SCOTUS Clarifies What Happens When a Trademark Licensor Files Bankruptcy

May 28, 2019

by: John Bush and Jacob Johnson

Trademark licensors and licensees, as well as their stakeholders (including lenders), should heed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC n/k/a Old Cold, LLC, No. 17-1657.  The Justices resolved a long-standing question arising from the intersection of bankruptcy and trademark law: whether a debtor/licensor’s rejection of a trademark license terminates the licensee’s right to use a trademark after rejection.  In an 8-1 decision, the Justices answered: “no,” rejection simply creates a breach, but not rescission.  If the license or applicable law grant continuing rights to the licensee upon a breach by the licensor, rejection under the Bankruptcy Code does not alter or terminate such continuing rights.

Section 365(a) of the Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. § 365) is the starting point of the analysis (but critically, not the ending point as discussed below).  Section 365(a) permits debtors in bankruptcy to “assume

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