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Avco Corporation v. Precision Airmotive

November 19, 2012

AVCO CORPORATION,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
PRECISION AIRMOTIVE, LLC, DEFENDANT
v.
AVSTAR FUEL SYSTEMS, INC., COUNTERCLAIM-DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Conner)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court in the above-captioned matter is the motion for preliminary injunctive relief (Doc. 18), filed by defendant Precision Airmotive, LLC ("Precision"), on September 10, 2012. On September 24, 2012, plaintiff Avco Corporation ("Avco") moved to strike Precision's motion for preliminary injunction, answer, and counterclaims against Avco and AVstar Fuel Systems, Inc. ("AVstar"), on the grounds of improper joinder. (Doc. 35). Precision filed a brief in opposition to Avco's motion to strike (Doc. 39) on September 28, 2012, and a reply in support of their motion for preliminary injunctive relief (Doc. 41) on October 1, 2012. Avco also filed a reply in support of its motion to strike (Doc. 42) on October 1, 2012, and a surreply (Doc. 47) in opposition to Precision's motion for preliminary injunctive relief on October 10, 2012. AVstar filed a suggestion of bankruptcy (Doc. 43) on October 4, 2012. The court held a preliminary injunction hearing on November 14, 2012, and took evidence in the form of documentary exhibits and witness testimony.

With briefing concluded and the record closed, the matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons to be discussed, the court will deny Precision's motion for a preliminary injunction.*fn1

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Precision manufactures fuel injection servos for general aviation engines, a component which controls the delivery of a combustible fuel-air mixture to the engine. Precision identifies its fuel injection servos by an alpha-numeric designation, each prefaced by the abbreviation "RSA." The parties agree that these designations describe various attributes of the servos -- for example, the type of fuel injection system, and nominal and actual bore sizes. (See Plaintiff's Ex. B). Precision purchased the right to make the product line at issue from the Bendix Corporation in 1988. Prior to AVstar's use of the RSA designation, Precision was the only manufacturer of fuel injection servos to use this particular designation.

Avco, through its unincorporated division Lycoming Engines, manufactures general aviation engines. Avco previously purchased its fuel injection servos exclusively from Precision, but it has recently begun purchasing at least a portion of its servos from AVstar.

Avco initiated this action by filing a complaint against Precision, in which it brought claims alleging defamation, product disparagement, and tortious interference with contractual relations, sought a declaratory judgment that Avco's use of particular model designations for aircraft fuel injection servos did not violate the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1051 et seq., and requested cancellation of trademark registration numbers corresponding to a collection of fuel injection servos manufactured by Precision. Specifically, Avco requested cancellation of the trademark registrations for the servo designations RSA-10ED1, RSA-10AD1, RSA-5AD1, RSA-10DB1, RSA-10ED2, RSA-7DA1, RSA-7AA1, RSA-5AB1, and RSA-5AD2 (collectively, the "RSA designations" or "RSA marks"). (Doc. 1 ¶77).

Precision responded by joining defendant AVstar, filing counterclaims for, inter alia, trademark infringement against AVstar and Avco, and moving the court for a preliminary injunction restraining both defendants from using the RSA designations to reference fuel injection servos made by AVstar.

II. Discussion

"A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right." Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008). A court considering a request for preliminary injunctive relief must consider four factors: 1) whether the movant has shown that they have a reasonable probability of success on the merits of their argument; 2) whether the movant will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of relief; 3) whether granting the preliminary injunction will result in greater harm to the nonmoving party; and 4) whether the public interest favors granting the injunction. American Exp. Travel Related Services, Inc. v. SidamonEristoff, 669 F.3d 359, 366 (3d Cir. 2012). "The moving party's failure to show a likelihood of success on the merits 'must necessarily result in the denial of a preliminary injunction.'" Id. (quoting In re Arthur Treacher's Franchisee Litig., 689 F.2d 1137, 1143 (3d Cir. 1982)). All of the factors must be satisfied to accord relief to Precision, but two of them -- whether Precision has demonstrated a likelihood that they will succeed on the merits, and whether the public interest favors issuing a preliminary injunction -- are particularly relevant to the court's ruling against Precision. The court will address each in turn.

A. Precision's Likelihood of Success on the Merits

Precision asserts that Avco and AVstar's use of the RSA designations to refer to fuel injection servos manufactured by AVstar constitutes trademark infringement of their registered marks, and accordingly requests a preliminary injunction against Avco and AVstar preventing them from identifying AVstar-made servos by the RSA designation.

To succeed on a claim for trademark infringement, a plaintiff generally must prove three elements. First, the plaintiff must show that the marks are "valid and legally protectable;" second, the plaintiff must show that they own the mark in question; and third, the plaintiff must show that the defendant's "use of the marks to identify goods or services is likely to create confusion concerning the origin of the goods or services." Opticians Ass'n of America v. Independent Opticians of America, 920 F.2d 187, 192 (3d Cir. 1990). A valid mark must be "capable of distinguishing . . . [the owner's] goods from those of others;" i.e., it must be "distinctive." Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763, 768 (1992). An identifying mark must be either "inherently distinctive or . . . [have] acquired distinctiveness through secondary meaning." Id. at 769.

As a threshold matter, it is undisputed that Precision's marks are not inherently distinctive. (See Transcript of Prel. Inj. Hearing at 87-88 (hereinafter, "Transcript")). The RSA marks are recorded on the supplemental register, and supplemental registration does not confer a presumption of validity on the mark. Hence, Precision bears the burden of establishing that ...


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