What legal options do I have in Georgia when a person or business has been using my name, trade dress, brand, trademark, or logo for a long period of time without my knowledge? This is a question that we often hear from our business clients.
In Georgia, the equitable doctrine of laches can be applied to bar claims for relief that the plaintiff has delayed brining or that fall outside of the applicable statute of limitations period. With respect to trademark infringement and unfair competition claims, however, neither the Lanham Act nor its state law counterpart found in the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA) contain specified limitations periods from which to judge which statute of limitations applies: the two-year statute of limitations period applied by Georgia courts to fill in statute of limitations where the legislature did not provide one (like in employment discrimination claims for relief) found in O.C.G.A. § 9-3-22; or the four-year statute of limitations governing injuries to personalty found in O.C.G.A. § 9-3-31. Another confusing aspect of claims for relief from infringement or unfair competition concern the legal theory to apply to determine when to begin measuring delay in some cases. Fortunately, there are some Georgia cases that shed light on both of these concerns.
The 11th Circuit first grappled with the issue of laches when a trademark owner has not learned of the infringement until after the statute of limitations has run on a claim for damages in 1997 when it decided Kason Industries, Inc. v. Component Hardware Corp., 120 F.3d 1199, 1203 (11th Cir.1997). In that case, the court borrowed from the closest analogous state law and held that the four-year period applicable to similar causes of action under Georgia’s UDTPA governs the inquiry in Lanham Act cases. Kason, at 1206.