Almost five years ago, I wrote an article published in the Daily Recorder about a ruling in the Tiffany & Co. v. Costco Wholesale Corporation case filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Specifically, I wrote about the Court granting Tiffany’s motion for summary judgment on liability, permitting Tiffany to proceed to trial on the issue of damages. Tiffany eventually did exactly that and obtained a $21 million judgment against Costco for selling unbranded engagement rings as “Tiffany” diamond engagement rings. But just over a week ago, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the District Court and remanded the case for trial.

To recap, Tiffany sued Costco for selling other rings and using the word Tiffany on nearby signage to describe those rings, claiming trademark infringement and unfair business practices. Costco responded to the allegations by claiming that “Tiffany” is a word used throughout the industry to refer to a particular style of setting–a diamond solitaire in a six-prong setting. Costco argued that consumers are aware of this use of “Tiffany” and that its use was therefore unlikely to cause consumer confusion. Costco also argued that Tiffany is not a legally protected trademark because the mark is descriptive or generic for that style of setting. For that reason, Costco requested that the Court cancel Tiffany’s trademark.
Continue Reading The Second Circuit Vacates Tiffany & Co.’s $21 Million Judgment for Trademark Infringement and Counterfeiting Against Costco

On September 9, 2015, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Costco was willfully infringing Tiffany & Co.’s trademarks by selling diamond engagement rings bearing the renowned jewelry retailer’s name. The suit started back in 2012 when a patron of Costco in Huntington Beach, California decided to reach out to Tiffany to express her disappointment in Tiffany offering its rings for sale at Costco. She also stated that the rings were being promoted on signs within the store as Tiffany diamond engagement rings. After receiving the complaint and knowing that it did not sell its rings through Costco, Tiffany launched an investigation revealing that the Huntington Beach Costco was in fact displaying diamond engagement rings in a case labeled with the word Tiffany. The investigation also revealed that the Costco salespeople were referring to them as Tiffany engagement rings. Accordingly, Tiffany took action.

According to the Court’s ruling, prior to the lawsuit, Costco promised that it would remove references to Tiffany from its display case signs and even sent a letter to customers who bought the rings offering a full refund if they were not satisfied. Irrespective of these acts, Tiffany filed suit, ironically enough, on February 14, 2013. In response, Costco filed a counterclaim alleging that Tiffany’s trademarks were invalid because they sought to prevent others from using the word “Tiffany” as a generic description of a type of ring setting. Almost a year and a half later, the Court ruled in favor of Tiffany and against Costco. Specifically, Judge Laura Taylor Swain ruled that the evidence established that Costco had infringed Tiffany’s trademarks by selling engagement rings and had confused consumers by using the word Tiffany in display cases. Judge Swain ruled that “Despite Costco’s arguments to the contrary, the court finds that, based on the record evidence, no rational finder of fact could conclude that Costco acted in good faith in adopting the Tiffany mark.”Continue Reading Tiffany & Company v. Costco Wholesale: Tiffany is far from Generic