Pillow Pets Knockoff Enjoined from Keyword Advertising–CJ Products v Snuggly Plushez

By Eric Goldman

CJ Products LLC v. Snuggly Plushez LLC, 2011 WL 3667750 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 22, 2011)

Pillow Pets are cuddly and soft, but if you make knockoff versions of them, be prepared to meet the sharp end of their sword in court–a fate that befell the defendants in this case. However, before we condemn the defendants too much, recognize that (a) the term “pillow pets” is very descriptive (“It’s a pillow…it’s a pet”), and (b) the idea of making stuffed animals that turn into pillows goes back at least decades.

Nevertheless, the court concludes that the defendants mimicry was too close. It violated Pillow Pets’ copyright registration in sculptural works, and the marketing campaign constituted false advertising (for, among other things, saying “As Seen on TV” and claiming to be “original” and “authentic”) and trademark infringement. To reach the latter conclusion, the court concluded that “pillow pets” was a descriptive term that had achieved secondary meaning.

Unusually, this ruling broke out its discussion of the trademark implications of the defendants’ keyword ad campaign (rather than incorporating the discussion into the other trademark infringement analysis). The defendants ran ads like:

Official PillowPets.CO- Soft Chenille Plush Pillow Pets

Low Prices, New Styles Now in stock

www.pillowpets.co

and

PillowPets.Co™

Official Site. SuperSoft chenille plush pillow pets Now in Stock!

www.pillowpets.co

I could see how this ad copy for a knockoff might confuse some consumers, and the plaintiffs introduced some evidence that consumers had mistakenly transacted with the defendants. This case reminded me a little of the Edriver case in terms of the defendants’ online efforts to look “official.”

The court, like many others, says the ads make a trademark use in commerce. Fortunately, inspired by the Network Automation case, the court refused to apply an Internet exceptionalist likelihood of consumer confusion analysis for keyword advertising. The court expressly rejected the Hearts on Fire keyword-specific bonus multi-factor test.

Instead, the court cited evidence of actual confusion, the defendants’ efforts to mimic the plaintiff’s home page, and the resulting traffic bump as reasons to grant “plaintiffs’ motion to enjoin defendants’ use of the terms “Pillow Pets” and “My Pillow Pets” in the Google AdWords program to trigger sponsored links.” Given the court’s view that the defendants were impermissible knockoffs that had used overly aggressive marketing tactics, an injunction was the logical denouement.

Personally, I’m surprised the pillow pet fad has lasted as long as it has. Then again, my kids still sleep with their pillow pets every night. Check out Dina’s excitement when she first got her unicorn pillow pet.

Rebecca also blogged this ruling.

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