This week, a Federal Judge in New York refused to grant a summary judgment in favor of Disney in its ongoing case against Nick Sarelli. The case is based on Disney alleging Sarelli is running a “knock-off business … built upon the infringement of Plaintiffs’ highly valuable intellectual property rights.”
U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels dismissed most of Disney’s trademark claims against a defendant who will send out individuals dressed as “The Princess” (meaning Leia) or “Big Hairy Guy” (meaning Chewbacca) for special events. Daniels recognized some similarity but disagreed that Disney and Sarelli compete in the same business nor that customers are likely to be confused. The judge makes the point that it’s “adults, not children” who plan parties and there’s no evidence of actual confusion.
“The only anecdotal ‘evidence’ [Disney] can muster are a handful of instances where CFH’s customers referred to the actual names of Plaintiffs’ characters in online reviews rather than using the names provided for such characters on CFH’s website,” writes the judge. “Yet, none of the customer reviews suggest the slightest sign of confusion as to the origin, source, affiliation, or sponsorship of CHF’s services, much less confusion likely to produce ‘a diversion of sales, damage to goodwill, or loss of control over reputation. Plaintiffs also fail to offer statistical surveys showing any instances of consumer confusion despite CFH providing character-for-hire services using Plaintiffs’ trademarked characters since at least 2012. That Plaintiffs and Defendants have used similar marks over a substantial period of time without ever producing a single recorded instance of consumer confusion shows that there is no likelihood of consumer confusion.”
Judging from the summary judgment, it is likely that a settlement will be reached in due course. We will update you on this as it happens.