Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC, No. 20-2169 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’”