Car-Freshner sues nonprofit over alleged trademark infringement

The CarFreshner corporation building at the Jefferson County Corporate Park. Photo from Watertown Daily Times

The Car-Freshner corporation building at the Jefferson County Corporate Park. Photo from Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Fresh off a victory in a federal trademark infringement lawsuit in Manhattan, Watertown’s Car-Freshner Corp. is challenging a nonprofit organization’s use of an air freshener design similar to Car-Freshner’s patented “Little Trees.”

Car-Freshner, which has its headquarters in the Jefferson County Corporate Park off outer Coffeen Street, filed action earlier this month in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, against Sun Cedar Inc., Lawrence, Kan., claiming the organization is offering aromatic wooden ornaments “in a design that mimics and is nearly identical” to the company’s “Little Trees” design. Car-Freshner also maintains the organization is offering T-shirts bearing a design that infringes on its trademark.

According to Car-Freshner’s complaint, Sun Cedar’s founder, Shine Adams, said in a radio interview that he came up the idea for a tree-shaped air freshener after he had just bought a new car and “really wanted something to hang from the rearview mirror, but didn’t want to hang a piece of cardboard that was scented,” which Car-Freshner maintains “undoubtedly” refers to its “Little Trees” design.

According to images included in Car-Freshner’s filings, Sun Cedar is a nonprofit, green manufacturing organization that provides the homeless and former criminal offenders opportunities for employment.

“While the Plaintiffs recognize and respect the charitable work Sun Cedar does in providing employment and other opportunities for at-risk individuals, such benevolence in other areas does not excuse Sun Cedar’s willful misappropriation of Plaintiffs’ tree design trademark,” Car-Freshner said in its suit.

The Watertown company maintains that it has spent 60 years developing its reputation and goodwill and that Sun Cedar’s use of a similar design could create confusion among consumers about the origins of the air fresheners, causing irreparable harm to the company’s valuable intellectual property by diluting its trademark. It is asking a judge to order that, among other things, Sun Cedar stop making, marketing or selling any of the alleged similar products.

Last month, Car-Freshner won a $53,000 judgment against D&J Distributing and Manufacturing Inc. after a jury in federal court in Manhattan found that the Holland, Ohio, company had infringed on its “Little Trees” trademark with its tree-shaped air fresheners, which were sold in packages that also resembled Car-Freshner’s packaging. D&J Manufacturing, which was represented in the action by Watertown attorney David P. Antonucci, has appealed the verdict to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York City.

By Brian Kelly, Times Staff Writer