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Santa Cruz stethoscope salesman loses 3M suit

Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ — A Minnesota District Court judge has ruled that a Santa Cruz man, who has been selling stethoscopes over the Internet for several years, has been infringing on the trademarks and patents of 3M, a company that is more widely known for selling Scotch tape and Post-it Notes.

After a four-day bench trial, Judge Ann Montgomery found that Mohan engaged in “purposeful and egregious” infringement of 3M’s trademarks, including 3M’s well-known Littmann, Master Cardiology and Cardiology III marks. She issued a permanent injunction against Mohan and noted particular concern about confusing marketing in the Internet environment.

Pradeep Mohan, who operates a sole proprietorship out his 1,200-square-foot home in Santa Cruz, was ordered to stop using specific marketing language similar to 3M’s and to pay about $300,000 3M costs and attorney’s fees. He said Thursday it will force him to file bankruptcy. He had expected “a slap on the wrist.”

“I expected to lose on most of the points,” said Mohan, an engineer by trade who represented himself in the court proceedings.

He argued that 3M let its trademark expire and the company’s actions were confusing as well as negligent. He accused 3M of monopolizing the market by repressing competition.

“But not only did the judge give them everything they wanted, she gave them twice as much. Not a single issue I raised got into court,” said Mohan, who described himself as “shell-shocked” by the decision.

“I had a lot of faith in the system.”

Mohan, who has been selling the China-made stethoscopes via his website, www.kila.com, Amazon and eBay, said he had modified his marketing last year after being contacted by 3M and he never expected to end up in court. The whole dispute could have been avoided with a phone call, he said.

Lawyers for 3M, a $23 billion company, however, were quickly sending him hundreds of pages of legal documents. The company wanted to send a message, said a company executive.

“While 3M takes infringement of any of its intellectual property very seriously, it is especially important that purchasers of health care products such as stethoscopes receive authentic products,” Ingrid Blair, 3M vice president, said in a press release issued Thursday. “We hope this ruling will not only put an end to Mr. Mohan’s deceptive activities but will send a message to other infringers and counterfeiters that 3M will do whatever is necessary to assure that medical professionals can count on the authenticity, quality and reliability of products bearing 3M trademarks.”

The court order prohibits Mohan from using any of the trademarks or designations 3M uses with its Littmann stethoscopes or any confusingly similar designations. The court also enjoined Mohan from selling ear tips that infringe a 3M patent which was the subject of an earlier order.

“Trademark law is meant to protect the public so they can be sure of the origins of the goods and services they are purchasing,” said Patrick Reilly, an Aptos-based intellectual property attorney. “If a company doesn’t police its trademark, they actually lose their rights to it.”

Mohan said he will petition for a jury trial and for modifications of the court order. If those efforts fail, he intends to appeal the ruling.

“This started off as a small hobby for me and the big corporation is trying to put me out of business. I thought I’d get a fair shake here and she threw the book at me,” Mohan said.

This article appeared here.

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This entry was posted on December 3, 2010 by in Business, Law-Related Articles.

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