Jury kills 'Not Ducks' T-shirts Panel rules company violated trademark

July 28, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

"M. R. Not Ducks" T-shirts are as dead as decoys.

A federal jury ruled yesterday that the shirts infringed upon the trademark of the increasingly popular "M. R. Ducks" shirts sold in Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach.

The jury deliberated for about 5 1/2 hours after a nine-day trial before awarding $26,000 to Talbot Street Pier Inc. of Ocean City, which makes the M. R. Ducks shirts.

"Now we'll keep on with our normal growth plans," beamed Lloyd B. Lewis, president of Talbot Street Pier.

Talbot Street had sued Layton & Associates, maker of the M. R. Not Ducks shirts, saying the imitation products have confused prospective buyers of its shirts since they arrived on the market in November.

John H. Layton, president of Layton & Associates, told a federal judge that he would stop producing his shirts immediately.

Mr. Layton had argued that his company's products did not infringe upon the M. R. Ducks trademark because the shirts merely parodied the originals, which have become a popular item in Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach since they were introduced in 1983.

The original shirts carry large pictures of two ducks in flight on the back and a small design on the front pocket. Above the picture on both sides are the words, "M. R. Ducks." The Layton shirts, using the same format, portray two duck decoys and the words, "M. R. Not Ducks -- M. R. Decoys."

Jurors interviewed after the verdict said their decision was difficult.

"The weight of it being a parody was overshadowed by the necessity of preserving the trademark," said Sidney Kissin, one juror.

Another, William E. Wessell, said the panel's most troublesome problem was determining whether Arbutus-based Layton & Associates violated the M. R. Ducks trademark willfully.

The panel concluded that it was not a willful violation, which could have meant the award of even more damages to Talbot Street.

Jurors made Mr. Layton's company pay the $26,000 after he testified that he made about $2 profit for each of the 13,000 shirts he's sold.

He said he was baffled by the verdict.

"I have a hard time believing . . . people could say they'd been confused by our shirts," Mr. Layton said.

One of his lawyers, Timothy F. Maloney, said he has not decided whether to appeal the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or to petition Judge Benson E. Legg for a new trial.

Judge Legg presided over the case, but went on vacation after Friday and was replaced yesterday by Judge J. Frederick Motz, who took the verdict.

"The verdict sends mixed signals," said Mr. Maloney, a delegate to the General Assembly. "It will have a chilling effect on people who want to do parodies in the future."

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