Belk, Inc. v. Meyer Corp., No. 10-1664

Decided: May 8, 2012

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s verdict following a jury trial for Meyer Corporation finding Belk, Inc. liable for treble damages of $1,260,000 related to trade dress infringement and unfair and deceptive trade practices.  Belk failed to file a postverdict 50(b) or 59 motion and directly appealed to the Fourth Circuit.  Finding no error on any of the issues properly preserved for appeal, the verdict was affirmed.

Meyer Corporation is a cookware supplier that markets its cookware through its brand “Anolon Advanced.”  Belk is a former customer of Meyer, having previously carried other Meyer lines in its stores.  In 2007, Belk began selling its own private-label line of cookware under license from the Biltmore Company.  Meyer provided notice to Belk through a cease-and-desist letter that it believed the line infringed Meyer’s line.  Belk filed suit seeking declaratory judgment that its line did not infringe and Meyer’s patents were unenforceable, and Meyer filed suit alleging patent infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Belk raised four issues on appeal.  First, Belk claimed that the evidence was insufficient for finding trade dress infringement.  The Court held that Belk had not preserved this issue for appeal by not filing a postverdict motion.  While Belk cited cases in support of their argument that technical noncompliance should not overrule their opportunity to appeal the judgment, the court was not persuaded.  Belk’s failing to file a motion at all was not the same as the cases cited where technical errors with motions did not prevent the consideration of the issue.  Second, Belk claimed that Meyer’s expert was not properly qualified to testify regarding the specific evidence at issue.  However, the record showed the expert’s experience and training as sufficient to pass a Daubert analysis and was not an abuse of discretion.  Third, Belk claimed that the district court erred with respect to the unfair and deceptive trade practices claim by tendering unfair competition issues to the jury that as a matter of law are not unfair trade and deceptive practices and Meyer failed to prove Belk intentionally infringed Meyer’s trade dress. Belk cited cases only describing “unfairness,” but to violate the unfair and deceptive trade practices act, the act may be unfair or deceptive.  This was fatal to Belk’s contentions.  Additionally, Meyer was not required to prove intentional infringement.  Fourth, Belk attacked the award of damages.  Belk claimed that the court did not properly consider equitable factors and erred by treating the damages as subject to trebling.  Violation of trademark law per se entitles a plaintiff to treble damages under the pertinent North Carolina statutes.  Therefore, the district court’s judgment was affirmed.

Full Opinion

-Jennifer Routh

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