will.i.am: registered.u.r.not

In In re I.AM.SYMBOLIC, LLC, [2016-1507, 2016-1508, 2016-1509] (August 8, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the TTAB affirming the Trademark Examiner’s refusal of registration of the mark I AM on grounds of likelihood of confusion.

After initial refusals of registration of the I AM mark  in Classes 3, 9, and 14, I AM SYMBOLIC amended its description of goods to include the limitation that the goods were “associated with William Adams, professionally known as ‘will.i.am.’”  The Examiner maintained the refusal, and the Board affirmed, noting “we do not see the language as imposing a meaningful limitation on [Symbolic’s] goods in any fashion, most especially with respect to either trade channels or class of purchasers.

Before the Federal Circuit I AM SYMBOLIC argued Symbolic argues that the Board erred in its likelihood of confusion analysis by: (1) holding that the will.i.am restriction is “precatory” and “meaningless” and therefore not considering it in analyzing certain DuPont factors; (2) ignoring third-party use and the peaceful coexistence on the primary and supplemental registers and in the marketplace of other I AM marks; and (3) finding a likelihood of reverse confusion.

Regarding the will.i.am restriction, the Federal Circuit said I AM SYMBOLIC failed to show that the Board erred in finding that the restriction does not impose a meaningful limitation in this case for purposes of likelihood of confusion analysis.  Under a proper analysis of the du Pont factors, the goods are identical or related and the channels of trade are identical, and thus there is a likelihood of confusion.

The Federal Circuit agreed with the Board that the purported restriction does not (1) limit the goods “with respect to either trade channels or class of purchasers”; (2) “alter the nature of the goods identified”; or (3) “represent that the goods will be marketed in any particular, limited way, through any particular, limited trade channels, or to any particular class of customers.”  In the absence of meaningful limitations in either the application or the cited registrations, the Board properly presumed that the goods travel through all usual channels of trade and are offered to all normal potential purchasers.

Regarding other I AM marks, the Federal Circuit rejected the argument that because applicant’s class 25 registration had co-existed with the cited class 3, 9 and 14 registrations that there was no likelihood of confusion. The ownership of a registraiton on one class does not give a right to register the same]mark on an expanded line of goods, where the use of the mark covered by such registration would lead to a likelihood of confusion, mistake or deception.

With respect to third party marks, the Federal Circuit found that I AM SYMBOLIC did not show sufficient third party use to raise an issue in classes 3 and 9, and in class 14, the Federal Circuit found that the strength of the similarity of the marks and of the goods was sufficient to any error in
failing to specifically analyze the potential weakness of registrants’ marks based on limited third-party use.

Regarding the alleged finding of “reverse confusion,” the Federal Circuit  attributed the Board’s comments to a response to the arguments about the fame of the applicant being insufficient, not to an express finding of reverse confusion.

Overall, the Federal Circuit found sufficient evidence to support the Board’s finding I.AM confusingly similar to the cited registrations, and sustain the refusal of registered.

Hutchinson Revisited Surname + Merely Descriptive Term May or May Not Be Registrable

In Earnhardt v. Kerry Earhhardt, Inc., [2016-1939] (July 27, 2017), the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded a TTAB decision dismissing Earnhardt’s opposition because it found that there was no likelihood of
confusion between EARNHARDT COLLECTION (by Dale Earnhardt’s sone) and Teresa Earnhardt’s marks (the widow of Dale Earnhardt), and that EARNHARDT COLLECTION is not primarily merely a surname.

The Federal Circuit found that it was not clear that the TTAB conducted the appropriate analysis in determining that EARNHARDT COLLECTION is not primarily merely a surname.  To evaluate whether the commercial impression of a mark that combines a surname with a second term is still primarily merely the surname,
the PTO must determine whether the primary significance of the mark as a whole in connection with the recited goods and services is that of the surname. A key element in such an inquiry is determining the relative distinctiveness of the second term in the mark.

In Hutchinson, the PTO concluded that the mark HUTCHINSON TECHNOLOGY was primarily merely a surname because Hutchinson was a surname and the applicant conceded that “technology” described many goods similar to those listed in the application (which
included electronic components and computer products).  The Federal Circuit reversed because (1) the PTO did not properly consider the mark as a whole, and (2) it incorrectly found that “technology” was “merely descriptive” of the recited goods.

Upon review of the Board’s decision, in the current case, it was
unclear to the Federal Circuit whether the Board engaged in a merely descriptive inquiry for the term “collection” or if the Board improperly
constricted its analysis to only a genericness inquiry.  The Federal Circuit noted that while the Board did state that “collection” is “not the common descriptive or generic name” for KEI’s furniture and custom home construction services, it is less than clear that the Board
intended its usage of “common descriptive” to represent a finding that “collection” is not merely descriptive.

The Federal Circuit explained that while the Board relied heavily on Hutchinson for its analysis, in Hutchinson it did not find that any mark
consisting of a surname and a merely descriptive term is registrable as a trademark as a matter of law, nor did it find that such a mark is always primarily merely a surname and not registrable as a matter of law.

The Federal Circuit said that the Board has to determine whether the additional term — “collection” — is merely descriptive of the goods, and if so, whether the addition of the term to the Earnhardt surname “altered the primary significance of the mark as a whole to the purchasing public.

 

GottaWannaNeedaGettaHava Injunction

Bojangles International LLC originator of the Cajun Filet Biscuit that it promotes with the jingle “GottaWannaNeedaGettaHava” has sued Hardees for selling a Cajun Chicken Biscuit and using the phrase GottaWannaNeedaGettaHava to do so.
Hardees introduced its Cajun Fillet Biscuit via Twitter, and promptly received a cease and desist letter which prompted Hardess to rename its sandwich Cajun Chicken Biscuit.  This was not enough to appease Bojangles, which brought suit in North Carolina, alleging that Cajun Chicken Biscuit infringes its federally registered Cajun Fillet Biscuit trademark, and that Hardee’s introductory Tweet infringed its federally registered GottaWannaNeedaGettaHava  trademark.
It is a curious case because while Hardess indisputably used the phrase GottaWannaNeedaGettaHava in its tweet but not as a brand name, and arguably as a comparative reference to Bojangles’ arguing that its Cajun Fillet Biscuit is “better.” Would someone receiving this Tweet from Hardees really be confused?  Hardees started out using the Cajun Fillet Biscuit trademark, but quickly switched to Cajun Chicken Biscuit.  What would Bojangles expect Hardees to call a Cajun flavored chicken biscuit?
The case will test the limits of 15 U.S.C. § 1115(b)(4) defense for uses “otherwise than as a mark . . . which is descriptive of and used fairly and in good faith only to describe the goods or services.”  Hardees will likely argue its use “GottaWannaNeedaGettaHava” was a comparative reference to Bojangles, and its use of Cajun Chicken Biscuit is descriptive of its product.  It will be interesting to see if Bojangles can make Hardees dance.

Immorality, Scandal, and Disparagement at the Trademark Office

In Matal v, Tam, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit  in holding that the 15 USC §1052(a)’s prohibition against the registration of disparaging marks was unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment,  15 USC §1052(a) provides:

(a) Consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute;

While the case before the Supreme Court related to disparaging marks (the same prohibition that caused the Washington Redskins to lose their registrations on REDSKINS), in January in In re Brunetti, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office told the Federal Circuit that:

Although a court could draw constitutionally significant distinctions between these two parts of [§1052(a)]  we do not believe, given the breadth of the court’s Tam decision and in view of the totality of the court’s reasoning there, that there is any longer a reasonable basis in this court’s law for treating them differently.

So, its now open season on immoral, scandalous, and disparaging trademarks.  It didn’t take long for applicants to take advantage of the decision, with applications being filed later the same day.

These types of filings actually began shortly after the Federal Circuit’s December 22, 2015, decision, and will no doubt increase with the Supreme Court’s decision.

 

 

Ownership of a Trademark Follows Use

In Lyons v. The American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, [2016-2055](June 8, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the TTAB cancelling Lyons’ registration of the mark THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF VETERINARY SPORTS MEDICINE AND REHABILITATION.  Lyons participated in the organization of a committee under the auspices of the  American Veterinary Medical
Association. using the name THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF VETERINARY SPORTS MEDICINE AND REHABILITATION.  A year after Lyons was dismissed from the committee, she sought and obtained registration of THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF VETERINARY SPORTS MEDICINE AND REHABILITATION on the Supplemental Register.

The committee petitioned to cancel the Lyon’s registration based on priority of use and Lyons’ fraud in procuring the registration. The cancellation was suspended during the pendency of a civil action between the parties in which Lyons alleged infringement of her registration.  The district court found that the mark had not acquired distinctiveness. but did not cancel the registration.  When the cancellation proceeding resumed, the Board concluded that Lyon’s application was void ab initio because she did not own the mark.

The Federal Circuit said that it was axiomatic in trademark law that ownership of a
mark is predicated on priority of use in commerce.  Thus, the Federal Circuit reasons, registration by one who did not own the mark at the time of filing renders the underlying application void ab initio. The Federal Circuit agreed with the Board that Lyons did not own the mark, and approving the Board’s legal framework for evaluating ownership, which included (1) the parties’ objective intentions or expectations; (2) who the public associates with the mark; and (3) to whom the public looks to stand behind the quality of goods or services offered under the mark.

There are Few Absolutes In Likelihood of Confusion; Apparently Fame isn’t one of Them

In Joseph Phelps Vineyards, LLC v. Fairmont Holdings, LLC, [2016-1089](May 24, 2017), the Federal Circuit vacated a TTAB decision denying cancellation of Fairmont’s Reg. No. 4213619 on the mark ALEC BRADLEY STAR INSIGNIA for cigars, brought by Joseph Phelps Vineyards, owner of Reg. No. 1123429 on the mark INSIGNIA for wines.

In the eyes of the Federal Circuit, the TTAB’s error was in completely discounting fame as a factor once it determined that the mark was not famous.  As a result of this error, the Board did not properly apply the totality of the circumstances standard, which requires considering all the relevant factors on a scale appropriate to their merits.

Although the TTAB correctly acknowledged that fame for confusion purposes
arises as long as a significant portion of the relevant consuming public recognizes the mark as a source indicator, the TTAB applied a legally incorrect standard in applying
an all-or-nothing measure of “fame,” more akin to dilution analysis than likelihood of confusion analysis.

The Federal Circuit found that the record shows appreciation by consumers and the wine market of Vineyards’ INSIGNIA brand, and concluded that it was error to refuse to accord any “fame” to Vineyards’ INSIGNIA mark. The Federal Circuit concluded that the factor of “fame” warrants reasonable weight, among the totality of the circumstances.

It is not clear from the Opinion what upsets Joseph Phelps Vineyards about Fairmont Holding’s ALEC BRADLEY STAR INSIGNIA mark.  Joseph Phelps Vineyards’ registration already co-exists with a registration on COACH INSIGNIA for wines (Reg. No. 1394292, which is incontestable) and a registration on BAHIA INSIGNIAS (Reg. No. 4,604,938).  Even with fame properly considered as a factor, Joseph Phelps Vineyard may not get the result it is seeking.

 

What’s the Flap Over the Unicorn Frappe?

On May 3, 2017, Montauk Juice Factory Inc. sued Starbucks Corporation in the Eastern District of New York, [1:17-cv-02678] alleging that Starbuck’s “UNICORN FRAPPUCCINO” infringed its “distinctive and famous” UNICORN LATTE.  Montauk also complained that Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino shares visual similarities to the Unicorn Latte in that both were brightly colored and featured the colors pink and blue prominently.

Montauk claims that it began selling the UNICORN LATTE in December 2016 (although their trademark application claims a first use of October 1, 2016.  Peculiarly, Montauk acknowledges that the Unicorn Latte fits with the current trend of colorful foods—a relatively recent interest, particularly on the Internet, with multi-colored foods, and even specifically identifies UNICORN NOODLES and UNICORN POOP.

So is UNICORN a trademark, or is it simply a trend?  Recipes for UNICORN LATTES and UNICORN FRAPPUCCINOS abound on the internet.  There is UNICORN hot chocolate, UNICORN tea, UNICORN shakes, and UNICORN smoothies, UNICORN toast, UNICORN doughnuts.  While there is plenty of press about Montauk’s UNICORN LATTE, there are plenty of indications that UNICORN is descriptive if not generic, and that UNICORN food and drink are a trend.  Montauk may not even the originator of the trend — Toronto’s CutiePie Cupcakes & Co. has been selling a UNICORN LATTE since last summer.

Can Montauk show that it is likely that consumers will believe there is a connection between UNICORN LATTE and UNICORN FRAPPUCCINO, or is the only connection between the products in the minds of consumers that both are brightly colored, like other UNICORN food and drink?  If in fact Montauk is the owner of UNICORN LATTE, it may be the victim of genericization — a common fate for product innovators whose choice of brand name for a new product becomes the name for the product.  When naming a new product, it behooves the innovator to select both a generic name and a brand name, so that brand is not lost.

The Eagles Sue the Hotel California (Baja) Will No Doubt Take it to the Limit

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.

Studios Fire Back: Fictional Publication Depicted in a Movie is Privileged Expressive Use

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.

Non-Trademark Use is a Non-Infringing Use

In Oaklawn Jockety Club, Inc. v. Kentucky_Downs, LLC, [16-5582] (Sixth Circuit April 19, 2017), the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court dismissal of plaintiff’s trademark infringement action because defendant’s use of plaintiffs’ trademarks in its electronic horse racing games was not likely to cause confusion.  Although the case was designated “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PUBLICATION,” it makes an important point about trademark infringement: defendant must use plaintiff’s trademark as a trademark.

The district court found, and the Sixth Circuit agreed, that defendant’s marks in its animated video recreations of actual historic horse races, in order to identify the location of the race, was not a trademark use.

The Sixth Circuit noted that the term “Location” preceding the trademarks sufficiently explains to consumers that the trademarks are being used in a wholly descriptive
manner and does not cause a likelihood of confusion as to the source of the video.  The Sixth Circuit added that the fact that the replay is entirely generic and does not visually depict the plaintiffs’ facilities further supports this conclusion.

Because this was a non-trademark use of plaintiffs’ trademarks, the Sixth Circuit did not have to reach the question whether the fair-use defense applied.  As the Supreme Court said in Prestonettes, Inc. v. Coty, 264 U.S. 359, 368 (1924). “When the mark is used in a way that does not deceive the public we see no such sanctity in the word as to prevent its being used to tell the truth.”