Gibson loses trademark infringement case on appeal

Though this particular case does not involve Gibson’s bluegrass division (Original Acoustic Instruments), it should be of interest to anyone who follows instruments or instrument building. Especially in the five string banjo world, questions about Gibson’s ability to protect the design and appearance of the banjos they developed in the 1920s and ’30s is a matter of ongoing interest. Mandolin builders share similar concerns regarding Gibson’s F5 design.

This particular decision, handed down on September 12, 2005 by the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, OH, involved Gibson’s attempt to cite Paul Reed Smith Guitars for trademark infringement, specifically for copying the distinctive single cutaway design of Gibson’s Les Paul solid body electric guitar. The complaint, which was decided in Gibson’s favor in July of 2004, was based on the claim that the two guitars appeared similar from a distance, enough so to create confusion in the market to the detriment to Gibson.

Paul Reed Smith Guitars sought to have the injunction overturned on appeal, and was supported in their attempt by a number of other musical instrument heavyweights like Taylor Guitars, Peavey and D”Addario. The decision of Appeals Court Judge Karen Nelson Moore rejected the notion that body shape alone was sufficient to indicate injunctive relief, and that the District Court had erred in its interpretation of which aspects of the Les Paul design were protected under Gibson’s existing trademark.

You can view the complete decision of the Appeals Court online. It may be a bit dense for folks who aren’t familiar with legal writing, but contains a detailed analysis of this case, one which may have ongoing relevance in the acoustic music world as well.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.