Archive for April, 2020

Examining The Dupont Factors on a Case-by-Case Basis

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

Under §2(d) of the Lanham Act, marks that are confusingly similar may not be registered with the USPTO.  When it comes to determining likelihood of confusion, the examining attorney considers the Dupont Factors. Often, the first two: (1) The similarity or dissimilarity of the marks in their entireties as to appearance, sound, connotation and commercial impression. (2) The relatedness of the goods or services as described in the application and registration(s), hold the most weight. However, there is no precedent that states that the first two are the most important. All of the factors must be considered equally in light of the evidence provided in each case. In the case below, a decision made by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board was vacated and remanded by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, because the Board failed to consider all of the factors for which there was evidence.

In 2017, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the §2(d) refusal of the mark GUILD MORTAGE COMPANY for “mortgage banking services, namely, origination, acquisition, servicing, securitization and brokerage of mortgage loans.” (MORTGAGE COMPANY was disclaimed) Finding it confusingly similar with the registered mark GUILD INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT for “investment advisory services.” (INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT was disclaimed) In light of this, the Applicant appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC).  In 2019, The CAFC issued a decision that vacated and remanded the TTAB’s decision “for further proceedings consistent the [its] opinion.” The CAFC stated that the Board failed to address the applicant’s arguments and evidence related to the eighth Dupont Factor, which examines the length of time during and conditions under which there has been concurrent use without evidence of actual confusion.

In a 2020 precedential opinion, on remand from the CAFC, the Board issued a final decision in regard to the mark GUILD MORTGAGE COMPANY.  As instructed, the Board reexamined the case giving more consideration to the eighth Dupont Factor. Starting with the first factor, the Board found that the dominant term in both marks was “guild.” Therefore, it ultimately found that the similarities between the marks, in accordance with “guild(‘s)” dictionary definition and overall commercial impression, outweighed the differences in sight and sound. The Board found that the first Dupont Factor weighed in favor of a finding of likelihood of confusion. As to the second factor, which examines the parties’ involved services, submissions of third-party registrations covering both mortgage banking and investment advisory services were enough to convince the Board that the services are related. Moreover, in accordance with the third factor, the Board found that the same consumers who seek mortgage banking services may also seek investment advisory services. Therefore, the channels of trade and classes of consumers are likely to overlap. Moving to the fourth factor, which examines the degree of purchaser care, the Board made its determination in light of Stone Lion Capital, 110 USPQ2d at 1163, which states that the decision must be based on the least sophisticated consumer. Regardless, the Board found that “consumers may exercise a certain degree of care in investing money, if not perhaps in seeking a mortgage loan for which they simply wish to get funded.” In sum, the fourth factor weighed mildly against finding a likely confusion.

Finally, the Board turned to examine the factor for which the case was remanded, the eighth factor. This factor looks at the length of time during and conditions under which there has been concurrent use without evidence of actual confusion. The eighth Dupont Factor requires consideration of the actual market condition, as opposed to the other factors in this case that require analysis based on the application and cited registration and do not consider evidence of how the Applicant and Registrant actually rendered their services in the marketplace. Considering the actual market condition, both services were based in Southern California and operated there for approximately 40 years with no evidence of actual confusion. Not only did both parties conduct businesses in the same state, they ultimately expanded into other states as well. However, there was no evidence to indicate any specific geographical areas of overlap between the consumer markets for the different services. Ultimately, though the parties both conducted business in California, and potentially in some of the same states nationwide, there was not enough evidence to show that “in the actual marketplace, the same consumers have been exposed to both marks for the respective services…” In conclusion, the Board deemed the eighth Dupont Factor neutral and after balancing the other relevant factors, found confusion likely and affirmed the refusal to register under §2(d) of the Lanham Act.

Though the Board ultimately ended up at the same conclusion as it did in 2017, it may have turned out differently if both parties had been heard from. In an ex parte context, there was not an opportunity for the Board to hear from the Registrant in regard to whether or not it was aware of any reported instances of confusion. Since the Board was only able to get “half of the story,” it gave limited probative value to the evidence provided for the eighth factor. This case demonstrates that the weight of each factor varies on a case-by-case basis.


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