July 9, 1975

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reaches the conclusion of the 100-year-long case of Steinway & Sons versus Grotrian-Steinweg. Grotrian-Steinweg has been asserting that their brand pre-dates Steinway & Sons’ in Germany. Steinway & Sons has argued that their brand, well known and strongly positive in the United States, has been weakened by consumers’ confusion as to whether the pianos sold by Grotrian-Steinweg have been related to those made by Steinway & Sons. Upon deliberation, the court has decided that piano buyers would be confused in their “initial interest” in the two piano brands, that the consumer might unconsciously associate the two modern piano manufacturers. The court concludes that Grotrian-Steinweg – a brand not very well known in the United States – has been unfairly given an extra measure of credibility based on the strong reputation that Steinway & Sons had built up: a “subliminal confusion” might be present at the initial attraction to the Grotrian-Steinweg brand. Therefore, Grotrian-Steinweg is forbidden to sell pianos in the United States under the name “Steinweg” after 1977.
  • This is the first instance of a court defining the concept now known as “initial interest confusion”. District Judge Lloyd Francis MacMahon writes: “Misled into an initial interest, a potential Steinway buyer may satisfy himself that the less expensive Grotrian-Steinweg is at least as good, if not better, than a Steinway.” Judge MacMahon’s idea about the “initial interest” confusion is confirmed by Appeals Court Judge William H. Timbers, who writes: “such initial confusion works an injury to Steinway.”