29 August 2023TrademarksSarah Speight

Whirlpool beats China firms at Fed Circ in food mixer clash

The home appliances giant convinces Court of Appeals to block sales of rival food mixers | Two Shenzhen firms found to have copied design of ‘iconic’ KitchenAid | Court rejected argument that Whirlpool’s trademarks are invalid.

US home appliances maker Whirlpool has triumphed against two Chinese firms in a trademark dispute regarding the design of its KitchenAid stand mixer.

Whirlpool originally filed a complaint in January 2022 against Shenzhen Sanlida Electrical Technology Co, and Shenzhen Avoga Technology Co (collectively ‘Shenzen’), alleging trademark and trade dress infringement.

The company, which owns the KitchenAid brand, later requested a preliminary injunction to stop sales of the defendants’ own stand mixers, ‘ COOKLEE’ and ‘ PHISINIC’, which were sold mainly online.

Shenzhen contested that request, arguing that Whirlpool’s trademarks are invalid because they are functional, and that there is no likelihood of confusion between KitchenAid and their own mixers.

But the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted the injunction, which Shenzhen appealed immediately.

The initial preliminary injunction order required Shenzhen not to just cease, inter alia, the import, sale, promotion and distribution of their mixers, but also to “recall and destroy and provide proof to the court of recall and destruction” of the allegedly infringing mixers.

Shenzhen filed an emergency motion to stay this order in the district court.

As well as re-raising its earlier arguments, Shenzhen contended that the district court had erred in ordering the allegedly infringing mixers destroyed, and that Whirlpool should be ordered to post a bond.

A magistrate judge recommended denying the motion to stay, although he also recommended that the injunction be modified to require Shenzhen only to recall and hold (rather than recall and destroy) the allegedly infringing mixers.

The judge also ordered Whirlpool to post a bond of $10,000.

Despite further objections from Shenzhen, the district court adopted this report and recommendation, which Shenzhen again opposed, filing an opposed emergency motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction pending appeal.

But the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last week (August 25) upheld the district court’s decision, granting a preliminary injunction to Whirlpool and denying Shenzhen's claim on the merits.

A wedding gift ‘staple’

KitchenAid’s “signature bullet-shaped head, sloped neck, and sleek design, has been a staple on wedding registries and the crown jewel in a home cook’s kitchen”, according to the judgment.

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted Whirlpool registration of the three-dimensional KitchenAid mixer design in 1992.

“This design has been the subject of millions of dollars in advertising spending across all media channels, appears prominently in various cooking shows and is used by celebrity chefs, and has received numerous accolades and awards,” said the complaint.

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