Last week, the 3M Company sued Performance Supply LLC for infringement of its famous 3M trademark. Healthcare professionals rely on 3M’s N95 respiratory masks for protection against COVID-19 virus. For this reason, the demand for N95 masks has skyrocketed. The demand is especially high in New York, where the pandemic hit the hardest. Performance Supply, which is a company based in New Jersey, sought to capitalize on this situation. Performance Supply provided a quote to the New York City officials for seven million N95 masks at prices inflated by 500% to 600%. 3M sued the price gouger for trademark infringement.
Trademark infringement occurs when one company uses another company’s brand in a way that is likely to confuse consumers. In the context of physical goods, trademark infringement generally arises in the form of counterfeiting. This case is interesting because the 3M Company does not allege that Performance Supply is selling counterfeited N95 masks. Instead, 3M bases its lawsuit on an argument that Performance Supply improperly used 3M’s logo and deceptive language to portray affiliation with the 3M Company. 3M’s complaint alleges that “3M does not – and will not – tolerate individuals or entities deceptively trading off the fame and goodwill of the 3M brand and marks for personal gain.” It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, but one thing is for certain: price gougers will not receive any sympathy points from the judge or the jury.