Defamation of Commercial Products

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit just yesterday resolved a commercial dispute between two competing manufacturers of standing desks. The opinion is a clever essay on the critical distinction between personal defamation and product defamation by a competitor. The case is Next Technologies Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door, LLC, 2021 WL 1115872 (March 24, 2021).

The case is an appeal from a decision by the Western District Court of Wisconsin. The district court dismissed the “aggrieved” competitor’s suit on constitutional grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but not before taking issue with the lower court’s defamation analysis. Indeed, the opinion opens with the somewhat rhetorical question:  “Does the Constitution of the United States tell us the limits of criticism in the reviews of standing desks?” The Court of Appeals proceeds to conclude that it does not. Rather, the merits of the dismissal were sustained by the “conditional privilege” found in ALI’s Restatement (Second) of Torts.

After reviewing the alleged defamatory comments in the posted reviews at issue, the court concluded that “they are the sort of subjects on which competitors regularly disparage one another. In competition a bruised (corporate) ego should be dealt with by hiring an advertising agency, not by hiring a lawyer.” Ouch. Food for thought.

If you need to hire a lawyer, contact Cosgrove Law Group, LLC.  We will shoot it to you straight!