TTAB Decision for Likelihood of Confusion Case – MASTERRANCHER v. RANCH MASTER

In a 2020 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed a §2(d) refusal of registration on the Principal Register for True Value’s (Applicant) mark MASTER RANCHER, for footwear, as it so resembled the registered mark RANCHMASTER, for footwear as well.

The Board began its analysis of the two marks starting with the first Dupont Factor, the similarity or dissimilarity of the marks in their entireties as to appearance, sound, connotation and commercial impression. Citing Geigy Chem. Corp. v. Atlas Chem. Indus., Inc., 438 F.2d 1005, 169 USPQ 39, 40 (CCPA 1971), the Board focused on the “recollection of the average consumer, who normally retains a general rather than a specific impression of trademarks.” As both descriptions of the goods were “footwear,” the average purchaser is a general consumer.

Starting with the term MASTER, the Board found the Applicant’s mark MASTER RANCHER, was too similar to RANCHMASTER, and the transposition of the terms did nothing to change or create a new meaning, nor did the addition of the suffix “er” to the end of “Ranch.” The Applicant used the alternative definition of the term “master,” and defined it as “a man in charge of [a particular ranch].” It attempted to argue that this definition created a distinct difference in the meaning and commercial impression. However, the Board countered that the way in which it was used in the registered mark RANCHMASTER, may also possibly conjure the impression of a “greatly skilled or professional rancher,” with no contrary evidence.

In an attempt to further distinguish the mark, the Applicant asserted the term “master” was a house mark and claimed that the use of a house mark created a distinct commercial impression, and moreover, distinguished the mark in terms of appearance and sound. The Applicant made reference to five other marks in its appeal brief: MASTER MECHANIC, MASTER ELECTRICIAN, MASTER PLUMBER, MASTER PAINTER and MASTER TRADEMASMAN. Though the marks were referenced, no evidence was submitted to prove use of the marks, thus, the argument was empty. See In re Olin Corp., 124 USPQ2d 1327, 1335 n.22 (TTAB 2017), where the Board “declined to take judicial notice of registrations owned by applicant.”

The Applicant then asserted ownership of a family of MASTER-formative marks, but this argument failed for two main reasons. First, in order to prove the existence of a family of marks, an applicant must prove that the alleged family meets the following criteria: “(1) has a recognizable common characteristic; (2) that is distinctive and (3) that has been promoted in such a way as to create ‘recognition among the purchasing public that the common characteristic is indicative of a common origin of the goods or services.’” See J & J Snack Foods Corp. v. McDonald’s Corp., 932 F.2d 1460, 18 USPQ2d 1889, 1891 (Fed. Cir. 1991). The Applicant made no showing of any of the above criteria. Second, “a family-of-marks argument is not available to an applicant seeking to overcome a likelihood-of-confusion refusal.” See In re Cynosure, Inc., 90 USPQ2d 1644, 1645-46 (TTAB 2009).

In light of the above arguments, the Board found that the first Dupont Factor weighed in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion.

The Board briefly turned to the second and third Dupont Factors, the similarity or dissimilarity of the goods in connection with the marks, and the similarity or dissimilarity of the likely-to-continue trade channels. In analyzing these factors, the Board looked to the goods cited in the application and registration. The description for both sets of goods is “footwear,” therefore, since the description of the goods is identical, the Board presumed that the trade channels and purchasers were similar as well. Ultimately, these two Factors weighed very heavily in finding a likelihood of confusion.

Finally, the Applicant argued that its ownership of a prior registration of the mark MASTER RANCHER, for gloves, should provide a basis for registration. In citing  In re Strategic Partners, Inc., 102 USPQ2d 1397, 1399 (TTAB 2012), the Board noted, “[w[here an applicant owns a prior registration that is over five years old and the mark is substantially the same as in the applied-for application, this can weigh against finding that there is a likelihood of confusion.”

However, in the Strategic Partners case, the applicant’s existing registration coexisted with a cited registration for more than five years, and the goods in the prior registration were identical to those in the new registration. In this case, however, the Applicant’s prior registration was only two years old, and it was for gloves, not footwear, which moved it closer to the cited registration. Therefore, as opposed to the finding in Strategic Partners, the Board found that the Applicant’s prior registration did not negate the finding of a likelihood confusion between the Applicant’s mark, MASTER RANCHER and the registered mark RANCHMASTER.

In sum, the first three Dupont Factors weighed heavily in finding a likelihood of confusion, and the Applicant’s prior registration did not cancel this finding. Therefore, the Board affirmed the refusal to register under §2(d).

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