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Internet Trademark Case Summaries

United States v. Wash. Mint LLC

115 F. Supp. 2d 1089 (D. Minn. 2000).

The United States government, owner of the registered trademark UNITED STATES MINT, brought this infringement and dilution action against defendant's use of the mark and trade name WASHINGTON MINT and the domain name "washingtonmint.com."  On its website, defendant sold coin sets and other items that were substantially similar to those produced by the government.  At issue here was the government's motion for preliminary injunction.  Although the government's complaint sought an injunction against all use of the WASHINGTON MINT mark and “washingtonmint.com” domain name, it sought a preliminary injunction only against use of the mark and name for the sale of genuine products made by the United States Mint or replicas of those products.  Initially, the court upheld the validity of the government's UNITED STATES MINT trademark.  It found that monetary coins do in fact constitute "goods in commerce" because the government, in addition to producing coins that serve as legal tender, also produces coins for collecting and investing purposes.  Second, the court found a likelihood of confusion between the mark UNITED STATES MINT and the mark WASHINGTON MINT and the domain name "washingtonmint.com" used for similar products, given the likely association in consumers' minds between the name "Washington" in defendant's mark and the government's headquarters in Washington, D.C.  In fact, defendant's use of the name "Washington" suggested a deliberate intent to pass off its products as those of the United States Mint.  Defendant's disclaimer of affiliation with the government was ineffective because it was printed in small type at the bottom corner of each page such that consumers would be unlikely to read it.  Although the court found a likelihood of confusion, it held that requiring defendant to completely discontinue use of its mark would inflict unnecessary harm.  Balancing the probable harm to both parties, the court instead required defendant to post, pending a trial on the merits, a clear notice of no affiliation with the United States government in bold, large type at the top of each of its Internet web pages.