An opinion issued Tuesday by Judge Patti B. Saris said that the majority of Williams Sonoma Inc.’s (WSI) claims against Wayfair Inc. for false advertising and unfair competition over Wayfair’s alleged illegal imitation of WSI’s West Elm brand furniture cannot stand. The ruling is the first on the merits in the December 2021-filed suit that alleges design patent infringement in addition to the foregoing claims.
WSI, a San Francisco, Calif. company, argued that Boston, Mass.-based Wayfair not only copied designs for furniture and lighting collections, but also marketed, through online channels, to customers that the purportedly copied products were available exclusively at Wayfair.
Wayfair moved to dismiss the false advertising and unfair business practice claims in March 2022, leaving the patent challenges for a later date.
In this week’s opinion, Judge Saris considered the nature of WSI’s false advertising claims. The court found them unactionable under the Lanham Act because Wayfair’s “statements of exclusivity more closely relate to misrepresentations about the origin of goods,” rather than representations about their nature, characteristics, or qualities.
As to WSI’s California Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and False Advertising Law (FAL) claims, the court dismissed for failure to clear a threshold issue: standing. In so finding, Judge Saris explained that the question was whether “competitor plaintiffs must allege their own reliance on the alleged misrepresentations,” as a majority of California and federal courts require. WSI did not allege reliance, thus dooming its claims when the court sided with the majority view, despite Judge Saris’ remark that case law on point “is mixed.”
The court permitted WSI’s Massachusetts unfair competition law claim to proceed on the basis that the plaintiff pointed to “several unfair acts and practices, such as holding those designs out as Wayfair’s own and freeriding of WSI’s goodwill and advertising.”