Perini Corp. v. Perini Const., Inc., 89-2854

Citation16 USPQ2d 1289,915 F.2d 121
Decision Date16 October 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-2854,89-2854
PartiesPERINI CORPORATION, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. PERINI CONSTRUCTION, INC., Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)

Roger Charles Simmons, Gordon, & Simmons, Frederick, Md., argued (Ralph Gordon, Leslie A. Powell, Gordon & Simmons, Frederick, Md., on the brief), for defendant-appellant.

Calvin Hayes Cobb, Jr., Steptoe & Johnson, Washington, D.C. (Maureen O'Keefe Ward, Mark A. Moran, Steptoe & Johnson, Washington, D.C., on the brief), for plaintiff-appellee.

Before ERVIN, Chief Judge, and PHILLIPS and MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judges.

MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judge:

In an attempt to find an answer to Shakespeare's query "What's in a name?" a well-established construction firm, Perini Corporation, instituted a trade name and service mark infringement suit against the Perini Construction Company ("Perini Construction") of Hagerstown, Maryland. The district court granted Perini Corporation's motion for summary judgment, holding that Perini Corporation had established a secondary meaning in the surname "Perini" as used in the construction industry and that Perini Construction's use of that name in providing its services created a likelihood of confusion. The district court consequently enjoined Perini Construction from using "Perini" in its construction business. Perini Construction has appealed the district court's decision, contending that summary judgment was inappropriate because genuine issues of material fact had not been resolved.

Although we agree with the district court as to Perini Corporation's establishment of secondary meaning in the "Perini" name, we believe that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the defendant's use of the name creates a likelihood of confusion. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.


Bonfiglio Perini founded a construction company in Massachusetts at the turn of the century and, in 1918, incorporated the business as B. Perini & Sons, Inc. In 1957, the company changed its name to Perini Corporation. In 1961, Perini Corporation made a public offering of its stock, which has been publicly traded since that time.

Perini Corporation, headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts, is a unionized company and is one of the largest full-service construction firms in the country, providing services on a national and international basis. Examples of Perini Corporation's projects include the Sir Adam Beck Tunnels under Niagara Falls, the Prudential Tower in Boston, the Bloomington Dam in West Virginia, sections of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, major hotels in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and an Israeli airbase.

In 1970, Dominick Perini, with his wife Kathleen, founded Perini Construction, Inc., a general contracting and construction firm in Hagerstown, Maryland. Although Dominick Perini was aware of the existence of Perini Corporation, he had never known it to do any work in the Western Maryland area. Perini Construction, like Perini Corporation, provides commercial and industrial construction services. Perini Construction has built numerous schools, hospitals, prisons, and office buildings in the mid-Atlantic area, which includes Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Examples of Perini Construction's work include projects at the Hagerstown, Maryland, Junior College, the Winchester Mall in Virginia, the Martinsburg, West Virginia, City Hospital, and a physical education complex for Sheperd College in West Virginia.

Perini Corporation did not have any federally registered rights in the "Perini" name and never attempted to register it until the present suit was filed. Perini Corporation first notified Perini Construction of its concern over the use of the "Perini" name in 1983, more than 13 years after Perini Construction had adopted it. When matters between the two companies were not worked out amicably, Perini Corporation instituted the present infringement action.

Suit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland on April 29, 1985. Perini Corporation alleged that use of the "Perini" name by Perini Construction constituted service mark and trade name infringement and unfair competition. It sought a permanent injunction against the defendant's continued infringement. 1

On June 26, 1989, after hearing motions for summary judgment, the district court issued an opinion holding that Perini Corporation, by virtue of its prior adoption and establishment of a secondary meaning in the Perini surname, had established rights to "Perini" as a trade name for its construction services. Perini Corp. v. Perini Construction, 715 F.Supp. 719, 723 (D.Md.1989). The court further determined that the defendant's use of the "Perini" name created a likelihood that an appreciable number of ordinary purchasers would be confused about the source of the defendant's services. Id. The district court rejected the defendant's proffered defenses of laches and abandonment. Id. at 725. Thus, on summary judgment, the court found that the defendant was liable to the plaintiff for trade name infringement. On November 17, 1989, the district court permanently enjoined Perini Construction from using the name "Perini" in offering its services. 2


Orders granting summary judgment are reviewed de novo; that is, the appellate court, without deference, applies the same standard as did the trial court. Helm v. Western Md. Ry. Co., 838 F.2d 729, 734 (4th Cir.1988). Summary judgment is proper only when there is no genuine issue of material fact. F.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In other words, to grant summary judgment the court must determine that no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party on the evidence before it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). And, in evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Pignons S.A. De Mecanique v. Polaroid Corp., 657 F.2d 482, 486 (1st Cir.1981).

We have previously affirmed an order granting summary judgment in favor of a trademark plaintiff when the defendant's liability for infringement was "unassailably established." See Polo Fashions, Inc. v. Craftex, Inc., 816 F.2d 145, 148-49 (4th Cir.1987). We therefore proceed to review de novo whether Perini Construction's liability for trademark infringement has been unassailably established or instead whether the defendant deserves a trial.


The attachment of a businessman's surname to the goods and services provided by him is a useful and venerable practice, which, in an earlier day, was viewed as a personal and inalienable birthright. See Basile, S.p.A. v. Basile, 899 F.2d 35, 39 (D.C.Cir.1990) (citing cases from the earlier era); Taylor Wine Co. v. Bully Hill Vineyards, 569 F.2d 731, 734 (2d Cir.1978) (same). But the Supreme Court, at the beginning of the twentieth century, made clear that the right of an individual to use his name in connection with his trade must yield to the need to eliminate confusion from the marketplace. See Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co. v. Hall's Safe Co., 208 U.S. 554, 559, 28 S.Ct. 350, 351, 52 L.Ed. 616 (1908); Thaddeus Davids Co. v. Davids Manufacturing Co., 233 U.S. 461, 471, 34 S.Ct. 648, 652, 58 L.Ed. 1046 (1914); L.E. Waterman Co. v. Modern Pen Co., 235 U.S. 88, 94, 35 S.Ct. 91, 92, 59 L.Ed. 142 (1914). Congress' attempt at eliminating confusion from the marketplace with regard to the identification of goods and services rests in the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. Secs. 1051-1127 (1982).

Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits the use of false descriptions, representations, or designations of origin, generally has been construed to protect against trademark, service mark, and trade name infringement even though the mark or name has not been federally registered. 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1125(a) (1982); see, e.g., Lois Sportswear, U.S.A., Inc. v. Levi Strauss & Co., 799 F.2d 867, 871 (2d Cir.1986). "The gist of a claim for trademark infringement ... is a sanction against one who trades by confusion on the goodwill or reputation of another, whether by intention or not." Quality Inns Int'l, Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 695 F.Supp. 198, 209 (D.Md.1988). Once a particular mark or name is deemed eligible for protection, the inquiry for determining if it has been infringed is whether a junior user's employment of an identical or similar mark or name creates a "likelihood of confusion" in the marketplace. See Spartan Food Systems, Inc. v. HFS Corp., 813 F.2d 1279, 1284 (4th Cir.1987); Thompson Medical Co. v. Pfizer Inc., 753 F.2d 208, 213 (2d Cir.1985). Eligibility for protection depends upon the market's association between the particular mark and the goods or the business, which, in turn, depends upon the degree of the mark's peculiarity.

In Abercrombie & Fitch Co. v. Hunting World, Inc., 537 F.2d 4 (2d Cir.1976), Judge Henry J. Friendly classified word marks into four categories: (1) generic, (2) descriptive, (3) suggestive, and (4) arbitrary or fanciful. Id. at 9. If a term is generic (the common descriptive name for a thing), it is ineligible for trademark protection. For the public has an inherent right to call a product by its generic name. See Thompson Medical Co., 753 F.2d at 216 (citing Kellogg Co. v. Nat'l Biscuit Co., 305 U.S. 111, 119, 59 S.Ct. 109, 113, 83 L.Ed. 73 (1938)). If terms are fanciful (words invented solely for their use as trademarks), arbitrary (common words applied in unfamiliar ways), or suggestive (words partially descriptive and partially fanciful), the association between the mark and its source is presumed and the mark is eligible for trademark protection. Abercrombie & Fitch, 537 F.2d at 9-11; see also 815 Tonawanda...

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