A California judge on Friday dismissed a trademark infringement case against Punchbowl News, the Capitol insider publication founded by Politico veterans Anna Palmer, Jake Sherman, and John Bresnahan. The complaint was brought by a Framingham, Massachusetts, based company named Punchbowl, Inc., which offers online invitations and greeting cards.
The Massachusetts-based Punchbowl filed its original action this past February in the Eastern District of Virginia, but it was dismissed in late March when a judge agreed with Punchbowl News that Virginia was the wrong venue for the case.
The Massachusetts Punchbowl tried again this past April in California, where Punchbowl News’ parent company, AJ Press LLC, is technically based at its lawyer’s address. Among the greeting-card company’s contentions: The addition of “News” to the DC Punchbowl’s name didn’t lessen confusion with the Massachusetts company, and the purple color in the DC Punchbowl’s logo was reminiscent of the purple used in the Massachusetts Punchbowl’s logo.
Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the Central District Court of California didn’t agree. He noted that the DC Punchbowl chose its name because “Punchbowl” is the US Secret Service’s code name for the Capitol. Wilson’s opinion notes the two companies operate in different markets and “target” different people: In the DC Punchbowl’s case, “individuals who follow politics closely”; in the Massachusetts Punchbowl’s case, “families and, specifically, mothers with young children.” The addition of “News” to the DC Punchbowl’s name further helps the Congressional publication’s cause, the judge notes.
A little bit more: Palmer, Sherman, and Bresnahan are “highly credentialed journalists,” the judge writes, and their outlet “consistently tie[s] Punchbowl News to those three founders in an explicit manner.” Finally, and perhaps most important, Wilson finds that “the public interest in avoiding consumer confusion does not outweigh the public interest in free expression.”
Punchbowl News declined to comment on the ruling. A spokesperson for Punchbowl, Inc., also declined to comment.