Sorensen v. WD-40 Co., No. 14-3067 (7th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Sorensen is the CEO of Inhibitor Technology, which produces rust-inhibiting products containing volatile corrosion inhibitor (VCI), branded with the federally registered trademark THE INHIBITOR. That word mark is owned by Sorensen; he also claims common law trademark rights in a design mark associated with his products, an orange-and-black crosshair. The WD-40 Company, maker of the spray lubricant, introduced the new WD-40 Specialist product line. Sorensen claimed that the branding for those products infringed upon his marks. WD-40 Specialist Long-Term Corrosion Inhibitor, which contains VCI and has a purpose similar to that of Sorensen’s products, contains on its packaging both the word “inhibitor” and an orange crosshair. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that WD-40’s use of the word “inhibitor” was a non-trademark descriptive fair use of the word. As to the crosshair mark, the court found that Sorensen had not presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to a likelihood of confusion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The most important factors: similarity of the marks, bad faith intent, and evidence of actual confusion, weigh in favor of WD-40. No consumer would think that the marks are similar. The court noted the” clear weakness of Sorensen’s marks,” which appear inconsistently on his products.