• IP BLAWG

    Bad Spaniel Has First Amendment Rights

    Beverly A. Berneman
    6/30/20

    VIP Products LLP sells a series of dog toys called “Silly Squeakers”. The toys are often fashioned to look like well-known beverage containers. One of the toys is called “Bad Spaniels”. It looks like a Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle but with alterations. Of course, the name was changed from Jack Daniel’s to Bad Spaniels. But it didn’t stop there. Instead of “Old No. 7”, it said “Old No. 2 on your Tennessee Carpet” (which should resonate with dog owners). The alcohol description read 42% POO BY VOL” and “100% SMELLY” (again something instantly recognized by dog owners).

    Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. didn’t think it was funny. So they sent a cease and desist letter to VIP. VIP responded by filing suit for a declaratory judgment seeking a judgment that there was no infringement of the Jack Daniel’s brand. After losing in the district court, VIP appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the Jack Daniel’s bottle was protectable trade dress. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed the other district court findings that VIP’s use of the Jack Daniel’s brand caused dilution and trademark infringement. The Ninth Circuit held that the “Bad Spaniels” toy was an expressive work entitled to First Amendment Protection.

    This case was not unlike a 2007 involving Louis Vuitton and a dog toy named “Chewy Vitton”. Sort of the same thing happened. Haute Diggety Dog, LLC manufactured and sold parody dog toys. One of them was designed to look like a Louis Vuitton hand bag. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the toy was a parody of the original. And as a humorous expressive work, it’s protected by the First Amendment. The Fourth Circuit called it “permissive fair use”.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Parody can be a strong branding strategy for the right product. However, parody creates a tension between a trademark owner’s need to protect their brand and their ability to stop anything that references their brand. The line between going along with the joke and accusations of trademark infringement can be treacherous to navigate. But, in this case, Jack Daniel’s was given the proverbial newspaper on the nose by the Ninth Circuit.

  • IP BLAWG

    Your Joint or Mine?

    Beverly A. Berneman
    6/9/20

    The Hard Rock Café’s operating company, JC Hospitality LLC, tried to register the trademark “The Joint” for its casino based music venues. The USPTO refused registration. On appeal, the TTAB affirmed. Hard Rock then appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals who also affirmed the refusal.

    Here’s why.

    The most protectable types of trademarks are inherently distinctive. Inherently distinctive trademarks are arbitrary, fanciful or suggestive of the goods or services. Merely descriptive trademarks can eventually be registered as long as they acquired distinctiveness through use.

    The Examining Attorney who reviewed the application thought the words “The Joint” were either merely descriptive or even possibly generic for a restaurant or entertainment space. So the Hard Rock Café argued that The Joint had acquired distinctiveness.

    To determine whether a mark has acquired distinctiveness, the USPTO or a court may consider: (1) purchasers’ association of a mark with its owner (typically by means of consumer surveys); (2) the length, degree, and exclusivity of use; (3) the amount and manner of advertising; (4) sales and number of customers; (5) intentional copying; (6) unsolicited media coverage of the product or service bearing the mark.

    In this case, the Examining Attorney had pointed to the fact that the dictionary defines the word exactly the way that Hard Rock used it. And there were a lot of third parties who used the same words in connection with other restaurants and entertainment venues. Hard Rock tried to argue that adding the word “the” to the word “joint”, distinguished it from other uses. Hard Rock pointed out that there are non-restaurant and entertainment uses for the word, such as another word for prison. So that made Hard Rock’s use more like a trademark. The Examining Attorney, the TABB and the Federal Circuit all rejected these arguments. The Federal Circuit’s opinion pointed out that although Hard Rock has spent millions for over 20 years promoting The Joint, there was no evidence of how much similar restaurant and entertainment venues spend on their promotion. Also, Hard Rock didn’t provide any evidence of unsolicited third party mentions.

    So Hard Rock can’t register “The Joint” as a trademark.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. This opinion was rather harsh. In some ways, it set an impossible standard of proof for Hard Rock; and maybe others who try to prove acquired distinctiveness. Certainly, Hard Rock had longevity of use, a lot of advertising and a lot of money invested in advertising. But demanding proof of expenditures by other restaurant and entertainment venues? That kind of information isn’t public information. Imagine asking a competitor for that information. It would be unusual to even get a response. Unfortunately, this outcome may make it harder to prove a descriptive trademark acquired distinctiveness.

  • IP BLAWG

    Reply All

    Beverly A. Berneman
    4/28/20

    If the words “reply all” sound familiar to you, then you probably use email to communicate with others for various and sundry reasons. Despite their widespread use, these two words became the subject of trademark litigation.

    In 2012, Reply All Corp. started to sell software to let users create and share conversations.

    In 2014, Spotify’s Gimlet Media began producing a podcast named “Reply All”. The hosts, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman talk about strange stories and trending topics.

    Would you confuse Reply All’s software with the “Reply All” podcast? Gimlet Media was convinced that customers would be.

    Gimlet Media sued Reply All for trademark infringement. After about 5 years of litigation, a judge ruled that almost every factor of a likelihood of confusion weighed against Gimlet Media and in favor of Reply All. The court found that the mark was fairly weak. Gimlet didn’t have a record of sales or marketing expenditures to show commercial strength. And the court acknowledged that the term “reply all” is a common term which is recognized by anyone who uses email. The names might be the same but the logos are different (see the graphic) and the products are different. They don’t compete in the same customer space. The court pointed out that Gimlet Media had no evidence of actual confusion. Note that you don’t have to prove actual confusion; it’s just one factor to look at. In this case, the court thought it was a significant factor.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS.  For registration purposes, most countries, including the US have adopted an international scheme of classes of goods and services. There are 45 of them. It is almost impossible for someone to register a trademark in all 45 classes. The class distinction is helpful when evaluating a likelihood of confusion between trademarks. If someone uses a word for the wholesale distribution of auto parts (Class 035), consumers are unlikely to be confused if someone used the same word for graphic t-shirts (Class 025). In the Reply All case, the words are the same but they were used for totally different goods and services. One caveat though. Some trademarks are so famous that even if the goods and services don’t compete directly, the owner of the famous mark (like Barbie, Rolex, Nike and Jack Daniels) can shut down the use of the trademark even if someone is using it in a different class of goods or services. This is called dilution.

  • IP BLAWG

    Dropping in Bankruptcy

    Beverly A. Berneman
    4/21/20

    Thru Inc. sued Dropbox for trademark infringement claiming to own the “DropBox” trademark. After a lot of litigation and some really good discovery, Dropbox was able to show that Thru may have had some bare rights to the “DropBox” mark but it never actually used the mark. Thru then sat back and watched as DropBox branded itself and became a household name for shareable file storage. Then Thru continued to drag its heels in litigation to cash in on DropBox’s initial public offering in 2018. DropBox discovered emails from Thru’s CEO which unabashedly chronicled Thru’s strategy. In the end, DropBox obtained a $2.3 million judgment that included attorney’s fees and costs.

    So what was Thru to do? It filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. It proposed a plan to pay the entire judgment with interest in six years. The plan was confirmed over DropBox’s objections. DropBox appealed. The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s confirmation of the plan. Then DropBox appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Dropbox argued the Chapter 11 plan was just a sham and indicative of Thru’s conduct in the underlying case. The appeal was dismissed due to mootness. The problem was that DropBox hadn’t sought any orders to stay the enforcement of the bankruptcy plan. DropBox argued that the concept of “equitable mootness” is antiquated and shouldn’t have any bearing on the appeal. The Sixth Circuit disagreed. By the time the appeal was heard in the Sixth Circuit, the plan had already been in place for some time and some payments had already been made. Therefore, at this late stage, it would cause undue hardship to unwind the plan.

    Why You Should Know This. Filing bankruptcy is a legitimate strategy after a huge judgment. As is usually the case, Thru’s pre-bankruptcy petition conduct is irrelevant. Bankruptcy allows a debtor to reorganize and pay off at least some debt. In this case, as long as Thru continues to be in business, DropBox is probably getting more than it would have gotten if Thru closed its doors. As to DropBox’s failure to get a stay of enforcement of the plan pending appeals, bankruptcy courts are reluctant to do that. It basically hurts the other creditors waiting to be paid while a single creditor pursues at grudge.

    ON ANOTHER NOTE: On February 19, 2020, the Small Business Reorganization Act went into effect. Small companies whose debts are less than $2.7 million can file a streamlined Chapter 11. It is both less expensive and faster than normal Chapter 11s. The attorneys at Golan Christie Taglia have already filed a number of these. So if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out.

  • IP BLAWG

    Punsters Delight

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/15/19

    [Caution: This blog may contain bad puns; But it’s how Eye Roll.]

    In two recent cases, trademark holders learned that it was a huge Missed-Steak to sue when puns were involved.

    In the first case, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and BGK Trademark Holdings, LLC sued Feyonce LLC’s. Beyoncé alleged that Feyonce’s branded merchandise for people who are engaged to be married caused a likelihood of confusion with her trademarked merchandise. Beyoncé’s motion for partial summary judgment got a Chile reception from the court. In denying the motion, the court identified the critical question was whether a rational consumer would believe that Feyonce’s products were sponsored by Beyoncé or affiliated with her company. The court held that the pun on Beyoncé’s name was sufficient to dispel a likelihood of confusion among the consuming public. The court acknowledged that the two trademarks had similar text, font and pronunciation. However, the Feyonce mark has the additional connotation of sounding like the word “fiancé” which is directly related to Feyonce’s merchandise. Since the suit didn’t go how Beyoncé Oregano-ly planned, she dismissed the case.

    The second case, involved another Farce to be reckoned with. LTTB LLC is an online apparel company. LTTB credits a large part of its success to public fascination with products featuring the phrase “Lettuce Turnip the Beet”. Redbubble, Inc. is an online marketplace that sells merchandise created by independent artists. When Redbubble artists started using the turnip pun on merchandise, LTTB sued Redbubble for trademark infringement. Redbubble Romained calm and brought a motion for summary judgment. In granting the motion, the court felt that LTTB didn’t have a case against Redbubble. The court granted summary judgment for Redbubble on the basis of the “aesthetic functionality doctrine”. This means that if goods are bought for their aesthetic value, their features are purely functional and not trademark use. The court held that no trier of fact would conclude that consumers bought the merchandise because of LTTB’s reputation.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS.  These two cases show some of the limits of trademark protection. In the Beyoncé case, the pun had enough to do with the type of merchandise being sold to avoid a likelihood of confusion. In the LTTB case, the pun, and not the brand, was why people bought the merchandise. Note that the “aesthetic functionality doctrine” is the subject of some controversy. It is not evenly applied by the courts. So it may not always Turnip in a victory for the punster.

  • IP BLAWG

    THE

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/1/19

    That’s not a typo. The subject of today’s blog is THE. THE Ohio State University filed an application to register THE for wearing apparel. According to news sources, Ohio State demands to be called “THE Ohio State University”. Ohio State argues that THE is part of its name. Sports and journalists have often commented on Ohio State’s branding insistence calling it stupid, ridiculous, pompous and arrogant. Ohio State responds to these negative comments saying that it has every right to protect its brand.

    The USPTO refused registration of THE. The Office Action refusing registration had some interesting information. Ohio State wasn’t the first one to try to register THE as a trademark. The clothing and accessory designer/manufacturer, Marc Jacobs, had already filed an application to register THE for accessories and clothing. The USPTO refused Marc Jacobs’ application as well. The Marc Jacobs’ Office Action cited two primary problems. First, the mark drawing and the specimen didn’t match. The mark drawing was just the word THE. But the specimens show THE with other words like “The Backpack Marc Jacobs” and “The Velveteen Jean Jacket by Marc Jacobs.” Second, THE fails to function as a trademark. In other words, THE doesn’t act as a source of Marc Jacobs’ products.

    Now back to THE Ohio State’s Office. The Office Action contained a prior advisory of the suspending of the Ohio State application pending the outcome of Marc Jacobs’ application. And then it went deeper into why THE doesn’t function as a trademark for Ohio State. The mark, as it appears on the clothing, is merely ornamental. It just appears on the clothing but does not distinguish Ohio State’s clothing from clothing of others.

    Both Marc Jacobs and Ohio State have some time to respond to these Office Actions. So the THE saga may continue.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Neither Office Action touched on a point that seems obvious. If either applicant gets a registration for THE, how will that affect the ability of others to develop clothing lines that use THE? Both applicants seem to want to corner the market on a word that is one of the most common words in the English language. Aside from that, there is a difference between a slogan or words that appear on clothing versus a mark that is used to identify a product. See the comparison in the graphics. The top graphic shows the mark being used in an ornamental way. If that’s the only way the owner uses it, the USPTO would probably refuse registration. The bottom one shows the mark being used as a source and product identifier. If that’s the way the owner uses it, the USPTO will probably allow registration.

  • IP BLAWG

    Dental Supplier Gets a Judicial Root Canal

    Beverly A. Berneman
    8/13/19

    If you needed a crown or root canal lately, your dentist may have used a fancy wand to scan and send a picture of your mouth to the dental lab. Chances are that the scanner was the Itero Element scanner, a computer scanning system that is manufactured by Align Technologies. The Itero scanner requires a disposable sleeve for the wand. One of Align’s competitors, Strauss Diamond Technologies, began selling a competing sleeve, called “MagicSleeve”. In its advertisements, Strauss used Align’s trademarks in hashtags, product descriptions and product images.

    Align brought suit against Strauss and sought a preliminary injunction to stop Strauss from using its trademarks. Strauss argued that its use of the Align trademarks was “nominative fair use”. The nominative fair use defense has 3 parts: (1) the trademark is the only word available to accurately describe the product; (2) the mark is used only as is “reasonably necessary” to identify the product; and (3) the user does nothing that would suggest endorsement by the trademark owner. Putting aside the fact that the first and second elements are contradictory, the court determined that Strauss’ defense was full of cavities. Strauss’ various uses of Align’s trademarks failed at least two out of three of the nominative fair use test. Align’s motion for preliminary injunction was granted.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Nominative fair use can be a useful tool in a competitive industry. Sometimes you have to refer to your competitor’s products in order to differentiate yourself in the market. Deciding what crosses the line can be tricky. One thing we know is that Strauss crossed that line.

  • IP BLAWG

    Fraudulent Trademark Ripped Up By Terror Dog

    Beverly A. Berneman
    7/30/19

    You may recall the scene in the Ghostbusters movie where, Rick Moranis’ character begs diners in a swanky Central Park restaurant to save him from a Terror Dog. That restaurant is the famous “Tavern on the Green” that has been owned by New York City since 1934. The Tavern’s trademark has a bit of a complicated history. NYC leased the restaurant to Tavern on the Green LP (TOTG). NYC decided not to renew TOTG’s lease in 2009. That’s when NYC discovered that TOTG registered the trademark in 1978. NYC sued TOTG to cancel the registration because NYC was the owner of the trademark and not TOTG. TOTG and NYC entered into a settlement agreement that allowed TOTG to use the name outside of NYC as long as TOTG didn’t use the words “Central Park”. TOTG went ahead and used the Tavern trademark along with the words “Central Park” thereby breaching the agreement. NYC sued again. And won.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. When an applicant fills out a trademark application, the applicant has to state under oath that it is the bona fide owner of the trademark. If that isn’t true, the applicant has committed a fraud in the application process. The USPTO will cancel a registration obtained by fraud. TOTG didn’t have the right to register the trademark. And even after getting the right to use the name “Tavern on the Green”, TOTG used the words “Central Park” in breach of the settlement agreement. TOTG couldn’t escape the trademark Terror Dog of its own creation.

  • IP BLAWG

    Where’s the Cart?

    Beverly A. Berneman
    5/21/19

    Siny Corp tried to register its trademark “Casalana” for a knit textile used in the manufacture of outerwear, gloves and the like. As its specimen of use in commerce, Siny submitted pages from its website. But the United States Patent and Trademark Office refused the specimen because it was mere advertising and not evidence of use in commerce. Siny appealed the decision all the way up to the Federal Court of Appeals and lost. Where did Siny go wrong?

    In order to claim rights in a trademark, the owner has to use the trademark in commerce. Siny argued that the website showed use in commerce because it had the text “For sales information” followed by a phone number. That wasn’t enough. The website has to provide a means for ordering the goods, such as through a “shop online” or “add to cart” button or link, or through information contained on the page. “For sales information” isn’t the same as “order now” or “to order, call this number”. According to the Federal Court of Appeals, “if virtually all important aspects of the transaction must be determined from information extraneous to the web page, then the web page is not a point of sale.” If it’s not a point of sale, it’s not use in commerce. So Siny has to go back to the website drawing board and make some changes.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. At first glance, the Siny decision seems like splitting hairs. But it points out an important distinction between mere advertising and use in commerce. A website that shows pictures of a product doesn’t mean that the product is actually being sold. Even having contact information for the seller, doesn’t mean it’s being sold. The consumer visiting the website has to have enough information about how to actually purchase or get the product.

  • IP BLAWG

    The Schrödinger’s Cat of Trademarks

    Beverly A. Berneman
    5/14/19

    Stella McCartney, the fashion designer daughter of former Beatle, Paul McCartney and his late wife, Linda, tried to register the trademark “Fur Free Fur”. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rejected it as being merely descriptive of Stella’s use of fake fur in her fashion designs. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) disagreed and overturned the decision.

    The TTAB held that the USPTO failed to recognize the multiple meanings of the use of the word “fur” in the trademark. Judge Thomas Shaw, writing for the TTAB described the “Fur Free Fur” trademark as really being two things at once like Schrödinger’s Cat (see below for more information) being dead and alive at the same time. “In the first instance, ‘Fur Free,’ the term ‘fur’ refers exclusively to animal fur. In the second instance, ‘fur’ alone, the term ‘fur’ refers to imitation fur.” The “internal inconsistency” in “Fur Free Fur” would give consumers pause making the trademark distinctive. In other words, the juxtaposition of the words required some imagination on the part of the consumer to recognize the trademark as being connected to the goods and service.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The “Fur Free Fur” trademark is a good example of how a trademark can be created from seemingly generic or descriptive words by adjusting word placement. The word placement of “Fur Free Fur” created a play on the words. The key is to make sure the words require some imagination on the part of the consumer when they see the trademark. Note, that this case had a rare dissenting opinion where the judge disagreed that consumers needed any imagination or perception to recognize the words as a trademark. So care must be taken when developing a Schrödinger’s Cat trademark.

    More information about Schrödinger’s Cat: In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger illustrated a problem in quantum physics by presenting a hypothetical scenario where a cat may be alive and dead at the same time. For any further explanation, please consult your friendly neighborhood physicist.

  • IP BLAWG

    Looks Fair to Me

    Beverly A. Berneman
    4/16/19

    Using someone’s trademarks when criticizing their products or services can be tricky. But if you do it the right way, it could be considered nominative fair use.

    Applied Underwriters, Inc. owns the trademark “Equity Comp” for financial services. Providence Publications LLC, which describes itself as a provider of informative journalism, offered a webcast seminar titled: “Applied Underwriters’ Equity Comp Program: Like it, Leave it, or Let it be?” The seminar wasn’t very complimentary. Applied Underwriters sued for trademark infringement and unfair competition. Providence Publications moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that the use of the trademark was permitted as nominative fair use. The motion was granted and affirmed on appeal. Relying on the leading case of New Kids on the Block v. News Am. Publ’g, Inc., the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals showed that the three factors of nominative fair use existed in this case. Those factors were (1) Applied Underwriter’s products and services could not have been readily identifiable without use of the trademark; (2) Providence Publications only used so much of the trademark as was reasonably necessary to identify Applied Underwriter’s products and services; and (3) Providence Publications did nothing that would suggest Applied Underwriters sponsored or endorsed the seminar.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Providence Publications used Applied Underwriter’s trademarks in a non-competitive, public commentary/free speech kind of way. But what happens if a competitor uses another’s trademark? In other words, how far does commentary and free speech go between competitors? The New Kids on the Block factors should help figure out the answers to those questions.

  • IP BLAWG

    Freeing a Princess from a Trademark Tower

    Beverly A. Berneman
    3/12/19

    Anyone with a legitimate interest can oppose the registration of a trademark. But what does “legitimate interest” actually mean. It looks like Rapunzel may help answer that question.

    United Trademark Holdings Inc. filed an application to register the name “Rapunzel” as a trademark for dolls. Professor Rebecca Curtin filed an opposition to registration with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). Professor Curtin argued that the name belonged to a centuries old fairy tale princess so it was too generic to be registered as a trademark. United Trademark Holdings moved to dismiss the opposition. It argued that the Professor wasn’t a competitor and so she didn’t have standing to oppose the registration. The TTAB denied the motion to dismiss saying: “Consumers, like competitors, may have a real interest in keeping merely descriptive or generic words in the public domain, to prevent the owner of a mark from inhibiting competition in the sale of particular goods and to maintain freedom of the public to use the language involved.” This decision allows the Professor to continue the fight. We’ll have to wait and see if Rapunzel can’t be registered because it’s merely descriptive of a princess with the long hair who lived in a tower until she was rescued by a handsome prince.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Fairy tales can come true. You probably already know that. But you should also know that anyone, even a member of the general public, can oppose the registration of a trademark that will interfere with a general right to use the name. This helps to keep generally accepted expressions and terms in the public domain.

  • IP BLAWG

    Call Me By My Own Name

    Beverly A. Berneman
    2/5/19

    Using your name as a trademark is doable. Even if someone else has the same name. A surname is considered a descriptive trademark because it references a person or company who’s providing the goods and services. Generally, descriptive marks can’t be registered as trademarks. But, the recent case between The Saint Louis Brewery (“SLB”) and Phyllis Schlafly and Bruce Schlafly (the “Schlaflys”) demonstrated how to get a trademark in a surname. The Schlaflys are family members of the late Phyllis Schlafly who was a writer and political activist best known for her opposition to the women's movement and especially the Equal Rights Amendment. Bruce Schlafly is a doctor and he uses his name in his medical practice. SLB marketed its beer using a logo design that incorporated the name of one of the founders, Thomas Schlafly, for about 30 years. SLB sold more than 75,000,000 units of beer, not counting restaurant sales. SLB applied to register the word mark “Schlafly” saying that the surname has acquired distinctiveness through secondary meaning (connecting the name to the goods) and was no longer merely descriptive. The Schlaflys opposed the registration. The Schlaflys argued that being associated with beer was going to have a negative effect on the name. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) denied the opposition. The Schlaflys appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) arguing that the use of the name violated the First Amendment and their Due Process Rights. The Schlaflys argued that the name “Schlafly” is recognized primarily as Phyllis Schlafly’s surname, and that the CAFC should adopt a new test called the “change in significance” test, “whereby a surname cannot be registered as a trademark without showing a change in significance to the public from a surname to an identifying mark for specified goods.” The CAFC rejected the Opposers’ arguments and affirmed the TTAB’s decision.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The Schlaflys were up against a well-accepted trademark principle when it comes to registering surname trademarks. They thought that the fame of Phyllis Schlafly should change those rules. If you decide to adopt a surname as a trademark, keep in mind that you will most likely have to prove that the name acquired distinctiveness through secondary meaning. Three types of evidence may be considered to show secondary meaning: 1) Ownership of prior registration(s); 2) Five years substantially exclusive and continuous use in commerce; and 3) Other evidence (i.e. evidence showing duration, extent and nature of the use in commerce and advertising). Because there are a lot of nuances to this, it’s best to consult with an experienced trademark attorney.

  • IP BLAWG

    The Prime Cut of Family Trademark Disputes

    Beverly A. Berneman
    1/15/19

    The grandkids didn’t play nice when it came to a famous restaurant trademark. The nationally famous Palm steakhouse was founded in New York City in 1926 by John Ganzi and Pio Bozzi. The Palm enhances their patrons’ steak eating experience by decorating the walls with caricatures of famous people contributed by cartoonists who often exchanged their cartoons for meals. Eventually, the grandchildren took over management. One set of grandchildren became the majority shareholders and the other set of grandchildren were relegated to the ignominious status of minority shareholders. In 2012, the minority filed suit against the majority for breach of fiduciary duty based upon gross mismanagement and self-dealing with restaurants that were owned and operated solely by the majority. The chief issue was the sweetheart trademark license deal the majority’s restaurants were getting. Even though Palm was a national brand with almost 100 years of fame, the majority’s restaurants only paid a flat license fee of $6,000 a year for decades. The court agreed with the minority and entered judgment in their favor. In assessing the damages, the court accepted the minority’s expert damage witnesses’ conclusions that the majority’s restaurants should have paid a reasonable royalty of 5% of gross sales. The court concluded that the undervalued license agreements were self-dealing by the majority and an example of textbook fiduciary misconduct. Even though the statute of limitations limited the damages to six years of royalties, the royalty damages were over $68 million. Additional damages for other breaches of fiduciary duty were also awarded, along with interest and attorney fees, which increase the total judgment to over $120 million.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. From a corporate governance standpoint, majority shareholders don’t get a free pass to do whatever they like. They have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the company. When any one of the majority shareholders breaches that duty, minority shareholders can fight back. Trademark-wise, it’s not unusual for a company to have an Intellectual Property holding company that licenses the trademark to related companies. But the license fee should be at or near market rate. Otherwise, as the majority shareholders in the Palm learned, they’re going to end up paying that and more in the end.

  • IP BLAWG

    Cutting in the Trademark Line

    Beverly A. Berneman
    12/4/18

    Updating a trademark can be risky if someone else gets in ahead of you. Inn at St. Johns, LLC registered its name “5ive Restaurant” in logo form. So far so good. Eleven years later, St. Johns decided to update its trademark to 5ive Steakhouse in logo form. But St. Johns got derailed. Three years after St. Johns registered its first trademark, OTG Management Inc. registered 5Steak. (All 3 mark drawings appear to the left). The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) refused registration of St. Johns’ 5ive Steakhouse due to a likelihood of confusion with the OTG’s 5Steak registration. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS.  What, if anything, could St. Johns have done to avoid this outcome? First, St. Johns could have monitored the USPTO to see if any applications were being filed to register similar trademarks and then oppose the registrations. There are services that will monitor the records for you. Some can be costly; others not so much. Second, St. Johns could have set up an alert on a search engine to let it know if anyone is using a similar mark on a common law basis. This could have given St. Johns a heads up about 5Steak in time to do something about it. Third, before applying to register the updated trademark, St. Johns could have conducted due diligence, discovered 5Steak and perhaps, worked something out with them.

  • IP BLAWG

    If You Ask Me

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/23/18

    A weak trademark is hard to enforce.  IAC Search U Media Inc. owns the “Ask” trademark for a search engine. IAC brought a petition to cancel the trademark “ASKBOT” for question and answer software. IAC argued that it had priority of the use of the word “ask” with respect to search engines and that ASKBOT is likely to cause confusion with its “Ask” trademark. In the proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, ASKBOT produced ninety-seven news articles from the Lexis/Nexis database for the term “askcom”, third-party registrations of marks using the word “ask”, and excerpts from an unrelated opposition in which IAC opposed registration of the mark ASKVILLE. The Board held that, yes, the two marks were similar, involved the same or similar services and they each were reaching for a similar customer base. But here’s where it went sideways for IAC. The Board held that one must 'ask' a question in order to get an answer. So, the Ask mark is merely suggestive of the services provided and is a weak mark entitled to the barest minimum of protection. Since customers have to pay for IAC’s service and ASKBOT is free, customers will be able to tell the difference between the two and there is little likelihood of confusion. The Board denied the petition to cancel.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Choosing a trademark can be really tough. You want to choose something that is easily relatable to your product or service. And yet, in order for it to be protectable, your trademark has to be distinctive. In this case, IAC chose a trademark that really just described an attribute of its services. As ASKBOT demonstrated, a lot of other companies are using “ask” for similar services. So the Board didn’t want to give IAC a total ‘lock’ on the word.

  • IP BLAWG

    Myopic View of a Specimen

    Beverly A. Berneman
    5/29/18

    A specimen of use can make or break a trademark application. Pitney Bowes wanted to register its new logo design as a trademark for mailing services among other things. For its specimen of use, Pitney Bowes used a screen shot from its website showing a picture of its “Mail&Go” kiosk that featured the new logo. The examining attorney refused the specimen saying that it showed the sale of products but not mailing services. Pitney Bowes appealed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board who reversed the refusal. The Board held that the examining attorney should have given greater deference to Pitney Bowes’ common sense explanation that its mailing services were offered to consumers through the self-service kiosk. Ultimately, Pitney Bowes submitted a substitute specimen of use anyway and the trademark has been registered.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. A specimen is a real-world example of how you are using your trademark on goods or in the offer of services. The Examining Attorney is going to match the specimen to the description of goods and services. This case shows how technical Examining Attorneys can be in that analysis. If you file a use based application, it might be helpful to create the description of goods and services from the specimen you are going to submit. If you are filing an Intent to Use application, then the specimen should be created from the description in the application. But what happens if you file an Intent to Use application and when it comes time to file the specimen of use, the goods or services have changed from the original description? If the change is material, you might have to file a new application.

  • IP BLAWG

    Tequila and Cigars

    Beverly A. Berneman
    3/30/18

    Tequila and cigars go together like love and marriage; or maybe not. El Galan Inc. tried to register the word “Ternura” for a brand of cigars. The USPTO refused registration because Don Francisco Spirits LLC had already registered the same word for tequila. The USPTO said that the two products are “related”, meaning that they are complementary and linked in the minds of consumers. El Galan appealed to the TTAB. The TTAB affirmed the refusal. The TTAB reached back into history and cited a 1955 ruling by the Fifth Circuit in favor of the famous Scotch whiskey brand, Johnnie Walker, against a company that wanted to use the name for cigars. Because, after all, everyone connects whiskey and cigars. So according to the USPTO and the TTAB, the same is true for tequila and cigars. The TTAB pulled back a little by saying that the opinion should not be interpreted to mean that cigars and alcoholic beverages will always be considered related.

    **WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. ** Frankly, this ruling is a stretch. Alcohol and tobacco don’t always go together in the minds of the consuming public. This is the problem with the “relatedness” argument that can form the basis of a refusal to register. There should be some limit on a refusal to register when the same mark is being used for goods or services that don’t actually compete with each other.

  • IP BLAWG

    March Madness Comes in Like a Lion

    Beverly A. Berneman
    3/13/18

    With March Madness upon us, we must remember its bumpy trademark road. March Madness is the uber-famous trademark of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship basketball tournament. But the NCAA was not the first to use the trademark. The Illinois High School Association was. The IHSA unsuccessfully tried to stop the NCAA from using it. The court held that both had the right to use the name. Eventually, the NCAA acquired the IHSA’s rights. Once the NCAA acquired the rights, it aggressively protected the trademark. The NCAA has been able to squelch the unlicensed use of the trademark and anything that comes perilously close such as “April Madness” (for entertainment service), “Markdown Madness” (for auto sales services), “Skate Madness” (for skateboarding competitions) and “Freestyle Madness” (for various entertainment services).

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. It’s so tempting to use “March Madness” in an ad campaign to bring in business; especially at the retail and food industry. But to do so, a business has to be ready to pay the hefty license fees demanded by the NCAA or face the NCAA’s wrath. As the owner of the trademark, the NCAA can protect its trademark from any use that would be likely to cause customer confusion about the source or sponsorship of the product or service. And because the trademark is famous, the NCAA can protect against any use that might dilute its brand. Even if the use has nothing to do with a basketball championship.

  • IP BLAWG

    Trademark Peaceful Coexistence

    Beverly A. Berneman
    2/27/18

    Similar trademarks don’t necessarily result in a likelihood of confusion. Two recent decisions considered whether similar trademarks can coexist without causing customer confusion. In Allstate Insurance Co. v. Kia Motors America Inc., Allstate argued that Kia’s “Drive Wise” brand infringed on its “Drivewise” trademark. Kia’s product was a high end add-on for Kia’s cars. Allstate’s product was a program to reward safe driving by its insurance customers. The court held that the goods offered by the parties were not identical or even related. Customers who wanted an add-on for their car would not be confused by similar words used for an insurance company’s safe driving incentive. And the reverse would be true as well. Another case involved a similar set of facts and came out the same way. In Destileria Serralles Inc. v. Kabushiki Kaisha Donq DBA Donq Co. Ltd., the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that a Kabushiki’s Japanese bakery chain named “Donq” was not confusingly similar to Destileria’s rum brand “Don Q”. Destileria argued that many brands of liquor cross over into other types of goods and so there would be “overlap” in the minds of the consuming public. The TTAB rejected the argument because Destileria’s brand is marginally famous and purchasers would be less likely to expect expansion into other goods.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The goods offered by trademark owners need not be identical or even competitive for a customer to be confused. Even if the goods really have nothing to do with each other. The operative question is whether consumers would assume the different goods would have the same origin. In these two cases, the adjudicating body found that the goods weren’t related enough to cause overlap in the minds of customers.

  • IP BLAWG

    Lawyers Can Have Problems Crafting Trademarks

    Beverly A. Berneman
    2/7/18

    A trademark can’t block competitors from using descriptive words. Attorney, Candace L. Moon, wanted to become the “on-stop shop” for the legal issues in the craft beer industry. So she tried to register “The Craft Beer Attorney APC” as a trademark. The uproar from other attorneys was deafening. No less than 10 other law firms filed oppositions to registration of the trademark. They argued that the words “Craft Beer Attorney” were generic because other attorneys need to use those words to describe their services. One firm wrote: “Such use is and would be in derogation and violation of the First Amendment rights of third parties, who have a bona fide need to use such a generic term or phrase to accurately describe and reference their own similar services.” Candace withdrew her application and the TTAB entered judgment in favor of the opposers.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Candace’s experience is a good example of the problems with choosing a descriptive mark. Candace had a bright idea to brand herself by describing her services. But, her competitors needed to use those words to describe their services too.

  • IP BLAWG

    A Spoonful of No

    Beverly A. Berneman
    9/26/17

    Catchy phrases don’t always function as trademarks. Melissa Benson wanted to trademark her slogan “Still Spooning”. It appeared on her interesting mix of goods, flatware and fishing lures. Milk & Honey LLC, who sells houseware using the same trademark, opposed the registration. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board didn’t accept Milk & Honey’s objection based on Benson’s mark being merely a descriptive argument. But, the Board accepted Milk & Honey’s second argument that the words didn’t function as a mark. The Board looked at Benson’s specimens of use and determined that the consuming public would perceive the words as ornamental and reference to the engraving on the goods. So the opposition was sustained and the mark wasn’t registered.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Look at the photo accompanying this post. This is a good example of an ornamental use that (alone) is not trademark use. Not every designation that is used in connection with goods or services functions as a trademark. Words that are informational in nature, or that express support, admiration or affiliation don’t function as trademarks and so can’t be registered. There can be a fine line between functioning and not functioning as a trademark. So, each trademark has to be evaluated on its own basis.

  • IP BLAWG

    Splitting Up Isn't Easy for Trademarks

    Beverly A. Berneman
    9/5/17

    Business divorces can put trademarks in limbo. Devon Johnson and Latresa Moore launched the fashion and lifestyle magazine, PYNK, in 2011. It only took two years for the team’s relationship to sour. The parting of the ways was not all that simple. Johnson kept the magazine, but hasn’t posted new content for a long time. Moore set up her own ThinkPynk website and a Pynk Magazine Instagram feed. Johnson tried to trademark the word and design mark for “Pynk”. Moore opposed registration saying that she is a co-owner and Johnson can’t register the mark alone. The TTAB granted the opposition. The board said that it wasn’t possible to delineate what intellectual property and assets remained and with whom. Since Johnson could not show that he was the sole owner, he couldn’t register the marks.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The start of a business is a heady time as the founders launch the new venture. The last thing anyone wants to think about is planning for a split up. But ignoring the possibility shouldn’t be an option. Planning for the worst case scenario seems pessimistic, but it’s just good business. If the parties don’t plan, then like Johnson and Moore, they fight over the spoils when the parties are in an adversarial position. Then everyone loses. Moore will have trouble registering the marks because Johnson can claim joint ownership. Since the parties don’t appear to be getting along, valuable trademarks may be lost to both parties.

  • IP BLAWG

    Use It or Lose It

    Beverly A. Berneman
    8/22/17

    If you don’t use your trademark, someone else can claim priority over you. SPV Coach Company, Inc. filed a trademark application for ARMBRUSTER STAGEWAY in connection with vehicles, namely, customized limousines. Executive Coach Builders, Inc. opposed registration claiming that it had started using the mark before SPV and so had priority of use. The TTAB denied the opposition holding that Executive Coach had abandoned the mark. Further, Executive Coach couldn’t prove that it had any intent to resume use of the mark once it was abandoned. The TTAB cited Executive Coach’s lack of any documentary evidence and the inconsistent and contradictory testimony of its president to support the abandonment ruling. Executive Coach’s alleged use of the abandoned mark was isolated and de minimus. Executive Coach took no orders for branded vehicles. Executive Coach’s domain name didn’t identify the goods or services. Displays at Executive Coach’s plant merely showed historical and not current use of the trademark. So, SPV had priority because of its constructive use of the mark after Executive Coach’s abandonment.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. If a trademark isn’t used for 3 consecutive years, it is deemed abandoned. The presumption of abandonment can be overcome if the owner can prove intent to resume use. Executive Coach had two problems. First, SPV started using the mark after Executive Coach abandoned it. Second, Executive Coach couldn’t prove it intended to resume use of the abandoned mark. A trademark owner can avoid Executive Coach’s fate by never letting non-use go for more than 3 years. And during that period, at the very least, the owner should document marketing activity and other affirmative acts designed to resume use.

  • IP BLAWG

    Concurrent Use Agreement Holds Up

    Beverly A. Berneman
    8/8/17

    Similar trademarks can co-exist with the blessing of the TTAB. Bras for Cause, Iowa, Inc. tried to register BRAS FOR THE CAUSE for charitable fundraising services. Soroptimist International of Glendale California, CA opposed registration because it wanted to register BRAS FOR A CAUSE for the same types of services. In the end, the parties settled allowing each party to use their marks. The opposition proceeding became a concurrent use proceeding. At first, TTAB refused to accept the concurrent use agreement because of concerns that the parties would be offering similar services in potentially overlapping geographic territories. This would lead to marketplace confusion. The parties submitted a revised agreement that staked out their territories so there would be no overlap. TTAB accepted the revised agreement and both parties were allowed to proceed with restricted registrations.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Federal trademark law provides nationwide protection for a trademark; even if the trademark isn’t used everywhere in the U.S. As this case demonstrates, sometimes parties with the same or similar trademarks can stake out their territory and still get registrations. However, TTAB doesn’t rubber stamp these agreements. Trademark law still has an interest in minimizing confusion in the market place. So, concurrent use agreements have to be carefully drafted to make sure that the risk to confusion is relatively small.