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Tribal Court Can’t Stop Cigarette Box Dispute

(CN) - A tribal court does not have jurisdiction to stop Philip Morris USA's copyright infringement lawsuit against tribal cigarette maker King Mountain Tobacco, the 9th Circuit ruled.

Philip Morris USA, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, sued King Mountain, which is run by members of the Yakama Indian tribe.

King Mountain sells its cigarettes to members of the Yakama, Seneca and Onodaga tribes, and on Web sites such as

Philip Morris claimed the King Mountain box infringes its trademark with the red top framing a white mountain. Marlboro's box has a red top framing a white pyramid.

King Mountain successfully halted Morris' lawsuit by convincing the trial court to see if the tribal court had jurisdiction.

Judge McKeown of the San Francisco-based federal appeals court ruled that the tribal court does not have jurisdiction over a non-member, even if that company does business with stores operated by tribal members.

"The mere fact that a nonmember has some consensual commercial contacts with a tribe does not means that the tribe has jurisdiction over all suits involving that nonmember," McKeown wrote, "even over all such suits that arise within the reservation."

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