Likelihood of Confusion Case – TRUST THE PROCESS

In a 2021 precedential case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed a §2(d) refusal to register for the mark TRUST THE PROCESS for shoes and found it likely to cause confusion with the identical mark for shirts and sweatshirts.

The Board began its analysis of the 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. “Similarity in any one of these elements may be sufficient to find the marks confusingly similar.” In re Inn at St. John’s, LLC, 126 USPQ2d 1742, 1746 (TTAB 2018).

The Applicant, Joel Embiid, conceded that the marks were identical in appearance and sound but argued that confusion would be unlikely because his mark identifies him, and the Registrant’s, Marcus Lemonis, mark identifies him. He further reasoned that his mark would have a distinct connotation because he is a “famous NBA player, who’s known for his tagline ‘TRUST THE PROCESS’ and his nickname ‘THE PROCESS.’” Because of this, the Applicant argued that his mark would be synonymous with him and that his mark conveyed a commercial impression and connotation of “overcoming difficulties through perseverance and fortitude,” which was based on his own character. Finally, the Applicant argued that the marks were different since the Registrant’s goods (shirts and sweatshirts) were promotional items that supported the Registrant’s business advice and TV show, which had no connection to basketball or the Applicant. In citing In re Sears, Roebuck & Co., 2 USPQ2d 1312 (TTAB 1987) & In re British Bulldog, Ltd., 224 USPQ 854 (TTAB 1984); and In re Sydel Lingerie Co., 197 USPQ 629 (TTAB 1977)) the Applicant stated the marks differ in meaning because they “create sufficiently different commercial impressions when applied to the respective parties’ goods or services such that there is no possibility for confusion despite overlaps in the marks.”

After reviewing the evidence submitted, the Board found that even if both parties were known in their different professions as TRUST THE PROCESS, the evidence was insufficient to show that consumers would associate the mark TRUST THE PROCESS solely with the Applicant or Registrant for their respective goods or that they would be able to differentiate the source of the goods sold under the two marks based on their respective owners. Further, the Board found that there was no reason to assume that the mark TRUST THE PROCESS would have one meaning in connection with the Applicant’s goods (shoes) and a different or secondary meaning in connection with the Registrant’s goods (shirts and sweatshirts) given their similar nature. In that fashion, the Board found the marks to be identical in appearance, sound, connotation and commercial impression, and stated, “The first DuPont factor weighs heavily in favor of a likelihood of confusion.”, 123 USPQ2d at 1748 (quoting In re Majestic Distilling Co., 315 F.3d 1311, 65 USPQ2d 1201, 1204 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

The Board then moved onto the second DuPont factor, which pertains to the similarity or dissimilarity of the goods and examined the relatedness of the goods at hand. “[B]ecause the marks are identical, the degree of similarity between the goods . . . required for confusion to be likely declines.” DeVivo v. Ortiz, 2020 USPQ2d 10153, at *11 (TTAB 2020). The Applicant first argued that the “goods are not even complementary or companion items that would be sold together.” Second, he argued that given both his fame and the Registrant’s fame, it would not be likely for consumers to purchase their respective goods without being aware of the source. “Therefore, consumers will be very familiar with the source of the goods prior to purchase, as they are buying the goods to show their support [of] Marcus Lemonis or Joel Embiid as the source of the respective goods, ensuring confusion will not result.”  The Board stated “we must presume that Applicant’s “shoes” and Registrant’s “shirts and sweat shirts” include “all goods of the type identified, without limitation as to their nature or price,” Sock It to Me, 2020 USPQ2d 10611, at *8. This presumption was made since neither the Applicant’s nor Registrant’s registration identified any limitations regarding the nature of the identified goods, their trade channels or consumer classes. The Board went on to say that if the parties had tailored their applications, it would have made a significant difference in the analysis. So, because of this, the Board found that “those ubiquitous, everyday products ‘are offered to all the normal potential consumers for those goods, which would include not only’ Applicant’s fans and fans of Registrant’s television show, ‘but all members of the general public.’” New Era Cap Co. v. Pro Era, LLC, 2020 USPQ2d 10596, at *16 (TTAB 2020). In conclusion, the Board stated, “The record as a whole is more than sufficient to convince us that ‘shoes,’ and ‘shirts and sweat shirts,’ are related, particularly given the reduced degree of similarity between the goods that is necessary for confusion to be likely arising from the fact that they are sold under identical marks,” and found that the second DuPont factor weighed in favor of finding confusion likely.

Finally, the Board turned its attention to the third DuPont factor, which looks at the channels of trade and classes of consumers. It found that given the nature of the goods, which were “marketed to the general population,” they were considered general consumer goods. Moreover, the record showed that both shoes and shirts were sold together on clothing websites and have been registered under a single mark by multiple apparel businesses. So, the Board found that both elements “plainly overlap[ped],” and found that the third DuPont factor supported a finding of likelihood of confusion.

In conclusion, the Board affirmed the §2(d) refusal to register based on the first three DuPont factors. It stated that based on the record as a whole, the Applicant’s mark TRUST THE PROCESS so resembled the Registrant’s mark TRUST THE PROCESS that when used in connection with their respective identified goods it would be likely for the marks to “cause confusion, to cause mistake or to deceive.”

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