Two recent decisions dealing with high-end watches illustrate the fine line between permissible and infringing modifications when the final product bears a trademark of the original maker. As the trend of “upcycling” or “creative reuse” continues to grow, entrepreneurs should be aware of the potential pitfalls in modifying the products of others. Generally, the first sale or “exhaustion” doctrine protects a reseller of authentic goods from infringement liability—but only when the goods have not been materially altered in any manner and meet the trademark owner’s quality standards. There are, however, some circumstances where courts have found certain modifications to be permissible.
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