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Intellectual Property Law

Nonlawyer Bests Toyota’s Counsel in 9th Circuit Trademark Case

Posted Jul 9, 2010 12:00 PM CDT
By Mark Hansen

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Lisa Tabari is not a lawyer. But she took on an auto giant's corporate lawyers in a trademark dispute and won.

A federal appeals court Thursday lifted an injunction barring Tabari and her husband, Farzad, from using the word Lexus in a family-owned business that specializes in connecting would-be Lexus owners and dealers, the Recorder reported.

A district court judge had barred the couple from using the domain names buy-a-lexus.com and buyorleaselexus.com in their online business, saying they infringed on the trademark of the auto giant Toyota, Lexus' corporate parent.

But the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 3-0 decision (PDF) that the injunction was "plainly overbroad."

"It prohibits domain names that on their face dispel any confusion as to sponsorship or endorsement," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the three-judge panel. "The Tabaris are prohibited from doing business at sites like independentlexus-broker.com and we-are-definitely-not-lexus.com, although a reasonable consumer wouldn't believe Toyota sponsors the websites using those domains."

The Tabaris at one point had a lawyer. But when the legal bills got too high, the Mission Viejo, Calif., couple told the Recorder they decided to go it alone.

Neither of the Tabaris has any legal training or background. But Lisa Tabari, the mother of two young girls, said she would read and do research on the case at night and then grab some sleep in the morning while her husband watched the two girls.

"We just decided to put in 150 percent, and we did," she said.

Lawyers for Toyota couldn't be reached for comment, according to the Recorder.

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