On February 6, 2019, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc. sued Eleni’s NYC, Inc., in the Western District of Pennsylvania for infringing Eat’n Park’s registered smiley face trademark [Civil Action No. 2:19-cv-00131-MJH].
Eleni had previously licensed the smiley face from Eat’n Park, and the cookies on its website carry the registered design:
According to the Wikipedia and the Smithsonian Institution, the smiley face was created in 1963 by graphic artist Harvey Ross Ball, as a morale booster for the employees of State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts. The smiley, with a bright yellow background, dark oval eyes, full smile, and creases at the sides of the mouth, was imprinted on more than fifty million buttons and became familiar around the world.
While Eleni’s cookies appear to bear the registered mark, the question is whether consumers are likely to be confused. Eat’n Park has a federal trademark registration — several in fact — but they still have to prove a likelihood of confusion. Even though Eleni’s cookies use that design the answer may not be so clear, Given the ubiquity of the smilely as a decoration, and the fact that many cookies are decorated, would consumers perceive the smiley as trademark identifying the source or will they simply think it is a pretty cookie?
Given the popularity of the smiley, one would expect that Eat’n Park’s mark is very valuable, but like all trademark owners Eat’n Park needs to make sure that its mark is perceived as a mark and not merely a decoration. For this reason it is good idea for trademark owners to advertise their trademarks in addition to advertising their trademarked products.
The Eagles have sued Hotel California Baja, LLC, in the Central District of California [2:17-cv-03276] for trademark infringement. Hotel California Baja owns a small hotel in Todos Santos, Mexico that opened in 1950 under the name Hotel California, but subsequently went through a number of name changes over the years. The Eagles allege that to revitalize the hotel and create a reputation for it,the hotel has promoted a reputed, but false, connection to the Hotel in the famous Eagles song. The Eagles complain that defendant runs a merchandising operation that manufactures and sells a wide variety of clothing and other merchandise featuring their HOTEL CALIFORNIA mark. There’s not much chance that the Eagle will Take it Easy on this one.
Following up a previous post about the February 2017 lawsuit filed by the Sporting Times against Orion Pictures for depicting a fictional magazine title Sporting Times of the same title in a movie about the life of Bill “Spaceman” Lee, MGM has responded with a Motion to Dismiss. Defendants argue that the use in the movie was not a trademark use, and in any even any theory of a likelihood of confusion was “too implausible to support costly litigation.” The defendants also affirmative asserted a First Amendment bar to the Sporting Times claims, and arguing that the test from Rogers v. Grimaldi applies and the Sporting Times claims should be dismissed unless the use of the mark has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever, or, if it has some artistic relevance, unless the title explicitly misleads as to the source or the content of the work.
The Motion pointed out the burden of getting permission from every brand potentially appearing in a expressive work, such as defendants movies, and concluded:
Happily for filmmakers and their audiences (and for the creators of other expressive works), the Lanham Act does not grant trademark owners such veto power over the content of expressive works.