The First District of the United States Court of Appeals has ruled against Colt Defense, L.L.C. in a case Colt had brought against Bushmaster Firearms. In the ruling, the Court upheld an earlier ruling from U.S. District Court in Maine granting summary judgment to Bushmaster in a trademark case.
Colt Defense L.L.C. claimed in the original suit that Bushmaster had infringed on the trademark and trade dress of Colt Defense in use of the designation "M4." Colt claimed ownership "to the exclusion of others in the industry."
Trade dress is "the non-functional physical detail and design of a product or its packaging, which indicates or identifies the product’s source and distinguishes it from the products of others. It includes color schemes, textures, sizes, designs, shapes, and placements of words, graphics, and decorations on a product or its packaging."
At the time the original case was brought, the Maine court determined "the right to use the M4 term and to sell firearms that look like the M4 type, are rights that belong to the industry, not just Colt."
Recently, that AR-style platform has been one of the firearms types generally credited with the majority of sales increases across the long-gun category of the firearms industry. Today, many companies either manufacture or assemble semi-auto rifles that are virtually identical to the Colt models.
The appellate Court affirmed the earlier judgment due to the fact that the consumer marketplace "continues to associate M4 with the military designation for a carbine." The earlier judgment also said Colt had failed to provide "no more than a scintilla of evidence" to support their position that the "relevant public" (consumers) had come to understand M4 as an identifier of a Colt-made product.
Other firearms companies have for some time used the term "M4" to describe a rifle that shared certain characteristics, including collapsible buttstocks and shortened barrels.
John DeSantis, CEO of Bushmaster, said "this decision reaffirms a position we have held for many years, that Bushmaster has the right to use the term M4 when describing a rifle with certain characteristics such as military-style carbines with collapsible buttstocks and shortened barrels."