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Findings of fact made after a bench trial must stand unless clearly erroneous. Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a)(6). Although "functionality" is the ultimate issue in a trademark case, an "ultimate" issue remains one of fact under this standard, because it is generated by applying legal principles to factual conclusions. "Functionality" certainly isn't an issue of law; it represents a fact-specific conclusion about whether aspects of a design are essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article. Many decisions apply Rule 52's standard to a finding that a mark is functional.
Defendant, Greenwich Industries, L.P., doing business as Clarin, applied for registration of one particular x-frame design as a trademark. Plaintiff competitor, Specialized Seating, Inc., sought a judgment that its design of a folding chair did not violate the defendant’s rights under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1051 et seq. According to the plaintiff competitor, defendant’s mark was functional. After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff competitor. Defendant appealed.
Was the defendant owner’s mark functional, thereby warranting the grant of declaratory judgment in favor of the plaintiff competitor?
On review, the court affirmed, agreeing with the district court that the trademark design was functional as a unit and that every important aspect of it was independently functional. None of the features was added to produce a distinctive appearance that would help consumers identify the product source.