One District is Home to a New Trend in Trademark Litigation

The Northern District of Illinois has always been one of the busiest districts in the country. However, in recent years, the district has seen a rise in a relatively new type of litigation. Dozens of companies have been suing predominantly Chinese manufacturers for selling knockoff and counterfeit products. These analyses examine the players in this emerging scene and the judges who have heard these cases since 2019, supplemented with publicly available data.


By far the most common listed party is a long list of companies/websites referred to in court documents as “The Partnerships and Unincorporated Associations Identified on Schedule ‘A.’” These associations are always defendants and are the groups allegedly producing the aforementioned knockoff and/or counterfeit products.

As to the parties bringing the suits, no single company dominates, with the plurality being companies suing under the pseudonym “XYZ” or “ABC.” Even then, these anonymous companies only bring 7% of all the cases. The most active named company is the Emoji Company, followed by Nike and Wham-o.

Modeling Cases Over Time

The Northern District of Illinois has seen a slow but steady increase in cases targeting these various partnerships and unincorporated associations, with, on average, four additional cases every three months. However, looking at these cases as a percentage of the total trademark and copyright suits in the district tells a different story. While there is a significant linear trend of these cases making up a greater percentage of the total over time, with an average of a .02% increase each month, this model poorly explains the trends. The more explanatory model shows that before March 2020, 40% of the trademark/copyright cases in the district concerned the counterfeit/knockoff manufacturers, and from that month through the present day, these suits made up 72% of the trademark/copyright cases. 


One potential reason why a plethora of similar cases might be filed in a given district is that the litigants want their case to be heard by a specific judge or judges. Within the Northern District of Illinois, there are few commonalities to the judges’ backgrounds. Eleven were appointed by Barack Obama, eight by Bill Clinton, five each by Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and two each by George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter. The distribution of cases for these judges did not significantly differ from the distribution of judges by the president who appointed them.

Of the 35 judges who heard these cases, 19 either worked for a law firm representing corporations prior to appointment and/or clerked for a judge with a known corporate-friendly track record, e.g. Clarence Thomas. These judges heard 1,829 cases compared to 1,324 by judges who did not have such a background. These proportions are not significantly different. 


The Northern District of Illinois might be the forum of choice for these companies because of who they hire to represent them. Three firms represent the plaintiffs in a combined 61% of cases, all three specialize in intellectual property law, and all three are primarily based in Chicago. 

The most active firm in this space has been Greer, Burns & Crain who have handled 44% of all cases in this district against the predominantly Chinese knockoff/counterfeit producers. Outside of these suits, they have brought thousands of suits, all of which relate to intellectual property and 99% of which have been brought in the Northern District of Illinois.

The remaining two power players are JiangIP LLC and Vogt IP. Both firms also handle exclusively intellectual property law and almost exclusively bring cases in the Northern District of Illinois. In the suits that are the focus of this article, they have worked together in all except a few cases.

Combined, these three firms’ case loads explain 87% of the monthly variance in cases against the knockoff/counterfeit producers in the district, with JiangIP and Vogt IP holding the greater predictive value. That said, it is unclear from the Docket Alarm data alone whether the Northern District of Illinois has become the locus for these cases because these firms have offices there or if these firms opened up in Chicago because of the IP litigation present in the district.