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Trademark Owners Should Know the Standard for Attorney's Fees Awards

Courts don’t award attorney’s fees that often in trademark cases.

That’s because the statute only authorizes fees awards in “exceptional” cases.

So what’s that mean?

The Ninth Circuit recently reviewed the standard. “Under the Lanham Act, ‘[t]he court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.’”

For the plaintiff, “[a]n exceptional case is one ‘where the acts of infringement can be characterized as ‘malicious’, ‘fraudulent’, ‘deliberate’, or ‘willful.’” For the defendant, “’[e]xceptional circumstances can be found when the non-prevailing party’s case is groundless, unreasonable, vexatious, or pursued in bad faith.’”

The court added that ”’[w]hile a finding that the losing party has acted in bad faith may provide evidence that the case is exceptional, other exceptional circumstances may warrant a fee award.’”

The court didn’t offer much analysis in upholding the district court’s award to the prevailing plaintiff. It just said that “[c]onsidering all of the circumstances of this case, including the jury’s verdict, we agree with the district court that the threshold standard for awarding fees has been met, and further that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys’ fees.”

A little more explanation would have been nice. However, trademark owners still have an important take-away from the decision: it’s important to know the court’s standards when seeking or defending against a claim for attorney’s fees. Most claims won’t cut it, but the cases with egregious facts can.

The case cite is Haas Automation, Inc. v. Denny, No. 11-56991, 2013 WL 2303528 (9th Cir. May 28, 2013).

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