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The use of the words “washington speakers” in Internet domain names was likely to cause confusion, as the domain names were colorable imitations of the trademark held by Washington Speakers Bureau Inc., the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held June 27, affirming the district court’s decision ( Washington Speakers Bureau v. Leading Authorities Inc., unpub., 4th Cir., Nos. 99-1440, 99-1442, 6/27/00). Washington Speakers Bureau, a lecture-booking agency in Alexandria, Va., filed this action against Leading Authorities Inc., a competitor, for trademark infringement under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1125(a), and trademark dilution under Section 43(c) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1125(c), based on Leading Authorities’ registration of four Internet domain names containing the words “washingtonspeakers.” In 1996, Leading Authorities created an Internet Web site with the domain name leadingauthorities.com, and in 1998, it registered over 90 other Internet domain names related in some degree to the services it offers. Some of the names it registered involved convention locations, such as floridaspeakers.com and californiameetings.com, while others were more general, such as usaspeakers.com and politicalspeakers.net. It also registered domain names similar to the names of over 10 existing speakers’ bureaus and lecture agencies. For example, it registered keynote-speakers.com — similar to Keynote Speakers Inc.; capital-speakers.com — similar to Capital Speakers Inc.; meetingprofessionals.com — similar to Meeting Professionals International; and, with permission from Blanchard Training and Development Inc., the “Blanchard” domain names. Leading Authorities also registered the domain names washingtonspeakers.com, washington-speakers.com, washingtonspeakers.net, and washington-speakers.net. Following a bench trial, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia concluded, in Washington Speakers Bureau Inc. v. Leading Authorities Inc., 33 F. Supp. 2d 488, 500 (E.D. Va. 1999), that “Washington Speakers Bureau” was a descriptive mark that had acquired secondary meaning and that Leading Authorities’ four domain names were colorable imitations of that mark, the use of which was likely to confuse consumers as to the source or sponsorship of its Web site. The court noted that both companies utilized the Internet to advertise and to provide similar services and that Leading Authorities intended to “approximate the name of a competitor and attract[ ] Internet business that might otherwise go to the competitor.” Accordingly, the district court required Leading Authorities to relinquish its rights to the four domain names at issue. It also concluded that because of the brief period in which the domain names were used, no damages were caused and “none shall be awarded.” Leading Authorities appealed, and Washington Speakers Bureau filed a conditional cross-appeal from the district court’s ruling against it on its trademark-dilution claim. Washington Speakers Bureau also challenged the district court’s refusal to award it attorneys’ fees under 15 U.S.C. §1117(a), which authorizes award to prevailing parties of reasonable attorneys fees in “exceptional cases.” On appeal, Leading Authorities contended that “Washington Speakers” is generic and not protectable and that, in any event, the district court clearly erred in finding that its use of “Washington Speakers” would likely cause confusion with Washington Speakers Bureau’s name and services. Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, writing the opinion of the court, stated, “We have carefully reviewed the record and conclude that the district court’s factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.” “We have considered the arguments of counsel made in their briefs and at oral argument and, for the reasons articulated in the district court’s well-reasoned opinion, we affirm. We also conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Washington Speakers Bureau attorneys fees.” Washington Speakers Bureau admitted that the ruling mooted its cross-appeal of the district court’s denial of its trademark dilution claim.

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