3M wins trademark fight over stethoscopes

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 2, 2010 - 9:27 AM

A federal judge in Minnesota has ruled in favor of 3M Co. in a lawsuit that accused a California businessman who was selling stethoscopes over the Internet with infringing on the Maplewood-based giant's trademarks and patents.

Pradeep Mohan, who operates his business out of his Santa Cruz home, has been ordered to stop selling stethoscopes that could easily be confused with some of 3M's Littmann brand stethoscopes. In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery said Mohan intentionally led consumers to believe his devices were associated with Littmann models made and sold by 3M. The ruling came after a four-day trial in Minneapolis in October at which Mohan represented himself.

"It looks like the judge really threw the book at me," Mohan said in a phone interview Wednesday. He believes an earlier ruling denying him a jury trial was unfair and said he is planning to appeal the order preventing him from selling the stethoscopes. The ruling also ordered Mohan to pay 3M unspecified costs and attorneys' fees.

3M typically doesn't disclose financial information on individual products. But documents filed in connection with the suit offer a rare look at the company's presence in the stethoscope market, which it entered in 1967 when it bought the Littmann brand from its inventor.

According to the ruling, 3M's Littmann brand is extremely well-regarded and has captured more than 70 percent of overall stethoscope sales in recent years. Sales of the two Littmann models whose trademarks Mohan was accused of infringing totaled about $15 million in 2009. The ruling also said 3M spent more than $1 million last year to advertise and market the Littmann product line, whose stethoscopes can cost up to $250.

Littmann stethoscopes even show up in movies and on television shows like "ER," "General Hospital and "NYPD Blue." Many of the actors on "Grey's Anatomy" have Littmann stethoscopes engraved with their names, the court documents said. "3M has never paid for these product placements; instead propmasters have requested Littmann stethoscopes," the documents said.

Mohan sold his stethoscopes on his own website as well as eBay and Amazon for around $40.

Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723

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