(CN) – Two California auto brokers did not violate Toyota Motor Group’s trademarks by using the term Lexus in their Internet domain names, the 9th Circuit ruled, noting the “unevenly matched lawyering” between the auto giant and the self-represented brokers.
Lisa and Farzad Tabari own an auto brokerage called Fast Imports, which is an authorized Lexus dealer.
Toyota objected to their use of copyrighted Lexus photos and the Lexus logo, and to their inclusion of the term “Lexus” in the Internet domain names buy-a-lexus.com and buyorleaselexus.com.
U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer ruled for Toyota and ordered the Tabaris to quit using the term Lexus anywhere in the domain names.
The Tabaris removed the Lexus photos and logo from their websites and appealed their case to the 9th Circuit. They represented themselves at the appellate level, as they had in federal court.
A three-judge panel found Fischer’s injunction too broad, explaining that the Tabaris had used the term Lexus to describe their business of brokering Lexus cars.
“[W]hen they say Lexus, they mean Lexus,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. “We’ve long held that such use of the trademark is a fair use, namely nominative fair use. And fair use is, by definition, not infringement.”
The panel vacated and remanded, saying the injunction “must be modified to allow some use of the Lexus mark in domain names by the Tabaris.”
“Trademarks are part of our common language, and we all have some right to use them to communicate in truthful, non-misleading ways,” Kozinski wrote. “Many of the district court’s errors seem to be the result of unevenly matched lawyering, as Toyota appears to have taken advantage of the fact that the Tabaris appeared pro se.”