Another Case Involving Likelihood of Confusion

March 28th, 2020

In keeping with the likelihood of confusion theme, this post will detail another case where a mark was refused under §2(d) of the Lanham Act. Like the previous case, the examining attorney along with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board both used the Dupont Factors to determine whether the marks were confusingly similar.

In a 2020 non-precedential decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration for the mark JUSTICE NETWORK. The Board agreed that the mark was confusingly similar to JUSTICE CENTRAL. Both parties used their marks for various forms of television programming. The Board started with the second Dupont Factor which focuses on the similarity of services provided. While both parties used their marks for various forms of programs, the opposer, and owner of the mark JUSTICE CENTRAL, used the mark for a narrower scope of programming consisting of “programs in the field of law and courtroom legal proceedings.” However, the applicant, and owner of JUSTICE NETWORK, did not specify the range of programs offered, therefore there was overlap in the parties’ services and the Board found the services to be “legally identical.” Next, the Board moved onto the first Dupont Factor which is the similarity of the marks. Ultimately, the Board found the two marks, JUSTICE CENTRAL and JUSTICE NETWORK, similar and therefore the first Dupont Factor weighed in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion. In examining the first factor, the Board started with the term justice, which is the dominant word in both marks. The Board stated, “[c]onsumers in general are inclined to focus on the first word or portion in a trademark.” Equally important, the Board concluded that the term network was highly descriptive, if not generic and therefore “has less source-identifying significance and is clearly subordinate.” In finding this, the Board discredited any differences between the two terms “network” and “central.” The opposer, and owner of the mark, JUSTICE CENTRAL, argued the seventh, eighth and ninth Dupont Factors as well. The seventh being the fame of the prior mark, the eighth being the nature and extent of any actual confusion and the ninth being concurrent use. In regard to the seventh factor, the Board found very little compelling evidence from either side and deemed both the eighth and ninth factors neutral. Turning back to the first two factors, the Board found that the marks gave the “same overall impression” and the parties’ offered “overlapping services offered in the same trade channels to the same classes of customers.” In summation, the Board sustained the opposition and affirmed the refusal for registration.

Likelihood of Confusion Case

March 15th, 2020

In the post on likelihood of confusion, the Dupont Factors were discussed. Though there are nine factors, not all of them are relevant or applicable in every case. The first two factors are the most important across the board. After taking them into consideration, an examining attorney will look to the remaining factors in order to support a finding of likelihood of confusion. If there is enough evidence to support such a finding, a mark may be deemed unregistrable with the USPTO under §2(d) of the Lanham Act. The following is a case that was taken before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board on the grounds of likelihood of confusion.

In a 2020 non-precedential decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration for the mark HARDROK EQUIPMENT INC. for “distributorship services in the field of industrial machinery and parts therefor in the mineral and aggregate industries” (EQUIPMENT INC. disclaimed). The Board found confusion to be likely with the previously registered mark HARDROCK for “rock drills, drill bits, and other drilling equipment.” Turning to the first factor in the Dupont Factors, the Board found that the two marks are “quite similar in appearance, sound, and connotation and commercial impression when considered in their entireties.” In that manner, the first factor was satisfied. The second factor, relating to the relatedness of the goods and services, is examined based on what was described in the registration and application. The Board concluded that even though the applicant and the cited registered mark owner did not have identical goods, “they substantially overlap, which weighs in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion.” Therefore, the second factor was satisfied. The applicant then cited the fourth factor: The conditions under which and buyers to whom sales are made, i.e., “impulse” vs. careful, sophisticated purchasing. In this case, the fourth factor supported a finding that confusion was not likely, however, the first two factors are the most heavily considered. Simply because other factors may be relevant or applicable, does not mean they outweigh the first two. In summation, the Board found that “[s]ophistication of buyers and purchaser care are relevant considerations but are not controlling on this factual record.” So, the Board affirmed the §2(d) refusal for registration.

Likelihood of Confusion

March 15th, 2020

As discussed in a much earlier post, it is important to select a strong trademark. The purpose of a trademark is to distinguish an owner’s goods and services from another’s goods or services. Since the purpose of a trademark is to act as a source indicator, it is important that two trademarks are not so similar, that the consuming public believes them to be related, or confuses them, this is known as likelihood of confusion. Under §2(d) of the Lanham Act, marks that are found to be confusingly similar are unregistrable with the USPTO.

When determining likelihood of confusion, the key factors an examining attorney relies on are known as the Dupont Factors. The two most important factors to consider are: (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).  When looking at these two factors, the order in which they are considered is important, because the more similar the marks are, the less related the goods or services need to be in order to support a finding of likelihood of confusion.  The following are the remaining seven factors that should be considered if applicable and relevant: (3) The similarity of established, likely-to-continue trade channels. (4) The conditions under which and buyers to whom sales are made, i.e., “impulse” vs. careful, sophisticated purchasing. (5) The number and nature of similar marks in use on similar goods. (6) The existence of a valid consent agreement between the applicant and the owner of the previously registered mark. (7) Fame of the prior mark. (8) Nature and extent of any actual confusion. (9) Concurrent use without evidence of actual confusion: length of time and conditions. It is important to note that not all of these factors will be applicable in every case.

When determining likelihood of confusion, the standard is confusingly similar. Two marks need not be identical to support a finding of likelihood of confusion. This means that a new mark may be confusingly similar to a previously registered mark even if it is not identical. There is no guarantee that changing or removing portions of a new mark will make it sufficiently distinguishable and therefore registrable with the USPTO.

Registration Refusals for Geographically Deceptive Marks

March 7th, 2020

The previous post discussed marks that are geographically deceptive. Marks that are primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(3) and those that are deceptive under §2(a) are the same. Therefore, marks that are primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive of goods or services are considered deceptive and deemed unregistrable with the USPTO under §2(e)(3) of the Lanham Act.  There is a three-prong inquiry to determine whether a mark is primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive in connection with the goods for which it is being used: (1) The primary significance of the mark is a generally known geographic location; (2) The goods do not come from the place named in the mark, but the relevant public would be likely to believe that the goods originate there; and (3) The misrepresentation is a material factor in the purchaser’s decision to buy the goods in question.  Following is an example of a geographical deceptiveness refusal which was affirmed by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

In a 2020 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration of the geographically deceptive mark EMPORIO ITALIA, for “bedsheets; pillowcases; comforters; bedspreads,” finding the mark to be primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive. The applicant made two non-compelling arguments that the Board quickly dismissed. The applicant first argued that the mark merely suggested goods of high quality or style, and second, due to the high price of Italian bedding, only a select number of consumers would make the connection between Italy and bedding.  Before applying the three-prong analysis to determine whether or not a mark is primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive, and therefore unregistrable under §2(e)(3) of the Lanham Act, the Board determined that the doctrine of foreign equivalents applied in this case, where the mark, EMPORIO ITALY translated into EMPORIUM ITALY. The Board found that not only would Italian-speakers stop and translate the mark, but also, “non-Italian speaking American consumers would readily perceive the mark as ‘Emporium Italy’ because the English translation is substantially similar in appearance and sound to Applicant’s mark EMPORIO ITALY.”

Starting with the first prong of the inquiry the Board found that, when considering the mark in its entirety, the primary significance of EMPORIO ITALIA is the generally known geographic location, Italy.  The examining attorney provided internet and gazetteer evidence showing that bedding and textiles are among Italy’s main exports. In submitting such evidence, he met the initial burden of establishing a goods/place association between the applicant’s goods and the generally known location, Italy. The applicant argued that his mark was “suggestive, arbitrary, or fanciful, such as when a geographic mark may indicate that a product is stylish or of high quality, i.e. HYDE PARK or NANTUCKET for clothing, and FIFTH AVENUE for a car.” The Board did not accept the reasoning

The second prong of the inquiry considers whether the relevant public would be likely to believe that the goods originate from the location identified in the mark, though they do not. This prong was satisfied with the applicant’s statement that the goods will originate from India. “The goods are not and will not be manufactured, packaged, shipped from, sold in or have any other connection with the geographic location named in the mark.”  Therefore, given this statement and the satisfaction of the first prong, it is likely that relevant consumers would believe the goods originated from the place identified in the mark. The third and final prong of the test, which questions the materiality of the misrepresentation, was satisfied as well. The Board said, “We infer from this evidence that a substantial portion of customers in the market for ‘bedsheets; pillowcases; comforters; bedspreads’ will be motivated to purchase Applicant’s goods because of the mistaken belief that the goods originate in Italy.”  In light of the evidence provided, the Board affirmed the refusal for registration under §2(e)(3) of the Lanham Act.

Geographically Deceptive Marks

March 7th, 2020

An earlier post discussed deceptive marks, marks that may not be registered with the USPTO under §2(a) of the Lanham Act. This post will discuss marks that are geographically deceptive, which may not be registered on the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register.

There are four elements of a §2(e)(3) refusal under the Lanham Act: (1) The primary significance of the mark is a generally known geographic location (2) The goods or services do not originate in the place identified in the mark (3) Purchasers would be likely to believe that the goods or services originate in the geographic place identified in the mark (4) The misrepresentation would be a material factor in a significant portion of the relevant consumers’ decision to buy the goods or use the services.

In regard to the first three elements, the determination of whether the primary significance of the mark is a generally known location can be made “by showing that the mark in question consists of or incorporates a term that denotes a geographical location which is neither obscure or remote.” See In re Sharky’s Drygoods Co., 23 USPQ2d 1061, 1062 (TTAB 1992). For this element, the inquiry is whether the term at issue is primarily geographic respective to the mark, not whether the geographic reference dominates the mark. Thereafter, the focus shifts to the fourth element: determining materiality – whether a known or possible misdescription in the mark would affect a substantial portion of the relevant consumers’ decision to purchase the goods or services.

When it comes to determining materiality, which must be established to prove a geographic term is primarily deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(3) of the Act, or deceptive under §2(a), the tests differ slightly between determining materiality in cases involving goods, and those involving services.  To establish the materiality portion for goods, the evidence must show that: (1) The place named in the mark is famous as a source of the goods at issue, (2) The goods in question are a principal product of the place named in the mark; or (3) The goods are, or are related to, the traditional products of the place named in the mark, or are an expansion of the traditional products of the place named in the mark.

In terms of determining materiality in cases involving goods, the Board has stated that it “looks to evidence regarding the probable reaction of purchasers to a particular geographical term when it is applied to particular goods.” Evidence to establish a basis for materiality may be found on places such as third-party websites and magazine/gazetteer entries. If the evidence shows that the geographic area named in the mark is sufficiently known to lead purchasers to make a goods/place association, yet the record does not show that the relevant goods are a principal product of the location, the deception will likely be found not material. However, deception will most likely be found to be material if the relevant, or related goods, are a principal product of the geographic location named in the mark. Where locations that are “famous,” “renowned,” “well-known,” or “noted for” goods are in the mark, the location is clearly material.

Determining materiality in services is similar to the process used when determining the materiality in goods. However, when it comes to cases involving services, simply showing that the geographic location named in the mark offers a service is not sufficient, except for in cases where it rises to the level of fame. This quantifier is especially true when dealing with restaurant services. When customers attend a restaurant, they are aware of the location of the services and are less likely to associate the services with the place identified in the mark. However, if a customer sitting in a restaurant in one location would believe that: (1) The food came from the place named in the mark; or (2) The chef received specialized training in the place identified in the mark; or (3) The menu is identical to a known menu from the geographic location named in the mark. Regarding the question of fame, it can heighten the association between the services and the geographic location identified in the mark, which then raises the possibility of deception or materiality in the service mark, the location is material.  The Federal Circuit stated that “the record might show that customers would patronize the restaurant because they believed the food was imported from, or the chef was trained in, the place identified by the restaurant’s mark. The importation of food and culinary training are only examples, not exclusive methods of analysis…” See Les Halles De Paris, 334

Genericness Cases

March 7th, 2020

The previous post discussed generic marks, which are the weakest type of mark on the Spectrum of Distinctiveness. Generic marks are not registrable on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register. A mark is considered generic if the mark is comprised wholly, or partially of a term(s) that the public primarily associates with a genus of goods or services.

Below, are two recent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decisions affirming refusal for registration under §§ 2(e)(1) and 2(f) of the Lanham Act:

In a 2019 precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration of the generic mark MALAI, for ice cream. The Board ultimately found that the relevant public would understand the term MALAI to refer to a critical part of “ice cream, gelato, dairy-free ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen desserts, ice cream sandwiches, sorbet, freezer pops and ice cream sundaes.” The Board applied the two-part inquiry set forth in H. Marvin Ginn Corp. v. Int’l Ass’n of Fire Chiefs, Inc., 782 F .2d at 990, 228 USPQ at 530 (Fed. Cir. 1986) to determine whether or not a mark is generic. For the first part of the inquiry, asking what the genus of the goods or service at hand is, there was no argument that the applicant’s identification of his goods satisfied this prong. In this case, the relevant consuming public consists of ordinary consumers who eat and purchase ice cream and equivalent products. The Board then looked at the second prong of the inquiry that asks how the relevant public perceives the term MALAI in the context of the applicant’s goods. Supporting evidence for genericness, included a dictionary definition of the term and a Wikipedia entry for “Ras Malai” as a kind of dessert as well as several articles, recipes and internet materials that identified the term as a cream.  Both pieces of evidence showed that the word MALAI “is commonly used in the English language as a genus of rich, high-fat creams commonly used in Indian and South Asian culinary dishes, especially dishes with a sweet taste.” The Board agreed with the examining attorney that the evidence showed that “malai” has its own English meaning for cream as a cooking ingredient. The Board agreed that there is no hard-and-fast rule the name of any ingredient in a product would be considered generic, but in this specific case, the public comprehends the ingredient name “to refer to a key aspect or sub-category of the genus of the goods, it is generic for those goods;” see Royal Crown, 127 USPQ2d at 1046; see also In re Empire Tech. Dev. LLC, 123 USPQ2d 1544 (TTAB 2017). In light of this, the Board affirmed the refusal to register on the Supplemental Register under §23 of the Lanham Act.

In a 2020 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration of the generic mark FIDGET CUBE on the Supplemental Register, for “stress relief exercise toys.” (Note that FIDGET was previously disclaimed.) The Board found that the term was a “generic name of the subgenus or subcategory of Applicant’s identified goods.” As a main defense, the applicant argued that he was the first user of the term FIDGET CUBE. However, the fact that no third-party registrant had used the term, does not negate a finding of genericness. The examining attorney submitted dictionary definitions of equivalent words, third-party registrations disclaiming “fidget,” and Internet product reviews, online retailer advertisements and online articles referring to “fidget cubes.” The Board remarked that there was no ban on evidence taken from Internet forums or blogs. The Board then turned to evidence that showed the term FIDGET CUBE generic for a type of stress-relieving toy. In a final, and unconvincing, argument, the applicant attempted to argue that there were other names for the type of product, including terms such as “fidget dice, infinity cube, fidget box, stress cube, stress block and dodecahedron.” In light of these alternative names, the applicant rationalized that there was no need for competitors to use the term FIDGET CUBE to describe their products. The Board was quick to remind the applicant that there can be more than one generic term for a particular genus of goods or services. In summation, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal to register under §23 and §45 of the Lanham Act.

Generic marks may not be registered on the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register in any case. If the mark is comprised wholly, or in part, by generic material, where the generic term(s) retain significance to the relevant public, the mark is generic. When conducting the two-part inquiry, an examining attorney must look at the mark as a whole. Unlike other marks on the Spectrum of Distinctiveness, generic marks cannot acquire distinctiveness, nor can an applicant argue first use as an immunization against genericness.

Generic Marks

March 7th, 2020

As discussed in an earlier article, under the Spectrum of Distinctiveness, there are five distinct types of marks. The weakest type of mark is a generic mark. These are terms that the relevant purchasing public understands foremost as the common identification for goods or services. Under §§1,2 and §45 of the Lanham Act a generic term may never be registered on the Principal Register, nor may it be registered on the Supplemental Register under §§23(c) and 45. Generic words are incapable of functioning as source identifiers.  The purchasing public will never come to associate the generic term for just one source of goods or services.

A mark may be deemed as generic if its primary connotation to the relevant public is the class or category of goods or services on or in connection with which it is used. In determining genericness, the relevant public refers to the consuming public for the identified goods or services. H. Marvin Ginn Corp. v. Int’l Ass’n of Fire Chiefs, Inc., 782 F .2d at 990, 228 USPQ at 530 (Fed. Cir. 1986) sets forth a two-part inquiry to determine whether a mark is generic: (1) What is the genus of goods or services at issue? (2) Does the relevant public understand the designation primarily to refer to that genus of goods or services? When looking at the second portion of the test, the inquiry is not asking whether or not the relevant public uses the term to refer to the genus, but whether or not the relevant public would understand the term to be generic.

In applying the two-part inquiry, the examining attorney bears the burden of proving that the term is generic. This evidence may be gathered from including dictionary definitions, research databases, newspapers and other publications. When determining whether or not a term is generic, it is not relevant that there may be more than one generic term for a particular category of goods or services. Any term that the relevant public understands to refer to the category is considered generic.

A generic mark is not limited to one-word designations, the two-part inquiry is the same for compound terms and phrases. If possible, the examining attorney should include evidence showing the use of the mark as a whole. Yet, if there is no evidence of third-party use of the exact compound term or phrase, that does not, alone, negate a finding of genericness for a particular mark.  An examining attorney may find that a mark comprised of a compound or shortened term is generic by showing evidence that each portion of the mark is generic and that when joined, each portion of the mark retains its generic meaning. In re WM. B. Coleman Co., Inc. 93 USPQ2d 2019 (TTAB 2010) the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the finding that ELECTRIC CANDLE COMPANY was merely the combination of two generic terms put together to create a compound mark. As stated above, if both portions of the term retain their generic significance, then the mark may be deemed generic.

Aside from compound and telescoped words, mnemonic telephones numbers and Internet domain names are studied as well. In regard to mnemonic telephone numbers, an examining attorney must show that the relevant public would perceive the mark as a whole to have a generic significance. In reference to Internet domain names, an examining attorney must determine whether or not all parts of the name, including the Internet domain name, are generic, and if in sum, the mark itself is generic. In certain isolated instances, the addition of a top-level domain indicator (“TLD”) may make an otherwise generic mark, distinct. An example of this is In re Steelbuilding.com, 415 F .3d 1293, 1299, 75 USPQ2d 1420, 1423 (Fed. Cir. 2005). In this case, the Federal Circuit reversed the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision that STEELBUILDING.COM was generic for “computerized on-line retail services in the field of pre-engineered metal buildings and roofing systems.” In this rarified instance, the Court chastised the Board for looking at each piece of the mark individually, but not as a whole. When adding the “TLD” it expanded the meaning of the mark beyond that of just selling steel buildings. With the addition of the “TLD,” the mark took on the meaning of internet services as well, including beforehand modeling’s of the buildings and price calculations. This again reinforces the notion that the relevant public must take the entire mark to have generic significance, therefore an examining attorney must focus on the mark as a whole, rather than multiple generic components.

As stated by the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP), the expression “generic name for the goods or services,” is not contained to noun forms, but also captures “generic adjectives” as well; see Sheetz of Del., Inc. v. Doctor’s Assocs. Inc., 108 USPQ2d 1341 (TTAB 2013) which held FOOTLONG generic for sandwiches, excluding hotdogs. In a comparable manner, evidence that shows a singular form of a term to be generic can suffice to demonstrate that the plural is also generic.

In conclusion, generic marks are the weakest types of mark and may not be registered with the USPTO either on the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register. A mark may be deemed generic whether it is comprised of a phonetically spelled term, multiple generic terms, mnemonic telephone numbers, Internet domain names or generic adjectives. An examining attorney must use the two-part inquiry to determine whether a mark is generic, and the mark must be examined as a whole. If, as a whole, the mark retains its generic significance to the public, it may be considered generic, and therefore unregistrable on either the Principal Register under §§1,2 and §45 of the Lanham Act or the Supplemental Register under §§23(c) and 45 of the Lanham Act.

The End of the Disparagement Clause

February 8th, 2020

Under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, there are certain types of marks that may never be registered with the USPTO. Last week, one of the posts discussed deceptive marks, under Section 2(a), which is one type of mark that may not be registered. Under 15 U.S.C. §1052(a) other marks that may not be registered include those which consist or are comprised of “immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute; or a geographical indication which, when used on or in connection with wines or spirits, identifies a place other than the origin of the goods …”

The Disparagement Clause was brought into question in the case Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017).  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Disparagement Clause violates the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause and that it is no longer a valid ground on which to refuse registration or cancel a registration.

In 2015, Simon Tam applied to register his trademark THE SLANTS for the name of his Asian-American band. The registration was denied under §2(a) of the Lanham Act because it was considered disparaging to those of Asian descent. When determining whether or not a mark is potentially disparaging, an examining attorney conducts a two-prong test, (1) The likely meaning of the mark at issue and, “if that meaning is found to refer to identifiable persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols,” the examining attorney will move to the second part of the test, (2) “Whether that meaning may be disparaging to a substantial composite of the referenced group …” If the examiner finds that a “substantial composite, although not necessarily a majority, of the referenced group would find the proposed mark…to be disparaging in the context of contemporary attitudes,” a prima facie case for disparagement is created. At that point, it is the applicant’s burden to prove that the trademark is not disparaging.

Tam argued that he was using the mark to “reclaim” and “take ownership” of stereotypes about people of Asian ethnicity. Regardless, his mark was denied, and he appealed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that affirmed the refusal for registration. Ultimately, Tam appealed to the Supreme Court that concluded that the Disparagement Clause was unconstitutional. The majority found that the clause: “engages in viewpoint-based discrimination, regulates the expressive component of trademarks, and consequently cannot be treated as commercial speech and that the clause is subject to and cannot satisfy strict scrutiny.”(Citation omitted) Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said: “We have said time and again that ‘the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.’”

In Matal the central issue was how the public would perceive the potentially offensive mark. While Tam’s goal was to “reclaim” the disparaging phrase, the USPTO originally denied the trademark registration because it was worried that instead of helping dissolve the negative connotation of the term “slant,” it would have the opposite effect for those who identified as Asian American. Something of note that this case has brought to light, is the portion of the two-prong disparagement test which says, “…to be disparaging in the context of contemporary attitudes.” In 2017, 71 years after the Disparagement Clause was written, contemporary attitudes may be shifting and by finding the Disparagement provision a violation of the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause, it can potentially help in contributing to a more liberal marketplace of ideas.

One of the most immediate and potent effects of the Supreme Court’s official ban on the Disparagement Clause under §2(a) of the Lanham Act, was in regard to the Washington Redskins football team. The Washington Redskins, founded in 1932, was originally named the Boston Braves until they relocated to Washington, D.C. and took on their current moniker in 1933. Between 1967 and 1990, the USPTO registered six trademarks affiliated with the Washington Redskins, each trademark containing the term REDSKIN. Since 1992, the registrations, the previous team owners and current owner, Dan Snyder, have been in constant legal battle with Native American groups who’ve opposed the name and contended that it is in fact disparaging. In 2015, a federal judge canceled the trademark registrations and revoked their trademark protections. However, in light of the 2017 Matal decision, in 2018,  the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the decisions that had previously canceled the Washington NFL team’s federal trademark registrations.

In wake of the Matal decision, the portions of the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) §1203, that specifically apply to the disparagement provision no longer apply. The USPTO Examination Guide 01-17  provides examination guidance after Matal v. Tam for the Disparagement Clause and was issued on June 26, 2017. The guide states: “Applicants that received an advisory refusal under the disparagement provision and were suspended pursuant to Examination Guide 01-16 will be removed from suspension and examined for any other requirements or refusals. If an application was previously abandoned after being refused registration under the disparagement provision, and is beyond the deadline for filing a petition to revive, a new application may be filed.”

After the official barring of the Disparagement Clause, another trademark case, Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019), was heard before the Supreme Court. The trademark, FUCT,  was previously deemed unregistrable under §2(a) which bars registration of marks that consist of or comprise immoral or scandalous matter.   On June 24, 2019, the Supreme Court held that the Scandalous Clause violates the First Amendment of the Constitution because it “impermissibly restricts free speech.” Much like the Disparagement Clause, the Supreme Court held that the scandalous provision was unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause because it was facially viewpoint-based. On July 3, 2019, the USPTO issued Examination Guide 2-19 which provides guidance for §2(a)’s Scandalous Marks Provision after Iancu v. Brunetti. The Examination Guide states: “that a mark may consist of or comprise “immoral” or “scandalous” matter is no longer a valid ground on which to refuse registration or cancel a registration.”  As stated by the Harvard Law Review, “If other provisions are invalidated due to their content-based nature, there will be little left for the government to use as a basis for restricting trademarks.” 133 Harv. L. Rev. 292 (2019)

 

Deceptiveness Cases

February 8th, 2020

The last post covered deceptive marks, which are marks that are unregistrable under §2(a) of the Lanham Act. The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure specifies that “Neither a disclaimer of the deceptive matter nor a claim that is has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) can obviate a refusal under §2(a) on the ground that the mark consists of or comprises deceptive matter.”  A deceptive mark can be a single deceptive term, a deceptive term within a composite mark which also features non-deceptive elements or a term or portion of a term that suggests a deceptive quality, characteristic, function, composition or use. Deceptive marks can also be marks that falsely portray the material content of a product and marks that are geographically misdescriptive.

As discussed in the post on deceptive marks, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit created a three-prong test to determine whether or not a mark may be deceptive and therefore unregistrable under §2(a) of the Act; see In re Budge Mfg. Co., 857 F.2d 773, 775, 8 USPQ2d 1259, 1260 (Fed. Cir. 1988). If a mark meets the first two prongs of the test, it may be considered deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act. If a mark satisfies all three prongs of the test, it may be considered deceptive. If an examining attorney has found a mark to be deceptive, and therefore unregistrable with the USPTO, an applicant may go before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board on appeal. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board will either affirm the refusal for registration or reverse the decision in favor of the applicant. Below are two recent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decisions affirming refusal for registration under §2(a) of the Lanham Act:

In a 2019 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration of the deceptive mark NU DOWN, for pillows and bedding “made in whole or substantial part of synthetic down or down alternatives.” For the first element of the three-prong test, the applicant did not argue that the term DOWN was descriptive and had disclaimed it previously. However, the applicant argued that the mark NU DOWN was not misdescriptive because the term NU could imply something aside from natural down. The Board found that the term “down,” in the dictionary presumptively meant natural down, and if not precisely natural down, something comparable. It was found that when used in commerce, relevant purchasers believed the term “down” to mean natural down unless otherwise stated.  Turning its attention to the term NU, the Board held that even if it was understood as the phonetic version of the term “new,” it could simultaneously mean “an updated or modern version” of natural down instead of new and substitute material. The Board found that the applicant’s mark satisfied the first prong of the test and was misdescriptive of the identified goods. “The addition of the word ‘NU’ to the word ‘DOWN’ would not inform purchasers with any clarity that Applicant’s goods are not filled with down.” Regarding the second element of the test, relating to whether or not prospective purchasers are likely to believe that the misdescription actually describes the goods, the applicant admitted that the term “down” is often used in the particular industry in reference to products containing natural down. In satisfying the second prong of the test, the Board concluded that although the applicant’s packaging explained the products were down alternative, there was no guarantee that consumers would read the provided explanation. Furthermore, those purchasing the goods online may not read the fine print labeling required by the federal Textile and Wool Acts. “The mark standing alone must pass muster and this it fails to do.” Finally, the third element of the test, in regard to whether or not the misdescription is likely to affect a significant portion of the relevant consumers’ decision to purchase, the Board found that a significant number of relevant consumers would likely be interested in knowing what material was used in the applicant’s goods for multiple reasons including thinness or bulkiness of the fill, allergy issues, animal cruelty issues and monetary factors. Because of this, the Board concluded that the misdescription in the applicant’s mark would likely affect the purchasing decisions of a significant portion of relevant consumers. In summation, the Board affirmed the Examining Attorney’s refusal of registration for deceptiveness under §2(a) of the Lanham Act.

In a 2018 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration of the deceptive mark P6 CHROME, for “dietary and nutritional supplements that do not contain chromium.” The Board found the mark to be deceptive because it was a misdescription of the identified goods which could lead consumers to believe that the supplements contained chromium and would, in turn, affect a significant portion of relevant consumers. In an effort to rebut this, the applicant claimed that the term “chrome” simply referred to the color of the packaging. The Board then turned to the three-prong test created by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to determine whether or not a mark is deceptive. To satisfy the first element of the test, the Board must decide whether or not the term misdescribes the character, quality, function, composition or use of goods. In this instance, both the applicant and the Examining Attorney submitted dictionary definitions that established that the term “chrome” meant chromium. It had been previously established that the applicant’s goods did not contain chromium, therefore the term was misdescriptive. The applicant argued that the term “chrome” had more than one meaning, but the Board held that alternative meanings held no merit in the context of the goods for which the mark was used. The record supplied evidence showing that there were already many dietary and nutritional supplements containing chromium sold under marks that used the term “CHROME.” Though the applicant argued that term “chrome” was in regard to the color of the packaging, the Board dismissed it saying that not all potential purchasers would see the packaging, only the mark and would likely perceive the term “CHROME” to be a description of an ingredient in the identified goods. The second prong, which asks if consumers are likely to believe the misdescription, was satisfied since the applicant’s goods did not contain chromium, however, it was previously established that many dietary and nutritional supplements do contain chromium. The Board went on to explain that not only average customers but “sophisticated purchasers” as well would be likely to believe the misdescription. “Sophisticated” customers would likely be familiar with the health benefits of chromium and be aware of other dietary and nutritional supplements that contained chromium and were sold under marks containing the term “CHROME.” The third prong of the test, regarding whether or not the misdescription would affect the purchasing decisions of a significant portion of relevant consumers, was satisfied as well. The Board found that though not all consumers would be aware of the potential health benefits of chromium, consumers who frequently purchased supplements “would find Applicant’s supplements more desirable because of the perceived representation that they contain chromium.” In this manner, all three prongs of the test were satisfied, and the Board affirmed the refusal of registration for deceptiveness under §2(a) of the Lanham Act.

Deceptive marks may not be registered with the USPTO under any circumstance. Unlike marks that have been deemed deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act, marks found to be deceptive under §2(a) cannot be federally registered even with a claim of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) of the Lanham Act; nor is it enough for the applicant to disclaim the deceptive material.

Deceptive Marks

January 31st, 2020

An earlier post discussed marks that were found to be deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act. This post will discuss marks that are found to be deceptive under §2(a) of the Act. The Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(a), bars registration of deceptive matter on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register. The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure specifies that, “Neither a disclaimer of the deceptive matter nor a claim that is has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) can obviate a refusal under §2(a) on the ground that the mark consists of or comprises deceptive matter.”

A deceptive mark can be a single deceptive term, a deceptive term within a composite mark which also features non-deceptive elements or a term or portion of a term that suggests a deceptive quality, characteristic, function, composition or use. Deceptive marks can also be marks that falsely portray the material content of a product and marks that are geographically misdescriptive.

To determine whether or not a mark consists of or comprises deceptive matter, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit created a three-prong test; see In re Budge Mfg. Co., 857 F.2d 773, 775, 8 USPQ2d 1259, 1260 (Fed. Cir. 1988). The test is the same one used to determine whether or not a mark is deceptively misdescriptive. The three parts, as outlined in the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, are as follows: (1) Is the term misdescriptive of the character, quality, function, composition or use of the goods? (2) If so, are prospective purchasers likely to believe that the misdescription actually describes the goods? (3) If so, is the misdescription likely to affect a significant portion of the relevant consumers’ decision to purchase?

If the first two prongs are satisfied, then a term is deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act. If the first two, and the third prong are met, then the mark is deceptive. A deceptively misdescriptive mark may feature a misdescription that is a relevant factor that may be considered in the purchasing decision. However, if a mark features a misdescription that is a material factor considered in the purchasing decision, it is deceptive under §2(a).  In any case where it is not clear whether or not a misdescription would materially affect a decision to purchase, an examining attorney should refuse federal registration under both §2(a) and §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act.

In order for an examining attorney to establish a prima facie case of deceptiveness, he/she must supply sufficient evidence to show that the misdescriptive quality or characteristic would be a material factor in the purchasing decision of a “significant portion of the relevant consumers.” To supply such evidence, the examining attorney must produce evidence that the misdescriptive quality or characteristic would make the goods or services “more appealing or desirable to prospective purchasers.”

When determining whether a mark is deceptive or not, there are certain objective criteria that an examining attorney must analyze in deciding if a misdescriptive term is a material factor or not. Often, if there is evidence of “objective inducement to purchase” within or comprising the mark, it supports a notion that a reasonable number of relevant consumers would likely be deceived. Five common objective criteria considered when materiality are, (1) Superior Quality, (2) Enhanced Performance or Function, (3) Difference in Price, (4) Health Benefit and (5) Religious Practice or Social Policy. If an examining attorney can provide evidence showing that the goods or services for which the mark is being used do not contain the above criteria, then the mark will be deemed deceptive.

The same evidence used to show that a term is deceptively misdescriptive can also be used to establish that a mark is deceptive. This includes Internet searches using the objective criteria and applicant’s own advertising materials including specimens, brochures, web pages, press releases or product or service information sheets. An examining attorney must also record any instances in which an applicant attempts to benefit as a result of the potentially deceptive term. Instances wherein advertising materials contain false ascertains pertaining to the deceptive wording must be recorded as well. An applicant’s intent to deceive may also provide strong evidence in determining whether or not a mark is deceptive, though showing intention is not a requirement under §2(a) of the Act.

A mark that is found to be deceptive under §2(a) of the Lanham Act may, under no circumstance, be registered on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register. However, if a mark is found to be deceptively misdescriptive, it may be eligible for registration under §2(f) of the Act if it has acquired distinctiveness, or on the Supplemental Register if appropriate.

Hot Topics


 

Practice Areas

Trademark
Copyright
Trade Secrets
Agreements
Internet Law
The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. Before you decide, ask us to send you free written information about our qualifications and experience. This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.