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Road Rage: Chrysler and GM Grille Each Other

General Motors Corp.'s Hummer has won the first two rounds of grille fights against DaimlerChrysler Corp., but the contest may not be over.
Last February, Chrysler sued General Motors and AM General, alleging that the front grille of General Motor's then yet-to-be-released luxury H2 SUV infringed and diluted the trademark of the grille on Chrysler's line of Jeep SUVs.  AM General manufactured the H1, or Hummer, and sold the Hummer brand to GM in December 1999.
After an eight-day hearing, Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana denied Chrysler's request for a preliminary injunction.  The court ruled that Chrysler's Jeep grilles came in too many different versions and the company waited too long to seek injunctive relief.  AM General sought trademark protection for the Hummer's grille in 1993, but Chrysler did not file a complaint with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
In mid-November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling.
In light of its loss on the injunction motion, Chrysler is deciding whether or not to go to trial, says spokesperson Ann Smith.  Debevoise & Plimpton partners David Bernstein and Carl Obedier of New York represent Chrysler.  Partner John Hickey of Chicago's Kirkland & Ellis is lead trial counsel for General Motors.
The vehicles have been to war before.  The Jeep was originally produced as a military vehicle during World War II and the Humvee, the Hummer's civilian counterpart, is popularly known for its use in Operation Desert Storm.
May the best grille win.
This article is reproduced with permission from the February 2003 issue of IP Law & Business and © 2003 NLP IP Company.