US trademark litigation slump continues

There were 3,794 trademark litigation cases filed in the United States in 2017. The figure represents a nine-year low and is also the first time that trademark litigation filings have dipped below 4,000 since 2009.

According to data from legal analytics company Lex Machina, the trend in litigation filings has been on a downward trajectory since 2010. The one exception was 2014, when (in the third quarter) the National Football League was hit with 489 suits, mostly related to a single dispute between the league and former players over use of player likenesses.

This long-term trend is at odds with other types of IP litigation. While copyright actions have fallen over the past couple of years, this followed a nine-year high of 5,208 cases in 2015. Similarly, while patent litigation filings have fallen across 2016 and 2017, between 2009 and 2013 they rose steadily.

Drilling down, in terms of district court cases, the Central District of California boasted the busiest trademark docket, dealing with 14% of total trademark cases. The top 10 venues for trademark cases filed in 2017 were as follows:

1. Central District of California: 523

2. Southern District of New York: 284

3. Northern District of Illinois: 259

4. Southern District of Florida: 244

5. Northern District of California: 198

6. District of New Jersey: 129

7. Middle District of Florida: 116

8. Eastern District of New York: 106

9. Eastern District of California: 82

10. Western District of Texas: 81

While the long-term drop in trademark actions is described by Lex Machina as a “trend of slight decline” year on year, the figures suggest that companies are taking a more strategic approach to enforcement, in some instances seeking alternative approaches to the expense of litigation. They also highlight intensifying competition for litigation work.

Figure 1: Number of US trademark litigation cases filed by year

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