Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tobacco company ordered to pay attorney's fees for vexatious trademark infringement lawsuit

I’ve written before (link here) about the aggressiveness of tobacco companies in wielding their valuable trademarks to stop the sale of counterfeit cigarettes.

The Rocky Mountain News ran a story yesterday by John Ensslin (link here) about one such action brought by one tobacco company against an Ethiopian immigrant. What began as a trademark infringement lawsuit based on the sale of two packs of counterfeit Newport cigarettes turned into a two-year ordeal that forced the man to sell his liquor store business and turn to driving an airport shuttle bus to make a living.

The story is a sober reminder of how aggressive big companies can be with respect to their trademarks, but at the same time, it illustrates that justice can prevail (but then again, one must ask, at what price). The court awarded the defendant attorney’s fees because of the tobacco company’s conduct, which the court described as “vexatious, oppressive, lacking foundation, and intended to harass and intimidate the defendant.” But it’s a bittersweet victory given the personal cost to this defendant.

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