TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc.
United States Supreme Court
532 U.S. 23 (2001)
Marketing Displays, Inc. (MDI) (plaintiff) held the utility patents for a device that used two springs to keep temporary road signs from blowing over in the wind. Soon after the patents expired, TrafFix Devices, Inc. (defendant) began selling signs that used an identical device that it had reverse-engineered from MDI’s product. MDI brought suit under the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), alleging trademark infringement, trade dress infringement based on the use of the dual-spring design, and unfair competition. TrafFix counterclaimed on an antitrust theory. The district court entered summary judgment for MDI on the trademark infringement and antitrust claims, but found for TrafFix on the trade dress infringement claim. The district court reasoned that a trade dress claim was barred because the dual-spring design was not associated with MDI by consumers, and because the dual-spring design was a functional part of the products. TrafFix appealed to the court of appeals, which affirmed the district court on the trademark infringement and antitrust rulings, but reversed the dismissal of MDI’s trade dress claim against TrafFix. The court of appeals reasoned that trade dress protection was barred on the ground of functionality only when the protection would put competing manufacturers at a significant disadvantage that is not merely reputational. TrafFix then appealed the trade dress issue to the United States Supreme Court.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Kennedy, J.)
What to do next…
Unlock this case brief with a free (no-commitment) trial membership of Quimbee.
You’ll be in good company: Quimbee is one of the most widely used and trusted sites for law students, serving more than 97,000 law students since 2011. Some law schools—such as Yale, Vanderbilt, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois—even subscribe directly to Quimbee for all their law students. Read our student testimonials.
Learn more about Quimbee’s unique (and proven) approach to achieving great grades at law school.
Quimbee is a company hell-bent on one thing: helping you get an “A” in every course you take in law school, so you can graduate at the top of your class and get a high-paying law job. We’re not just a study aid for law students; we’re the study aid for law students. Read more about Quimbee.
Here's why 166,000 law students have relied on our case briefs:
- Written by law professors and practitioners, not other law students. 13,800 briefs, keyed to 187 casebooks. Top-notch customer support.
- The right amount of information, includes the facts, issues, rule of law, holding and reasoning, and any concurrences and dissents.
- Access in your classes, works on your mobile and tablet. Massive library of related video lessons and high quality multiple-choice questions.
- Easy to use, uniform format for every case brief. Written in plain English, not in legalese. Our briefs summarize and simplify; they don’t just repeat the court’s language.