Thou Shalt Not Steele: Reexamining the Extraterritorial Reach of the Lanham Act

James Christopher Gracey · 21 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 823

Abstract

US courts have applied domestic trademark law to actions taken outside of the United States’s borders for years, but the US Supreme Court recently revamped the presumption against extraterritoriality, a canon of statutory interpretation. The presumption against extraterritoriality promotes a judicial means of respecting the sovereignty of foreign states by disallowing the application of domestic law to foreign acts. However, the Supreme Court interpreted the Lanham Act, the United States’s domestic trademark law, to have extraterritorial reach in Bulova Watch Co. v. Steele. This Note traces the recent evolution and strengthening of the presumption before analyzing how circuit courts have attempted to restrict the Lanham Act’s reach. It concludes by recommending that the Supreme Court overturn Steele, and the executive branch negotiate a trademark treaty to ensure international respect for trademarks. Doing so will protect trademarks without infringing the sovereignty of other states.