WSM, Inc. v. Wheeler Media Services

810 F.2d 113 (1987)

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WSM, Inc. v. Wheeler Media Services

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
810 F.2d 113 (1987)

Facts

In September 1981, Wheeler Media Services, Inc. (Wheeler) (defendant) formed a Tennessee corporation called Nashville Network, Inc. and registered the trademark “The Nashville Network” with the Tennessee secretary of state. Wheeler never provided services under the mark. When Wheeler chose the mark, it was not aware that WSM, Inc. (plaintiff), which was part of an entertainment conglomerate that owned the Grand Ole’ Opry, claimed ownership of the mark and had used it in WSM’s broadcasting activities. WSM sued Wheeler for infringement, and on March 14, 1983, the court ordered the parties to brief the question of whether the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction in light of the rule that a federal court lacked jurisdiction to determine the ownership of a trademark absent federal registration or diversity of citizenship between the parties. On October 3, 1983, the district judge concluded that the court did have jurisdiction but noted that the question had been muddled by WSM’s over-simplification of the issues presented by the dispute. The court also granted partial summary judgment to WSM on the question of ownership of the mark. On May 29, 1984, the court entered summary judgment in favor of WSM on its claims of infringement and unfair competition, noting that Wheeler’s infringement was not deliberate or willful. The court also granted WSM’s motion for attorney’s fees, finding that Wheeler had unnecessarily prolonged the litigation after September 27, 1982. This finding was based on a settlement offer by WSM, which purportedly put Wheeler on notice that its use of the mark (or lack thereof), as acknowledged in the deposition of its representatives, could not support Wheeler’s claim of ownership. Wheeler appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Engel, J.)

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