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3M v. Thunder Finish: 3M Sues Shanghai-Based Thunder Finish for Patent and Trademark Infringements of Its Paint Preparation System Technology

Reports Patent Trademark

Complaint, 3M Company et al v. Thunder Finish, Ltd., No. 3:17-cv-00725 (W.D. Wis. Sep. 22, 2017) complaint hosted by

On September 22, 2017, 3M Company and 3M Innovative Properties Co. (together, “3M”), a technology and materials company and its subsidiary based in Saint Paul, MN, filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Wisconsin against Thunder Finish Co. Ltd. (“Thunder Finish”), a manufacturing firm based in Shanghai, China. 3M alleges that Thunder Finish has infringed 3M’s patent and trademark rights related to its Paint Preparation System (“PPS”) technology. PPS streamlines paint mixing, filtering, and spray gun loading for automotive collision repair by eliminating the need for conventional mixing cups, paint strainers, and their associated cleaning costs.

In the lawsuit, 3M asserts an issued patent: U.S. Patent No. 9211553, titled Apparatus for Spraying Liquids, and Adapters and Liquid Reservoirs Suitable for Use Therewith. The patent discloses a spray gun paint reservoir with a disposable and collapsible liner, a removable lid (with a built-in filter), and a removable collar. This invention enhances the efficiency of conventional spray guns by avoiding the traditional cleaning process between paint batches, saving time and cleaning costs. In the complaint, 3M asserts that it has invested heavily on industry education and provided over one million stainless steel adapters (enabling connections to different spray paint gun models) for PPS products to its customers. It also claims that its PPS products have won many awards worldwide and earned considerable praise from the industry and individual users.

3M also asserts two trademark rights. U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4156991 covers the use of the standard character mark “PPS” in connection with paint spray equipment, including cups, collars, lids, and liners. U.S. Trademark Registration No. 2861036 covers the use of the standard character mark “PPS” in connection with spray guns comprising cups and liners. 3M alleges that the trademark “PPS” is a “strong, highly distinctive trademark that has been used prominently and continuously since at least as early as September 2, 2003 in connection with 3M’s paint preparation products.”

3M alleges that Thunder Finish has been and is currently engaged in a mass marketing campaign in the United States to sell its products as “Paint Preparation System.” 3M also claims that Thunder Finish has sold the allegedly infringing products into the United States to 3M’s customers in direct competition with 3M. In the complaint, 3M attaches an email from a sales manager of Thunder Finish to potential US customers. The email included images of knock-off replicas of 3M’s patented PPS products and discussed a “special offer” price for PPS from Thunder Finish.

3M’s PPS.

Thunder Finish’s allegedly infringing product.

Thunder Finish’s email marketing allegedly infringing product.

3M requests that the court: (1) declare that Thunder Finish has infringed 3M’s patent and trademark rights related to PPS; (2) enjoin Thunder Finish from further infringement of said rights; (3) award monetary damages for the patent and trademark infringements; (4) order Thunder Finish to deliver all infringing articles in its possession to an officer of the Court for destruction; and (5) award 3M’s attorney fees and costs.

The paints and coatings industry made up just more than one-fifth of the entire automotive collision repair market in 2016, according to Global Market Insights. Global Market Insights states that 3M is trying to increase its share in the automotive repair collision market through new product development. Protecting its investment in PPS through this suit appears to be an important component of its efforts.

Stella Weizhi Mao is a 1L student at Harvard Law School.