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Review and History of Supreme Court Case titled
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Brothers, Inc.
Prof. Michael Hanners
Before the Case
Ultimately, the goal of trade dress protection has always been to prevent other manufacturers from making one product look like another, therefore deceiving unaware consumers into purchasing goods from the wrong manufacturer. By the end of the 1990s, courts also began to protect product shapes and packaging. The broad label of unfair competition supplied product packaging and shapes with legal protection, known as trade dress. Trade dress was meant to make it easier for consumers to differentiate products by their dress and associate a product and its manufacturer with the dress as well. By default, this protection extended to protect the producer’s investment in the advertising and promotion of the product, and also allowed producers to sue on behalf of consumers who would have a difficult time bringing suit based on their confusion.
Samara Brothers, Inc. designs and produces clothing for children and the most profitable part of its business was spring and summer one piece outfits that display items such as hearts or flowers. In 1995, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. contacted one of its suppliers, Judy-Phillipine, Inc. and contracted them to produce an entire line of children’s clothing patterned after photographs of Samara clothes. (It should be noted that Judy-Phillipe, Inc. supplied the clothing line to K-Mart, Caldor, Hills, and Goody’s also.) In 1996, a J.C. Penny consumer informed Samara that its exact designs were being sold by Walt-Mart at lower prices than J.C. Penny was contracted to offer; this acted as Samara’s discovery that Wal-Mart was selling their designs. Samara sent cease-and-desist letters and then sued Wal-Mart, Judy-Phillipine, K-Mart, Caldor, Hills, and Goody’s for copyright infringement, consumer fraud, and infringement of unregistered trade dress...
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