(CN) – A U.S. distributor has the right to sell a British company’s French press coffeepot design in the United States, the 7th Circuit ruled in a case that sparked debate among the judges over expert testimony about foreign laws.
Le Cafetière, an Illinois-based subsidiary of the British company Household Inc., sells a French press in the United States that “closely resembles” Bodum USA’s “Chambord” French press design.
Bodum claimed that Le Cafetière violated its trademarks and trade dress by selling the presses in the Unites States.
The federal appeals panel in Chicago disagreed, citing a 1991 agreement between the two companies that allowed Household to sell the design anywhere but in France, so long as it did not use the trade names Chambord or Melior.
Household has never used either name.
Initial versions of the agreement limited Household’s sales to the United Kingdom, but the final draft permitted sales worldwide.
Bodum said the initial drafts represented the parties’ intent, which it claimed should prevail over the written contract under French law.
Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook rejected the argument, finding that French law requires Bodum to meet a higher standard in order to override contract language, which clearly permits worldwide sales.
The case triggered debate between Judges Richard Posner and Diane Wood, whose concurring opinions tackled the practice of admitting expert testimony about foreign laws.
Posner called the practice unsound. He argued that the assistance is unnecessary and often slanted, because “judges are experts on law.”
“When a court in one state applies the law of another, or when a federal court applies state law … the court does not permit expert testimony on the meaning of the ‘foreign’ law that it has to apply,” Posner wrote.
Wood disagreed, explaining that such testimony is useful.
“Exercises in comparative law are notoriously difficult,” she wrote, “because the U.S. reader is likely to miss nuances in the foreign law … or to assume erroneously that the foreign law mirrors U.S. law when it does not.”
Household has been renamed The Greenfield Group.