Remember Dino M. Zaffina? The studio sound man was a new(ish) member of the Southern California Darts Association in 2010 when he became angry that his middle initial was not included when players' scores were listed on the association's web site.
As L.A. Weekly Staff Writer Chris Vogel detailed in a Feb. 2 cover story, Zaffina subsequently learned that the 33-year-old association had allowed its incorporation to lapse. Zaffina promptly incorporated under the name and sued "60 darts players and eight stunned Los Angeles-area bars where darts are played regularly," as Vogel reported, for "using the historic name 'Southern California Darts Association,' which Zaffina now legally controlled." He also put up a website under the name and began issuing press releases touting his ownership.
When last we checked in, things weren't going well for the band of darts players formerly known as the Southern California Darts Association. They'd filed a cross complaint in an effort to stop Zaffina, but the judge struck it down. Zaffina had also snapped up rights to the new name that they'd contemplating incorporating under.
That was then. But on Monday, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner issued an injunction that changes the game significantly.
On March 6, the darts players had filed suit in federal court, alleging that Zaffina had violated trademark law and engaged in unfair competition. They filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the judge to stop Zaffina from using their name and their trademarks.
In a nine-page order issued Monday, Judge Klausner granted that motion. In the order, Klausner found that the darts players had a valid, protectable trademark -- and that Zaffina had intentionally copied it "precisely because of [its] reputation." He wrote that the darts players were likely to suffer irreparable harm if Zaffina was not stopped from using the trademark.
Ultimately, a judge must find that a preliminary injunction is in the public interest. Here's what Judge Klausner wrote about that:
Defendants [meaning Zaffina and the entity he incorporated] concede that they are second-comers to the marketplace intentionally trying to trade upon the efforts and goodwill established by Plaintiff. ... Plaintiff has demonstrated that an injunction is in the public interest. Plaintiff has shown that it has spent considerable time, energy, and money to have the public associate its services with the name Southern California Darts Association. By using confusingly similar marks, Defendants are depriving darts enthusiasts of their ability to distinguish among the services of Plaintiff and those of Defendants. As the public has a right not to be confused, the public interest and goals of the [federal trademark law] favor an injunction in this case.
So what does this mean?
While the litigation continues, Zaffina is not allowed to use the darts association trademark. He is not permitted to use any website or URL containing the words "Southern California Darts Association" (although the website Zaffina erected appears to be live as of this morning). Finally, he is not permitted to represent to the public -- including the pubs that host darts -- that he has a right to the darts association name.
Zaffina did not respond to our request for comment yesterday; we'll update this post if we hear back.
However, it's interesting to look back at a press release Zaffina issued on March 28, soon after the darts players filed the federal suit and asked the judge for an injunction.
The release claims that the lawsuit will be good for Zaffina and his association on "many levels." It continues,
An honorable federal judge with an exorbitant amount of experience on the bench, in general, and in hearing matters related to intellectual property, will examine the facts and evidence and will reach a decision.
After the Court takes into consideration all the facts and evidence in [the darts players]'s motion, and in SCDA and Zaffina's opposing papers, and after hearing oral arguments, the ruling will be made public. This will provide the conclusory vitriol spewing individuals with something concrete to assist them in forming an opinion.
In many ways, Zaffina's prediction appears to be correct. An honorable federal judge with "an exorbitant amount of experience" examined the facts. He reached a (preliminary) decision. And that decision has now been made public.
Call us crazy, but we somehow suspect, in spite of the accuracy of those predictions, that this is not precisely the ruling Dino M. Zaffina had hoped for. Perhaps an upcoming press release will set us straight -- but it's safe to say that press release will not be on the Southern California Darts Association letterhead.