Judge axes part of Williams-Sonoma’s patent infringement lawsuit against Wayfair

BOSTON – A Massachusetts federal judge has eliminated parts of Williams-Sonoma’s ongoing lawsuit against Wayfair, axing two false advertising claims and one unfair competition claim.

The suit, which Williams-Sonoma launched in December 2021, alleges Wayfair is infringing on its patents and is selling furniture “identical or nearly identical” to items from Williams-Sonoma’s West Elm brand. The company filed nine claims of patent infringement, two claims of false advertisement and two claims of unfair competition.

“Wayfair’s unlawful copying of West Elm’s designs is not an accident; it is the result of a targeted effort,” Williams-Sonoma said in the suit at the time.

Wayfair filed a motion to dismiss claims of false advertisement and unfair competition.

Under the false advertisement claims, Williams-Sonoma alleges the e-commerce giant misled consumers to believe that certain allegedly infringed items were designed by Wayfair.

Williams-Sonoma points to a video advertisement for Wayfair’s Foundstone collection, which includes images of a designer sketching products. As Foundstone contains items Williams-Sonoma alleges were infringed, this misleads consumers to believe these items were designed by Wayfair, Williams-Sonoma said.

Williams-Sonoma also points to three phrases used by Wayfair in its advertising: “Only at Wayfair,” “exclusive” and “looks you’ll only find at Wayfair.” Wayfair contends these statements are true and do not mislead customers. It argues that they cannot be read in isolation, as they apply to Wayfair’s collections, rather than individual items focused on by Williams-Sonoma.

On Jan. 24, the court ruled in Wayfair’s favor.

“The court need not resolve these disputes because Wayfair’s statements do not relate to the properties, capabilities or characteristics of the goods. These statements of exclusivity more closely relate to misrepresentations about the origin of goods and are not cognizable under Section 43 (of the Lanham Act).”

In addition, the judge denied Wayfair’s motion to dismiss one claim of unfair competition but approved the other, which is under California state law. Both rulings were complicated, relying heavily on case law and precedent.

The crux of the suit lies in patent infringement, which hasn’t yet been ruled on.

Williams-Sonoma claims that “Wayfair has made, marketed, offered for sale and sold numerous products which infringe WSI’s design patent rights and are so highly similar to West Elm’s patented products that an ordinary observer would be confused by the imitation.”

West Elm Wayfair comparison
Williams-Sonoma submitted comparisons with its product and Wayfair’s, which it says shows infringement.

According to court documents, several other groups have noted the similar nature of the allegedly infringed items.

“Multiple third parties have noted the similar nature of Wayfair’s and WSI’s products,” wrote U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris. “One website referred to Wayfair’s products as ‘look-alikes’ of WSI’s designs. Other websites described Foundstone as ‘identical’ or ‘mirroring’ West Elm, a ‘West-Elm-Inspired Collection’ and that it ‘could easily be confused for West Elm. Again, it’s not a knock-off, but it’s fair to call it a dead ringer.’”

Williams-Sonoma is seeking monetary damages and a recall of all patent infringing products.

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