Booked that Title

    Beverly A. Berneman

    “Engirlneer” may be hard to pronounce. But once you know its message, it makes sense.

    Shannon DeVivo, a professional environmental engineer, wanted to encourage women and girls to seek careers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). So Shannon wrote a series of books titled “The Engirlneers”. The books also invite readers to visit www.engirlneer.com to “Learn how to become an Engirlneer”. The books and the website feature fictional female characters with interests in STEM-related fields.

    After Shannon’s website went live and the books became available for purchase, Celeste Ortiz filed an intent to use application to register ENGIRLNEER as a trademark for sweatshirts and shirts, cups and mugs, and lanyards.

    Shannon then filed two trademark applications to register the trademark for her books, advice services and educational website. She immediately filed an opposition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board”) to block Celeste’s application.

    The matter went to trial before the Board.

    Celeste had two major arguments. First, she argued that Shannon lacked standing to oppose Celeste’s trademark because Shannon hadn’t applied to register the mark before Celeste did. The Board found that the dates of Shannon’s trademark applications don’t control whether or not she had standing. The date of first use of the trademark controlled. So Shannon had standing.

    Celeste next argued that she wasn’t going to use the mark for a book or website so there’d be no likelihood of confusion with Shannon’s mark. The Board held that the marks are exactly the same and Celeste’s products tend to be the kind of collateral goods that a consumer would connect with Shannon’s works. So customers could be confused as to whether Shannon was the source of Celeste’s products.

    The Board sustained the opposition.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. This case brings up two really important things to remember about trademarks. First, trademark rights are based on use. That’s why Shannon’s date of first use of her clever Engirlneer trademark was so important to her ability to oppose Celeste’s registration. Even if Shannon hadn’t filed applications to register the mark at all, there’s a good chance she would have won the day anyway. That’s because anyone who feels that the registration of a trademark will interfere with their rights can oppose the registration. But it’s better not to take a chance and file your trademark application as soon as possible. Second, trademark rights can sometimes extend beyond the goods and services identified by the owner. This happens when goods or services are related to the ones identified in the owner’s application. In this case, the Board pointed out the relatedness between books and a website and collateral goods (e.g. wearing apparel) that a consumer would connect with books and a website.


    Lucky Brand Gets Lucky

    Beverly A. Berneman

    For about 20 years, Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc. has been battling Marcel Fashions Group, Inc. over their trademarks. The US Supreme Court finally ended Lucky Brand’s struggle. At least for now.

    Marcel received a trademark registration for “Get Lucky” for jeans. Lucky Brand received a trademark in “Lucky Brand”, also for jeans. Then the parties fought each other through three separate rounds of litigation over 20 years. The first round ended in a settlement in which Lucky Brand agreed not to use “Get Lucky” and Marcel released all claims. In the next round, when Marcel sued Lucky Brand, Lucky Brand brought up the settlement agreement in its pleadings but then didn’t address it again. Then there was the third round that ricocheted between the District Court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. At issue was whether Lucky Brand could assert the settlement agreement as a defense in the third round of litigation. The case ended up before the US Supreme Court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the Court, held even though Lucky Brand didn’t litigate the defense in the second round, Lucky Brand could still use the defense in the third round.

    The key to the decision was that Marcel was alleging different conduct in the second round than it did in the third round. Justice Sotomayor wrote, “[B]ecause the two suits here involved different marks and different conduct occurring at different times, they did not share a “common nucleus of operative facts.” However, if the third round of litigation involved the same nucleus of operative facts that had already been adjudicated Lucky Brand would not have been able to use the settlement agreement in its defense.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. When dealing with any type of lawsuit, a party can have a lot of different claims and defenses. Each of them should be addressed as completely as possible during the litigation. That’s because, generally, once an issue is raised and fully litigated, a party can’t try to re-litigate in a subsequent lawsuit. This is generally called “issue preclusion”. In the Lucky Brand case, the courts referred to it as “defense preclusion.” In the world of litigation, the effect would be the same. Lucky Brand wouldn’t be able to use the settlement agreement. But, if the same parties keep suing each other over different issues, claims and defenses may not be lost.


    Happy Holidays™ or ®?

    Beverly A. Berneman

    As the holiday season ramps up, a question arises. Can someone own a holiday trademark? Many have tried with various levels of success. The successful registrations don’t try to corner the market on holiday greetings. Here are some examples.

    Trademarks Using a Foreign Language: (As far as the USPTO is concerned, the foreign language version is treated the same as the English Translation).

    FELIZ NAVIDAD: Registered in 1997 for coffee beans and coffee drinks.

    JOYEUX NOEL: Registered in 2010 for candles and wicks for lighting scented candles.

    Connected to the Holiday:

    MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM HEAVEN: Registered in 2009 for jewelry and Christmas tree ornaments and decorations.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS - - IF APPLICABLE: Registered in 2010 for a website featuring personal greetings about Christmas.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS YA FILTHY ANIMAL: Registered in 2016 for Christmas tree ornaments and Christmas decorations.

    Clever Designs:

    MERRY X(CROSS) MASS (See Logo): Registered in 2014 for beer mugs, coffee cups and coffee mugs.

    HAPPY HANUKAH SHALOM (See Logo): Registered in 2012 for chocolate candy bars.

    Completely Unrelated Goods and Services:

    KWANZAA: Registered in 1994 for coffee.

    MEOWY CHRISTMAS: Registered in 2016 for t-shirts, sweaters, baby bodysuits and tank tops.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS YA LITTLE JERK: Registered in 2016 for shirts and sweaters.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS BITCHES: Registered in 2017 for clothing.

    KWANZAA KLAUS: Registered in 2018 for children’s toys.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The registration of these trademarks does not impede your ability to use holiday greetings as intended. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa and a Joyous New Year to all.


    Landlord’s Blind Eye Causes Sunglasses Burn

    Beverly A. Berneman

    Luxottica Group S.A. owns the trademark, Ray-Ban, and its subsidiary owns the trademark, Oakley, for sunglasses. The sunglasses are typically sold in malls, either in standalone stores or at kiosks. Yes Assets, LLC owns a mall in Georgia. It leases the mall to Airport Mini Mall LLC, which operates under the name “International Discount Mall”. The mall is an indoor space made up of about 130 booths for individual subtenants. A mall like this can be a good source of bargains for shoppers.

    According to Luxottica, International Malls’ subtenants were selling counterfeit Ray-Bans and Oakleys. International Mall was subject to three raids by law enforcement to execute search warrants. Subtenants were arrested and counterfeit goods were seized. Luxottica sent two letters to Yes Assets and Airport Mini Mall notifying them that their subtenants were not authorized to sell Luxottica’s eyewear and “that any mark resembling Ray-Ban or Oakley marks would indicate that the glasses were counterfeit.” Despite the raids, letters, and meetings with law enforcement, the landlords took no steps to evict the infringing subtenants.

    So, Luxottica sued the landlords for trademark infringement. The landlords defended the action asserting that they aren’t the infringers; their subtenants are. Luxottica won at the district court on the theory of contributory infringement. Luxottica made the case that the defendant-landlords had constructive knowledge of their subtenants’ infringing activities but willfully turned a blind eye to it. The subtenants relied on the services given to them by the defendant-landlords to continue their infringing activities. And the landlords could have exercised control over the subtenants’ infringing activities by evicting them. The jury verdict in the amount of $1.9 million dollars against the defendant-landlords was upheld on appeal.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Mere ownership of a property where an infringing act takes place normally isn’t a basis for a contributory infringement action. There has to be something more. Knowledge of the infringing activities and turning a blind eye to let it go on is “something more”. What’s a retail landlord to do? Make sure that the leases contain some essential terms. First, the tenant must make a representation and warranty that it will not engage in any type of intellectual property infringement or sell counterfeit goods. Second, the lease should provide for termination and eviction if the tenant violates the representation and warranty. Third, the landlord should move swiftly once it has notice of a breach of the representation and warranty. There’s no way that a landlord can always know if violations have happened. But, certainly receiving written notice from the owner of a trademark, raids, arrests and seizures are good signs that something untoward has occurred.


    Strike Out for Cubnoxious

    Beverly A. Berneman

    After the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016 (breaking a 108 year losing streak), Ronald Mark Huber filed an intent to use trademark application for the word “Cubnoxious”. The Chicago Cubs Baseball Club LLC opposed the application. The Cubs were able to establish that Ronald had no real intent to use the trademark in commerce. All he had was one sheet of paper showing potential imprints on t-shirts. He submitted a conclusory statement that he intended to use it in no specific geographic area and not specifically to target Cubs fans. He had no business plan, no marketing plan, no established business experience and no experience in the sports industry. It could have ended there but the Cubs also opposed the application on the basis of a likelihood of confusion. That’s where the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision in favor of the Cubs got fun.

    The Board examined the numerous ways that the Cubs use their Cubs trademarks in conjunction with other words. Then the Board found that Cubs fans could perceive “Cubnoxious” as coming from the Cubs and not some other source. The Board conceded that calling fans “obnoxious” isn’t very flattering. But the Cubs submitted compelling evidence that “sports teams or their fans may seek to provoke opposing teams and their fans, thereby embracing an offensive, or obnoxious reputation”. The Cubs argued that Cubs fans are notorious for their undying allegiance to the team and might see being called “obnoxious” as a badge of honor.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Putting aside the fun of the likelihood of confusion arguments, Ronald’s loss teaches a valuable lesson about what an ‘intent to use’ trademark application really is. A bona fide intent to use has to be something more than “at some point I’d like to use this trademark” which is all that Ronald proved. Ronald’s evidence (or lack thereof) worked against his alleged bona fide intent to use the trademark. Keep in mind that many intent to use applications are not tested as heavily as Ronald’s was. However, before filing an intent to use application, it’s a good idea to have at least sketched a plan of how the trademark is going to be used.


    Selling Tires Isn’t Like Building Bridges

    Beverly A. Berneman

    Express Oil Change used the service mark “Tire Engineers” for its tire sales, repair and maintenance services. The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors had a problem with that. According to the Board, no one can use the word “engineer” unless they are actually engineers and have registered for a license to practice engineering in Mississippi.

    Express Oil Change brought a declaratory judgment action against the Board. On appeal from summary judgment in the Board’s favor, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. In its opinion, the Court held that commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment. Anyone challenging commercial speech has to justify any restrictions. And the challenger has a heavy burden. The Board didn’t meet that burden. The Board tried to argue that Express Oil Change’s use of the word “engineer” was misleading. The Court rejected the argument for two reasons. First, the word engineer is generally defined as someone having technical skills and does not exclusively refer to a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, buildings or public works. Second, the essential character of how Express Oil Change used the word is not deceptive or misleading.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. What the Board failed to understand is that there’s a difference between holding yourself out as an engineer for engineering services and using the word “engineer” for marketing other types of services. Many professions are regulated for public policy reasons. For example, someone can’t call themselves a medical doctor without proper degrees and registrations. But someone can call their clock and watch repair business “The Clock Doctor” without having to register with a medical professional board. The essential character of using “doctor” for fixing clocks isn’t deceiving the public.


    An Oral Assignment Worth The Paper It’s Not Written On

    Beverly A. Berneman

    The famous movie producer, Sam Goldwyn, is credited with saying that “An oral contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”. The son of Bob Ross, the Joy of Painting icon, found out that there’s an exception to this rule.

    Bob Ross created a company, Bob Ross Inc., along with his wife and Walt and Annette Kowalski, two of their friends. There were no written assignments or other written agreements between Bob and the company. During Bob’s lifetime, the company registered his trademarks and managed his business. The company licensed Bob’s trademarks, his likeness and his name for the manufacture and sale of merchandise and collected the revenues. Bob also executed a trust that was administered by Bob’s brother. The trust had some language about the ownership of intellectual property. After Bob died, his son, Robert Stephen Ross, took over administering the trust and brought suit against the company alleging that the trust and not the company owned all of Bob’s intellectual property. The court entered summary judgment for the company. In granting summary judgment, the court held that it was clear that Bob wanted the right to his name and image to go to the company. He may not have formally assigned the rights on paper, but he did make a verbal grant and otherwise made his intentions clear.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS.  Bob and the company didn’t have anything in writing. Instead, the company proved years of custom and usage that the judge used as a substitute for a written agreement. But, these results are not typical. The lack of a written agreement can suffer from the passage of time which can cause divergent memories regarding the parties’ intentions. Don’t leave something as important as management of intellectual property to chance. Always choose a written agreement over an oral one.


    A Heroic Rescue for a Cocky Word

    Beverly A. Berneman

    With smoldering eyes, the beautiful and brave romance writers defended their realm. Faleena Hopkins is a self-published romance author of steamy romances with titles like, “Cocky Soldier: A Military Romance” and “Cocky Roomie”. Faleena’s company, Hop Hop Productions, Inc., registered two trademarks for the word “cocky” in relation to a series of romance novels. Faleena sent out cease and desist letters to other romance writers advising them that “cocky” has found its one true love and no one else can use the word in their book titles. In response to this attempt to keep the word “cocky” from its other true loves, a group of romance writers published a collection of short stories titled “Cocktales: The Cocky Collective”. Faleena filed suit to stop the publication. The Author’s Guild and the Romance Writers of America, rescued one of the defendants, author Tara Crescent, by paying the past due taxes on the plantation, I mean, paying her legal bills. The court denied Faleena’s motions for a preliminary and temporary restraining order against the protest work. The court held that the “cocky” marks were weak and customers would not be likely to be confused between Faleena’s books and other books using the word in their titles. On another note, a proceeding to cancel Faleena’s trademarks is now pending before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. So there may be a sequel to this romantic tale of the word “cocky”.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. A weak mark may be meaningful but is common in usage. It usually describes the product or service. Faleena’s experience shows how hard it is to enforce a weak trademark. When choosing a trademark, try to stay away from descriptive, weak marks. Choose fanciful, arbitrary or suggestive words instead.


    The Case of the Disappearing Discount

    Beverly A. Berneman

    Advertising a discount that disappears at point of purchase is a problem. A customer of Hobby Lobby, wanted to buy a picture frame. She believed she was getting a 50 percent discount on a photo frame due to an in-store sign stating "Photo Frames 50% OFF the Marked price.” Hobby Lobby didn’t honor the discount but instead pointed to disclaimer language that said, "DISCOUNTS PROVIDED EVERY DAY; MARKED PRICES REFLECT GENERAL U.S. MARKET VALUE FOR SIMILAR PRODUCTS." The customer brought a class action suit based on false advertising as well as other causes of action. Hobby Lobby’s motion to dismiss was denied. The court held that a reasonable consumer could have been misled despite the disclaimer language. So the suit will proceed.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. This is just one example of recent cases and settlements involving phantom discounts. Federal Trade Commission regulations and state laws govern advertising. The basics of proper advertising are pretty standard. Don’t use unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising. Advertising a price or a discount and then not honoring it falls squarely within prohibited conduct. Hobby Lobby’s disclaimer language didn’t excuse it from complying with the advertising rules.


    *!&% Trademarks

    Beverly A. Berneman

    The USPTO can no longer ban scandalous and immoral trademarks. Erik Brunetti wanted to register the word “FUCT” for his apparel line. The USPTO refused registration because the word sounded like a swear word. Erik appealed to the Federal Circuit. The appeals court overturned the ruling saying that the government’s rule against registering profane, sexual and otherwise objectionable language violates the First Amendment. Acknowledging that the government didn’t have a substantial interest in policing offensive speech, the Federal Circuit opined that the First Amendment “protects private expression, even private expression which is offensive to a substantial composite of the general public.”

    **WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. ** With this decision and the decision in the Slants case (“Bleeping Trademarks” Blawg post of 1/12/2016 and 3/29/2016), the courts have drawn the line in the sand regarding trademark choice. The USPTO is being told not to determine registrability of trademarks based upon whether something is offensive to a certain segment of the population. But the impression a trademark makes is very subjective. A trademark should always take the potential consuming audience into account. In this case, Erik’s market is the skateboarding crowd. To them, the jokey and offensive nature of the mark might be a good selling point. However, the same may not be true if Erik’s market was a more a sedate one, like banking for instance.


    Audit: The 4-Letter Word with 5-Letters

    Beverly A. Berneman

    The USPTO’s audit procedure sets up a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition. The owner of a registered trademark has to file a declaration of use between the 5th and 6th year after registration and then on every 10th anniversary of registration. The USPTO will conduct random audits of about 10% of the filed declarations of use. The USPTO’s audit system will maintain the integrity of the trademark registration system by insuring that a trademark is actually being used for the registered goods and services. If the trademark owner cannot provide sufficient specimens of use, the goods or services will be deleted from the trademark registration.

    **WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. **Over time, a trademark owner may drop or develop new goods or services. When it comes time to file maintenance and renewal documents, the specimens of use will change too. A trademark owner can avoid audit problems by conducting a detailed review of their registrations before filing maintenance and renewal documents. If product lines or services are no longer being offered, the maintenance and renewal documents should reflect the changes.


    Genericide Prevention

    Beverly A. Berneman

    Google avoided the ignominious fate of losing its trademark due to genericide. Trademark protection extinguishes when the trademark becomes interchangeable with the name of the product or service. This process is called “genericide”. Some famous examples of genericide are aspirin for pain reliever, cellophane for plastic wrap and thermos for a vacuum flask. Two people filed a proceeding with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel the Google trademark due to it having become a generic word for searching on the Internet. The TTAB denied the cancellation and the plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court affirmed the TTAB. The Court’s opinion stated that even though the public might use the term as a verb, the Google mark could still serve as a source identifier.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. When developing a brand, a company should set a policy for how a trademark will be used. Companies like Xerox and Kimberly-Clark zealously protect their brand names from genericide. Xerox’s policy requires references to “Xerox brand copiers”. Kimberly-Clark requires references to “Kleenex brand tissues”. Brand usage policies can also dictate consistent use of the color, size or content to make sure the brand sends a consistent message. No matter the size of the company or the fame of the brand, it’s never too early to set a branding policy.


    2016 IP Criminals Hall of Fame

    Beverly A. Berneman

    The year 2016 had its share of notable people who got the attention of federal criminal authorities. Here are the winners. As we enter awards season, we recognize those who put considerable time and effort into criminal activity involving Intellectual Property. The awards go to:

    Second Runner Up: Alanzo Knowles. Alanzo pleaded guilty in May 2016 to copyright infringement and identity theft charges. Originally from the Bahamas, Alanzo flew to New York City to sell 15 scripts and celebrity personal information for $80,000. Unfortunately for him, his buyer was a law enforcement agent. In jailhouse writings, Alanzo boasted that he was going to write a book to “shake up Hollywood”, presumably admitting that he was going to continue his nefarious activities. The judge was not amused. In doubling Alanzo’s sentence, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer stated “So far, the criminal justice system has totally failed to get your attention”.

    First Runners Up: Artashes Darbinyan and Orbel Hakobyan. Artashes and Orbel pleaded guilty in a mass-mailing scam that targeted owners of U.S. trademark applications. The men admitted to stealing approximately $1.66 million from registrants and applicants of U.S. trademarks. They are part of a growing number of scam artists who set up companies to dupe the unwary trademark owner. Using the USPTO public records, they send out official looking documents that demand anywhere from $750 to $4,500 to “protect the trademark”. In fact, these companies don’t do anything but collect the money. The USPTO has tried to address these non-USPTO solicitations for years by giving numerous warnings to trademark applicants and registrants. But the number of these scam artists continues to grow. Lucky, Artashes and Orbel are among the first scammers to be caught and convicted. For more information, visit https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/non-uspto-solicitations.

    Grand Prize: Paul Hansmeier and John Steele of the Prenda Law Firm. Paul and John were attorneys with the now-defunct Prenda Law Firm. They have been arrested and charged in an 18-count indictment that includes fraud, perjury, and money laundering counts.* According to the allegations, the Prenda attorneys created a ‘honey pot’ of porn movies that invited illegal downloads. When the downloads occurred, the firm filed copyright infringement suits. The plaintiffs were actually owned or controlled by Prenda. The suits named hundreds of defendants as John Does and listed their IP addresses. Using subpoenas served on the ISPs, the Prenda attorneys discovered the identity of the John Doe defendants. Once they discovered the identity of the defendants, the firm sent cease and desist letters demanding $4,000 or the firm would reveal in court papers the embarrassing fact that the defendant downloaded porn. The vast majority of the defendants paid the $4,000. No one knows exactly how much the Prenda Law Firm raked in, but estimates are anywhere from $1.9 million to $15 million. It all came crashing down when some of the defendants refused to pay the demand and hired lawyers to defend them. The lawyers discovered the scheme. There’s much more to the story including court ordered civil sanctions, perjured deposition testimony, the untimely death of one of the Prenda attorneys, and lost law licenses. For more on this story, visit http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/breaking-prenda-law-copyright-trolls-steele-and-hansmeier-arrested/.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Our Hall of Famers, each in their own way, tried to game the system. They used Intellectual Property protections for greed and exploitation. Here’s hoping that in the coming year, would-be IP criminals turn their considerable energy to making the world a better place for us all.

    • Note that for those who have been indicted, the Hall of Fame Award is not meant to make it appear that they have been convicted.

    Go Cubs Swag Go

    Beverly A. Berneman

    As the Cubs neared their historic World Series win, opportunists saw a way to cash in. Imagine if you will, it’s September 2016. Cubs are on their way to breaking a 108 year losing streak. The streets of Chicago are lined with euphoric fans. Tables full of Cubs merchandise are everywhere. Street vendors are encouraging fans (whether die hard or fair weather) to purchase logo branded merchandise to support the Cubs. But there’s a problem with this picture. Some of those vendors don’t have a license from the Cubs. So, their blue, red and white merchandise is counterfeit. The Cubs filed suit against 84 counterfeit vendors seeking an injunction. The suit was settled with a confidential settlement agreement and a permanent injunction. What isn’t confidential is that the vendors acknowledged that their products bear “substantially indistinguishable” or “confusingly similar” imitations of the Cubs’ marks. The vendors also admitted they have no legitimate right to use those marks.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The zeal to support your team must always be tempered with good sense and a respect for the Intellectual Property of others.


    Summer 2016 Update

    Beverly A. Berneman

    Sometimes, the last word isn’t really the last word. Here are some updates for previous posts:

    Browsing Isn’t a Virtual Handshake Deal (November 17, 2015). Since this post, another court has spoken on the unenforceability of on-line agreements. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a demand for arbitration based upon an alleged on-line click wrap agreement in Sgouros v. TransUnion Corp. The Court analyzed the user experience and determined that on-line customers were not sufficiently notified that their purchases were subject to a Services Agreement that included an arbitration clause “buried on page 8”.

    Apple v. FBI (February 23, 2016). Since this post, a third party came forward and helped the FBI unlock the IPhone. Keep in mind that the IPhone in question is an older model. Newer models of the IPhone have different encryption and security software.

    Fear the Walking Trademark Zombies (March 22, 2016). Since this post, Macy’s Department Stores has brought a motion for sanctions and damages against Strategic Marks. Macy’s alleges that the principal of Strategic Marks violated a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement by announcing “We won”. The moral of this story is (1) if you settle, you don’t win or lose; and (2) Don’t breach a confidentiality clause no matter how tempting.


    The New York Yankees Didn't Get the Joke

    Beverly A. Berneman

    The New York Yankees were not amused when someone tried to register parodies of its famous trademarks . IET Products thought it would be funny to register trademarks that parodied the New York Yankees longtime logo and catch phrase. IET replaced the bat on the logo with a syringe referring to alleged steroid use by the players. Not willing to stop there, IET also sought to register “The House that Juice Built” as a parody of the famous catch phrase “The House that Ruth Built” (meaning Babe Ruth for the initiated). The TTAB refused to allow registration of IET’s marks. The TTAB reasoned that IET wasn’t really interested in making commercial use of the marks because they were going to be used as an “ornaments” on IET’s goods.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. In honor of the opening of the 2016 baseball season, we discuss the parody of famous baseball trademarks. A parody of a trademark is not really a source or product identifier. Rather, it is a non-commercial use that comments on or makes fun of the original. So IET could probably still adorn T-shirts and baseball caps with its parodies. But, it can’t register the parodies as trademarks. Can the Yankee’s stop IET some other way? The TTAB addressed that issue even though it really wasn’t part of the proceedings. The TTAB surmised that if the Yankees brought a federal trademark dilution claim, IET may be able to use parody as a fair use defense.


    Fear the Walking Trademark Zombies

    Beverly A. Berneman

    If you don’t use your trademark, it could become a zombie.  Macy’s Department Stores has been absorbing local department stores and their trademarks for decades. Once Macy’s takes over, it rebrands the store. But, those old department store trademarks still exist in the minds of the consuming public. In other words, the dead trademarks became zombies. Seeing the marketing potential of zombie trademarks, Strategic Marks started selling T-shirts using them. Macy’s filed a trademark infringement suit against Strategic Marks and won. It helped that Macy’s hadn’t really abandoned most of the trademarks. It was using them in its “Heritage Collection”. In the end, the parties settled and Macy’s transferred some trademarks to Strategic Marks.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. If you stop using a trademark for more than 3 years, the law presumes that you abandoned it. Then someone can start using your trademark and get a free ride on the goodwill you established. If you stop using a trademark but intend to revive it in the future, there are steps you can take to escape the 3 year presumption. Of course, this isn’t a problem if the original owner is out of business or has no intention to revive the trademark. For instance, Leaf Brands revived “Hydrox” for cookies after it confirmed that the owner of the trademark had no interest in resurrecting the brand.


    Surprise Yosemite! Someone Else Owns Your Trademarks

    Beverly A. Berneman

    Someone registered the trademarks associated with Yosemite National Park and it wasn’t the National Park Service. How could that happen? Until recently, the National Park Service had a concessions contract with Delaware North Parks & Resorts Inc. to run Yosemite National Park attractions, including the Ahwahnee Hotel, the Wawona Hotel, Curry Village and Badger Pass. Delaware North lost the contract in an open bidding process. Delaware North filed suit claiming that the bidding process was unfair. Then Delaware North pointed out that one of its subsidiaries had registered the trademarks associated with Yosemite. Now Delaware North won’t let the National Park Service and the successful concessions contractor use the trademarks. The National Park Service has brought a proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board seeking cancellation of the registrations based upon “False Association”, “Abandonment” and “Dilution”.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS: This situation gives rise to a bunch of issues. First, and probably foremost, foundations, not-for-profit organizations, museums and parks can register trademarks just like everyone else. The National Park Service is probably kicking itself. Yosemite’s hotels and tourist destinations have been around for over 80 years. Why didn’t someone think to register the trademarks? Second, Delaware North may not have had a right to register those marks in the first place. Delaware North’s rights were specifically related to its concession agreement with no independent rights. The examining attorney in at least one trademark application questioned this. According to the National Park Service, Delaware North submitted redacted copies of the concession agreement to give the impression that Delaware North had a right to register the marks. Third, what good are those marks going to be to Delaware North now that it lost the concessions contract? How valuable can those trademarks be outside of Yosemite? One last thing, look carefully at the picture. The Wawona name is still on the hotel. This picture appeared on Yosemite’s website this weekend.