Little Trees Air Freshener Prevails In Trade Dress Suit

Car-Freshener Corp. (“CFC”), the owner of the well-known pine tree-shaped air fresheners “Little Trees,” sued Exotica Fresheners Co. (“Exotica”) for selling products that CFC alleged infringed on CFC’s trademark in January 2014. The jury found that Exotica infringed on CRC’s trademark, and in addition to changing its packaging, Exotica was order to pay $52,000.

CFC alleged that Exotica’s products were “likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception as to the source, origin, or sponsorship of Exotica’s goods, and to falsely mislead consumers into believing that Exotica’s products are affiliated or connected with or are approved by CFC.”

The question for the jury was whether some consumers were likely to be confused by the overall look of the product, known as its “trade dress.”

CFC acknowledged that there are differences between the two brands, such as Exotica’s freshener being shaped like a palm tree versus CFC’s iconic pine. However, CFC’s lawyer argued that the packaging is similar enough that some buyers might mistakenly think that Exotica and CFC are somehow related.

Further, there is a long history of trademark and trade dress infringement by Exotica, including using the same scent names such as “Black Ice,” “Icee Black,” and “Icey Black,” which are marks owned by CFC.

Little  Trees dominates the market with total sales of $100 million a year while Exotica sells only about $110,000 worth of tree-shaped air fresheners a year in the United States, with most of its business overseas.  CFC’s lawyer told jurors that the disparity in market size was exactly what made Little Trees a tempting target for companies looking to take advantage of the product’s familiarity.

The jury seemed to agree that Exotica was merely piggy-backing on the success of the Little Trees product offered by CFC and that Exotica infringed on CFC’s trade dress.