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PODS wins $62 million award in trademark infringement lawsuit against U-Haul

The jury decided U-Haul improperly used PODS' trademarked name in advertising and marketing materials. [Times files (2005)]
Published Sep. 26, 2014

TAMPA — Pods aren't going the way of the escalator, aspirin and linoleum — for now at least.

Clearwater-based PODS moving and storage on Thursday was awarded $62 million in damages in a lawsuit against U-Haul over its use of the word "pods.''

The ruling marked a win over "genericide'' — the death of a trademarked word. PODS remains a legally protected trademark brand, even if people use the word frequently to describe a container used for moving.

"PODS had a resounding victory on all the issues in this case," said Ronald Christaldi, an attorney for Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick in Tampa, who was not involved with the case but has experience in trademark lawsuits. "The jury found PODS was not a generic term."

The award amount, while significant for a Tampa Bay area civil case, isn't unheard of among trademark infringement lawsuits. Several years ago, a jury awarded Adidas nearly $305 million against Payless ShoeSource over its trademarked three-stripe shoes.

In the PODS case, the jury ruled U-Haul infringed on PODS' trademarks, causing confusion and hurting business for PODS, which delivers containers to homes and businesses to be filled and transported to storage centers. It said U-Haul unjustly gained from mentioning the term on its marketing and advertising materials and started using the word only after PODS became famous.

"We are thankful for the jury for all their hard work and are pleased with the outcome,'' said Charles Cantine, lead attorney for PODS.

PODS Enterprises sued U-Haul International in U.S. District Court in Tampa in 2012 alleging U-Haul "improperly and unlawfully'' used the PODS trademark on its website as a way to divert sales. U-Haul used the word pod to describe its U-Box product.

"U-Haul International is disappointed in the jury's verdict in the lawsuit brought by PODS Enterprises Inc.,'' said U-Haul spokesman Sebastien Reyes in a statement. "U-Haul respects the legal process, even when it is disappointed with the results, and it will continue to work within that process in this case.''

It wasn't clear if Phoenix-based U-Haul plans to appeal.

The jury awarded PODS about $46 million in damages and another $16 million in profits attributable to U-Haul using the word pods. PODS was seeking an estimated $170 million.

It's unknown whether the award will stand. In 2000, a federal judge tossed out a record $143 million trademark infringement award against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for marketing an antibiotic drug under the brand name of Trovan, a British company that made implantable computer chips for tracking lost pets.

The PODS case before U.S. District Judge James Whittemore started Sept. 8 and lasted more than two weeks. It involved tedious expert testimony about word definitions and usage.

Because of the trial's lengthiness, eight jurors were selected — two more than usual — and all took part in deliberations to reach the unanimous verdict. Deliberations began Monday and concluded Thursday morning.

An attorney for PODS said based on the verdict they planned to seek an injunction to get U-Haul to stop using pod and pods.

PODS isn't the only company fighting over its trademark name. Last year, Tiffany & Co. sued Costco over the discount retailer's use of the Tiffany brand name to describe a six-prong engagement ring setting.

News researcher John Martin and staff writer Jeff Harrington contributed to this report. Contact Susan Thurston at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston.

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