A dietary supplement called SeroVital was briefly available for sale on Amazon.com, but even after it was removed, Amazon continued to run ads featuring SeroVital. The owner and licensee of SeroVital’s trademark (SanMedica International and Western Holdings, respectively) sued Amazon for trademark infringement, claiming that Amazon unlawfully used their product’s mark to draw people to Amazon’s site to buy other products. Both sides moved for summary judgment, and the court permitted both sides to file their papers with key information redacted from the public. The court mostly denied summary judgment, in an opinion with key facts blacked out of the public version. Within three weeks of the summary judgment decision, the case settled.
On behalf of Georgetown Law Professor Rebecca Tushnet, an intellectual property expert, Public Citizen moved to intervene and unseal materials from the court’s opinion and the summary judgment record based on the First Amendment and common law rights to access court records. Public Citizen argued that the redactions prevent the public, future litigants, and scholars like Professor Tushnet from learning the reasoning and significance of the court’s decision and from evaluating the performance of the court in adjudicating the case. In November 2015, the court granted the motion to intervene in the case.
In December 2015, the parties reached an agreement to unseal almost all of the material that Professor Tushnet sought, and the district court granted the parties’ joint motion to implement that agreement. In January 2016, new versions of the documents at issue were filed with most redactions removed. As a result, the public can now understand what this case means for trademark law.