Fortres Grand Corp. v. Warner Bros. Entm't, Inc., No. 13-2337 (7th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Fortres develops and sells a desktop management program called “Clean Slate” and holds a federally-registered trademark for use of that name to identify “[c]omputer software used to protect public access computers by scouring the computer drive back to its original configuration upon reboot.” When Warner Bros. Entertainment used the words “the clean slate” to describe a hacking program in the movie, The Dark Knight Rises, Fortres experienced a precipitous drop in sales of its software. Fortres sued, alleging that the use of the words “clean slate” in reference to the software in its movie infringed its trademark in violation of Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125, and Indiana unfair competition law. The district court dismissed, reasoning that Fortres had not alleged a plausible theory of consumer confusion, upon which all of its claims depend, and that Warner Bros.’ use of the words “the clean slate” was protected by the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed without reaching the constitutional question. Juxtaposed against the weakness of all the other relevant factors, the similarity of the marks is not enough to establish confusion. Trademark law protects the source-denoting function of words used in conjunction with goods and services, not the words themselves.