Leapers, Inc. v. SMTS, LLC, No. 17-1007 (6th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Leapers makes rifle scopes, textured with “knurling,” allowing users to grip the products more easily and to make fine-tuned adjustments. Knurling can be found on many items, including door handles, coin edges, and bottle lids. Leapers asserts that its unique knurling pattern is distinctly “ornamental” and allows consumers to recognize Leapers as the item's source. Leapers had an exclusive manufacturing contract with the Nantong factory in China, which agreed to never disclose information related to the products. Leapers ended that relationship. The factory agreed to stop using technical specifications, product design and packaging design documents related to Leaper and to destroy parts, accessories, and attachments related to Leaper’s products. Factory manager Shi formed a company (Trarms) and began selling rifle scopes and manufacturing rifle scopes for other sellers, including Defendant. Leaper’s sued, alleging trade dress infringement of the knurling design under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 105. Shi refused to testify, asserting the Fifth Amendment. Trarms refused to provide an alternate witness. The court granted Defendant summary judgment, reasoning that Leapers could not prove essential elements: nonfunctionality and secondary meaning, regardless of Shi 's testimony. The Sixth Circuit vacated. A jury could reasonably conclude that the design is purely ornamental and nonfunctional; that it does not represent a technological advancement; and that exclusive use of Leaper’s design would not put competitors at a significant, non-reputation related disadvantage.