David Lilenfeld Blog The intellectual property blog of David Lilenfeld


Actual Confusion – Important Factor in Likelihood of Confusion Analysis

By David Lilenfeld on January 31, 2016

5.  Actual confusion

“Evidence of actual confusion is strong evidence that future confusion is likely.”  Entrepreneur Media, Inc, 279 F.3d at 1150. However, “the converse is not true.” GoTo.com, Inc., 202 F.3d at 1208. Nonetheless, a “reasonable juror may . . . find de minimis evidence of actual confusion unpersuasive as to the ultimate issue of likelihood of confusion.” Id.

Here, the parties present conflicting evidence as to confusion. Top Shelf relies on a survey taken by its expert, Dr. Thomas Maronick, in which “the majority of respondents . . . said that Clearly Kombucha is either not affiliated with or sponsored by any other company organization, or they ‘don’t know.’” (Ledden Decl. Ex. 18 (“Maronick Rep.”) at 9.) For its part, Clearly Food presents evidence of actual consumer confusion: in five separate instances, written comments from consumers encountering Top Shelf’s products online have expressed the belief that Clearly Kombucha and Clearly Canadian are affiliated. (See Whittaker Decl. Exs. M (comment asking Clearly Kombucha, “are you no longer making Clearly Canadian, too?”), N (comment next to picture of Clearly Kombucha bottles: “instead of clearly Canadian it’s clearly Kombucha!”), O (comment next to picture of Clearly Kombucha bottles: “I’ve heard of (and loved) Clearly Canadian, but never Clearly Kombucha!”); Ledder Decl. Ex. 13 (“Silverman Rep.”) ¶ 47 (referencing consumer queries posted on Clearly Kombucha’s Facebook page asking, “Are you producing Clearly Canadian too? You are the same company yes?” and “Why are you pushing only Clearly Kombucha? Your Clearly Canadian should be on top! I used to drink you all the time growing up.”).) Clearly Food also identifies various flaws in Top Shelf’s survey that Clearly Food claims require the expert’s opinion to be discounted. (Resp. at 25-26 (pointing out that a majority of the survey respondents also answered that Clearly Kombucha was affiliated with another company, or they “don’t know”).)

The court is not permitted to weigh the evidence on summary judgment. Although a jury could reasonably find that Clearly Food’s evidence was de minimus, a jury could also reasonably credit Clearly Food’s evidence of actual confusion over Top Shelf’s survey. See Americana Trading Inc. v. Russ Berrie & Co., 966 F.2d 1284, 1289 (9th Cir. 1992) (finding that one letter from a confused consumer plus evidence of retailer confusion was sufficient evidence for a trier of fact to find actual confusion). Therefore, for summary judgment purposes, this factor weighs in Clearly Food’s favor.


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