclusion that the defendants are infringing the plaintiff's SQUIRT trademarks because the name QUIRST is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception.

Therefore, the court issued a permanent injunction against use of the QUIRST mark by Seven-Up. 5 The court made no findings, however, regarding the tortious interference claim and dismissed that claim in a single sentence. These decisions were expressly made final pursuant to Rule 54(b). The court certified its decisions on liability for immediate appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). 6

Both parties recognize that the district court applied the proper legal standards regarding infringement. The ultimate issue on the infringement claim was whether the recent mark QUIRST so resembled

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the registered mark SQUIRT that its use was "likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive." The Lanham Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1114(1), 1127. The court recognized that resolution of this issue does not hinge on a single factor but requires a consideration of numerous factors to determine whether under all the circumstances there is a likelihood of confusion. Grotrian, Helfferich, Schulz, Th. Steinweg Nachf. v. Steinway & Sons, 523 F.2d 1331 (2d Cir. 1975). A strong and distinctive trademark is entitled to greater protection than a weak or commonplace one. See J.B. Williams Co. v. Le Conte Cosmetics, Inc., 523 F.2d 187, 192 (9th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 913, 96 S.Ct. 1110, 47 L.Ed.2d 317 (1976). Similarity is based on an examination of the marks as a whole, including visual impression and sound. David Sherman Corp. v. Heublein, Inc., 340 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir. 1965). Where the products are closely related, less similarity in the trademarks is necessary to support a finding of infringement. Id. Competitive proximity is one factor to be considered, even though infringement may be found in the absence of direct competition. HMH Publishing Co. v. Turbyfill, 330 F.Supp. 830 (M.D.Fla.1971). Intent on the part of the alleged infringer to pass off its goods as the product of another raises an inference of likelihood of confusion, but intent is not an element of a claim for trademark infringement. Fleischmann Distilling Corp. v. Maier Brewing Co., 314 F.2d 149, 157-58 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 374 U.S. 830, 83 S.Ct. 1870, 10 L.Ed.2d 1053 (1963). Likewise, actual confusion is not essential to a finding of trademark infringement, although it is positive proof of likelihood of confusion. Standard Oil Co. v. Standard Oil Co., 252 F.2d 65, 74 (10th Cir. 1958). In evaluating survey evidence, technical deficiencies go to the weight to be accorded them, rather than to their admissibility. La Maur, Inc. v. Revlon, Inc., 245 F.Supp. 839, 842 (D.Minn.1965). In an opinion survey, a response by approximately 25% of the sample that two products were made by the same company was sufficient to support an inference of likelihood of confusion. E. g., James Burrough Ltd. v. Sign of Beefeater, Inc., 540 F.2d 266 (7th Cir. 1976) (15%); Humble Oil & Refining Co. v. American Oil Co., 259 F.Supp. 559 (E.D.Mo.1966), aff'd, 405 F.2d 803 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 395 U.S. 905, 89 S.Ct. 1745, 23 L.Ed.2d 218 (1969). "(I)n a trademark infringement action the kind of product, its cost and the conditions of purchase are important factors in considering whether the degree of care exercised by the purchaser can eliminate the likelihood of confusion which would otherwise exist." Grotrian, Helfferich, Schulz, Th. Steinweg Nachf. v. Steinway & Sons, supra, 523 F.2d at 1342.

Likelihood of confusion is a finding of fact. Armstrong Cork Co. v. World Carpets, Inc., 597 F.2d 496 (5th Cir.), cert. denied 444 U.S. 932, 100 S.Ct. 277, 62 L.Ed.2d 190 (1979). Therefore, we must uphold the trial court's finding of likelihood of confusion unless it is clearly erroneous. Gemeinde Brau, Inc. v. Amana Society, 557 F.2d 638, 639 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 967, 98 S.Ct. 511, 54 L.Ed.2d 454 (1977); Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a). The facts were open to dispute, and it is quite possible that we would have reached a different conclusion on the infringement issue if this case were before us de novo. There is adequate support in the record, however, for each of the trial court's findings. They are not clearly erroneous. Therefore, we affirm the district court's holding that the introduction of the QUIRST mark infringed on the well-established SQUIRT mark, and we uphold the permanent injunction on Seven-Up's use of the QUIRST mark.

Tortious interference is a separate claim that depends on different facts than the infringement claim. Yet the court dismissed the tortious interference claim in a single sentence, without making any findings of fact or conclusions of law on that issue....

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