P&G's Bow-Tie-Paper-Towel Injunction Tripped Up by Birkenstock

Judge Denies Motion, Cites P&G's Own Design Inspirations

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, has decided those little bow-tie patterns on paper towels don't make much difference after all, putting to rest for now a question that had kept that part of the marketing industry focused on tissue products on the edge of its seat.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio denied Procter & Gamble Co.'s motion for a preliminary injunction that would stop Georgia-Pacific Corp.'s Brawny from marketing towels with embossed bow ties P&G says look suspiciously like those found on its own Bounty towels.

The trademark-infringement suit, filed in May, is the latest of several suits involving diamonds and bow ties embossed on paper towels and toilet paper, some filed by G-P.

It didn't help P&G's case that the court noted that bow-tie patterns are common on other products, including Budweiser beer and Birkenstock sandals.

It especially didn't help P&G that it code named the product in question, Bounty Extra Soft, "Project Birkenstock" when it was in development.

Judge Gregory Frost singled out testimony by P&G General Manager Eric Breissinger, who suggested use of the term "Birkenstock" in the project name did not suggest an effort to copy the footwear pattern. "This self-serving testimony is not credible," the ruling said.

The court ruled the bow ties on Brawny really aren't similar to Bounty's when viewed as part of the broader pattern. In the bigger picture, competing consumer studies presented by the companies, if valid, "indicate the bow-tie pattern is of little importance," the court said.

Granting the injunction, however, could have cost Georgia-Pacific, a unit of Koch Industries, $110 million, which would be important, the court ruled.

"We are disappointed with the preliminary ruling and we will consider our options," a P&G spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

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