No Trademark for Conveyor Belt Fastener Design, 7th Cir. Says

Written April 14, 2020

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on April 7, 2020, held that part of a conveyor belt fastener with scalloped edges wasn’t entitled to trade dress protection because it was utilitarian. Flexible Steel Lacing Co. v. Conveyor Accessories Inc., 7th Cir., No. 19‐2035, 4/7/20.

Flexible Steel Lacing Co. (Flexco) received utility and design patents for its scalloped edge fasteners. After the patents expired, Flexco applied for and received federal trade dress protection for the fastener’s “beveled center scallop.” The company sued Conveyor Accessories Inc. for trade dress infringement, arguing the design of CAI’s fastener is confusingly similar to its design.

CAI argued the design wasn’t eligible for trade dress protection because it was functional; the district court agreed and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The “beveled center scallop” design was first claimed “as a solution to a problem” in Flexible Steel Lacing Co.'s patents and advertisements, and “properly remains in the world of patents,” the court said.