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trademark symbolSection 35 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1117(a), provides a remedy in false advertising, trademark infringement and dilution cases allowing for a plaintiff’s recovery of illicit profits earned by a defendant that are attributable to its wrongful conduct. For more than two decades, Lanham Act plaintiffs in the Second Circuit have been required to make a showing that the defendant engaged in willful misconduct as a prerequisite to a disgorgement award. While this approach is consistent with that of the First, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and District of Columbia Circuits, no such requirement exists in the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, or Eleventh Circuits, which allow disgorgement as a remedy without requiring a threshold showing of willfulness. Rather, the defendant’s intent is merely one factor in an analysis under “principles of equity” in those circuits. See 15 U.S.C. §1117(a).

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to resolve this circuit split, granting certiorari in Romag Fasteners v. Fossil. In the underlying action, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit applied the Second Circuit’s willfulness requirement to deny the plaintiff any opportunity to recover the defendants’ profits on account of the plaintiff’s failure to show that the defendants’ infringement of magnetic snap fasteners for handbags and other leather goods was willful. See Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Romag Fasteners v. Fossil, (U.S. March 22, 2019), cert. granted, (June 28, 2019) (No. 18-1233). The Supreme Court’s long-anticipated resolution of this question that has divided the circuit courts of appeal has the potential to alter significantly false advertising and trademark litigation practice.

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