Posts Tagged ‘federal trademark registration’

Likelihood of Confusion Case – TRUST THE PROCESS

Sunday, June 27th, 2021

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.”

Mere Descriptiveness Case: HOSTIING and HOSTIING GROUP

Friday, April 9th, 2021

In a 2021 non-precedential case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed two §2(e)(1) refusals of registration for the proposed marks HOSTIING and HOSTIING GROUP (GROUP disclaimed) and found them to be merely descriptive of mobile apps for reserving lodging, management of short-term rentals, and booking services for temporary lodging.

Before delving into its analysis, the Board made it clear that the established evidence left no doubt that both HOSTIING and HOSTIING GROUP were merely descriptive because the terms “immediately conve[y] knowledge of a quality, feature, function, or characteristic” of the Applicant’s goods and services. See In re Chamber of Commerce of the U.S., 675 F.3d 1297, 102 USPQ2d 1217, 1219 (Fed. Cir. 2012).

Turning first to the Applicant’s use of the term HOSTIING in connection with its cited goods, the Applicant argued that “hosting” has multiple meanings unrelated to lodging rentals or home-sharing, and that the term is “most frequently” associated with website hosting. However, ample evidence showed that third parties used the terms “host” and “hosting” in connection with “offering, reserving and managing temporary lodging, including rental and other home-sharing arrangements.” Further, the Applicant used the terms exact same way, “for its identified rental property management and reservations/booking services, as well as its identified reservation and booking mobile app for short term rentals.” The Board gave no weight to the disclaimed term GROUP and found that HOSTIING GROUP simply conveyed “a group involved in hosting.”

Moving on to the misspelling of the term HOSTIING, the Applicant argued that the misspelling of the term “hosting” was purposeful, and the implementation of the double “ii” could lend itself multiple pronunciations and evoke a distinctive commercial impression. The Board was not impressed. It found that the Applicant’s “minor misspelling” did not change the meaning or look of the term. “In fact, ‘HOSTIING’ with two ‘II’s differs from ‘HOSTING’ with one by only one letter in the middle of the term. It thus looks almost the same and would be pronounced similarly or identically to ‘hosting,’ a term commonly used and with a well-recognized meaning in connection with Applicant’s identified goods and services.” The Board then cited In re Ginc UK Ltd., 90 USPQ2d 1472, 1475 (TTAB 2007), “The generic meaning of ‘togs’ is not overcome by the misspelling of the term as TOGGS in applicant’s mark. A slight misspelling is not sufficient to change a descriptive or generic word into a suggestive word.”

Ultimately, the Board found the Applicant’s marks HOSTIING and HOSTIING GROUP merely descriptive of its applied-for goods and services. It stated, “each component retains its merely descriptive significance in relation to the goods and services, and Applicant does not suggest any alternative commercial impression resulting from the combination of these immediately descriptive terms.” So, the refusals to register the marks under §2(e)(1) were affirmed.


Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

In a 2021 non-precedential case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed a §2(d) refusal of registration for the Applicant’s mark QUERCUS COFFEE (COFFEE disclaimed) for coffee and found it to be highly confusable with the already-registered mark QUERCUS for wine.

The Board began its analysis of the marks starting with the first DuPont factor, the similarity or dissimilarity of the marks in their entireties. Though the marks are to be considered as a whole, in this case, the term QUERCUS is the dominant portion of each mark, and in the Applicant’s mark, the term COFFEE is generic and was disclaimed. Since the term COFFEE was disclaimed, the Board found that it had little weight in its overall determination. See In re Chatam Int’l Inc., 380 F.3d 1340, 71 USPQ2d 1944 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The Board then looked at the position of the term QUERCUS the mark and found it reinforced its dominance as it was the first element of the mark. Citing Presto Products, Inc. v. Nice-Pak Prods., Inc., 9 USPQ2d 1895, 1897 (TTAB 1988), the Board stated, “It is often the first part of a mark which is most likely to be impressed upon the mind of a purchaser and remembered.” The Board glanced once again at the generic, disclaimed term COFFEE and found that it failed to distinguish the mark. “[I]f the dominant portion of both marks is the same, then confusion may be likely notwithstanding peripheral differences.” See In re Denisi, 225 USPQ 624, 624 (TTAB 1985).

Turning to the second portion of the first DuPont factor, the connotation and commercial impression of the mark, the Board started with the definition of the term QUERCUS. Quercus is defined as “a genus of hardwood often evergreen trees or shrubs (family Fagaceae) that comprise the typical oaks and include sources of nutgall.” The Applicant’s website claims that the coffee is called QUERCUS after the Andean Oak it used to create the rum barrels, in which the Applicant’s coffee is “barrel-aged.” Turning to the already-registered mark, QUERCUS, the Board quickly surmised that wine is occasionally aged in barrels as well. Therefore, consumers of goods under both marks would most likely assume that the term QUERCUS would have the same meaning in referencing the barrels used to age both coffee and wine. “We find that in their entireties, the marks are not only highly similar in appearance and sound due to common term QUERCUS but that they are also highly similar in connotation and convey a substantially similar commercial impression.”  The Board concluded that the first Dupont factor, in both parts, weighed in favor of finding confusion likely.

The Board then looked at additional DuPont factors, the similarity of the goods, channels of trade and classes of consumers. Before beginning its analysis, the Board reiterated that it is not necessary for the goods to be identical or competitive or be sold in the same trade channels to support a finding of likelihood of confusion. What does matter is they are related in some manner or the conditions/activities surrounding the marketing of the goods are similar enough that they may be encountered by similar consumers who would be led to believe that the goods originate from the same source. See Coach Servs. v. Triumph Learning 101 USPQ2d 1713 at 1723. In sum, the issue at hand is not whether the consumers would confuse the coffee with the wine, but whether or not there would be a likelihood of confusion that the coffee and wine came from the same source. The Examining Attorney submitted 20 use-based, third-party registrations showing registration of a mark by a single entity for both wine and coffee. The Board found that the third-party registrations were relevant evidence as they serve as proof that the goods are such that they may originate from one source under one mark. See, e.g., In re Infinity Broad. Corp., 60 USPQ2d 1214, 1217-18 (TTAB 2001). So, as it was evident that both coffee and wine may be offered under one mark, and potentially found in similar trade channels, the Board found that the Applicant’s coffee and the Registrant’s wine were commercially related for the purpose of finding a likelihood of confusion holding. Therefore, the second DuPont factor favors a finding of likelihood of confusion.

After finding the other relevant DuPont factors neutral, the Board concluded that confusion was likely between the Applicant’s mark QUERCUS COFFEE and the Registrant’s mark QUERCUS. It found that confusion was likely given that the term QUERCUS was the dominant portion of each mark, the connotation and commercial impression of the term QUERCUS was similar enough to confuse consumers, the relatedness of the goods – as to the fact that they may be sold under one mark and can both be aged in barrels and the overlapping trade channels and classes of consumers. Therefore, the Board affirmed the §2(d) refusal for registration of the mark QUERCUS COFFEE.

The Trademark Modernization Act

Monday, February 1st, 2021

The Trademark Act, formally, the Lanham Act of 1946, has been revised multiple times since its enactment, however, the recent Trademark Modernization Act, (the Act) is the most radical adjustment since 1988. Congress signed the Act into law on Dec. 27, 2020 with full bipartisan support. The Act contains several new procedures that are meant to help maintain and strengthen the effectiveness and reliability of the federal trademark register.

First, one of the Act’s main goals is to minimize the issuance of registrations falsely claiming use in commerce of a mark that the registrant has not used in the required manner. There are now two new ex parte post-registration proceedings to cancel unused trademarks. A trademark applicant can now file a petition with the USPTO to request that the USPTO Director initiate a proceeding to expunge or to reexamine a registration for a trademark that either has never been used in commerce or was not used in commerce prior to a particular Relevant Date (see infra). Both petitions will generally require a verified statement establishing that a thorough investigation was conducted prior to the petition regarding whether the mark had been properly used in commerce and/or maintained. The following two proceedings are of particular use to new applicants looking to create and use a viable trademark but find that they are blocked from registration due to unused marks.

  1. Expungement: A trademark applicant can request that the USPTO remove some or all of the goods or services in a registration because a registrant did not use the trademark in commerce in connection with those goods or services. This petition must be filed within three to ten years of the registration date.
  2. Reexamination: A trademark applicant can request that the USPTO remove some or all of the goods and services in a registration because the trademark was not used in commerce in connection with those goods and services on or before a particular relevant date. The Act defines the Relevant Date as: 1) The date that the registrant filed an averment of use to support an application filed with a §1(a) basis or 2) The third anniversary of a registration issued under either §44(e) or §66(a). This petition must be filed with the first five years after the trademark is registered and is mostly directed at registrations where a questionable specimen proving the trademarks use in commerce was submitted during the original examination of the application.

Once the petition is filed properly, the Director will determine whether or not a removal of goods or services from a registration will occur. If some or all of the goods or services are removed, the registrant may appeal the decision to the TTAB, and after that, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Second, the Act now provides for more flexible response periods for office actions. Previously, the Trademark Act required a trademark applicant to respond to an office action issued during examination within six months. Now, under the Act, trademark examiners will have greater flexibility in setting response deadlines for office actions. This adjustment authorizes the USPTO to shorten response deadlines to between 60 days and six months, provided the applicants can obtain extensions of time to respond up until the original six-month deadline. The applicant must pay the USPTO a filing fee for these requests for extension.

Third, the Act provides statutory authority for the USPTO letter of protest practice that allows third parties to submit evidence to the USPTO prior to registration in regard to the trademark’s registrability. The Act sets a two-month deadline for the USPTO to act on the submissions and authorizes it to charge a $50 fee for them. Moreover, the new procedure provides that the USPTO’s decision on whether to include the evidence in the application record is final and non-reviewable. Consistent with the requirements of the Act, the USPTO issued the following procedural rules that went into effect on Jan. 2, 2021. The rules require: 1) The submission must identify each legal ground for an examining attorney to refuse registration or issue a requirement; 2) the inclusion of evidence that supports those grounds and 3) a succinct description for each piece of supporting evidence.

Finally, the Act creates a uniform rule establishing a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm. It provides that a trademark owner seeking injunctive relief is entitled to a rebuttal presumption of irreparable harm upon a finding of infringement or a likelihood of success on the merits. This rule will help trademark owners enforce their rights against infringers in federal court and unifies the law among the district courts.

Ultimately, the Act is meant to protect the relevant consuming public from confusion regarding the source of goods and services. It has also been enacted to better help protect trademark owners from fraudulent trademark filings, and allow new trademark registrants to register marks without being impeded by invalid marks.

Benefits of a Federal Trademark Registration over Common Law Rights

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

So long as there is not a federal registration or pending federal application for a similar mark for similar goods or services when an owner uses his/her mark in commerce, he/she establishes common law rights in the geographic area of use, if he/she is the first user of the mark in that area. Common law rights give the owner exclusive rights to the mark in a specific geographic location. These rights do not protect the mark throughout the state, or nationally. Common law rights afford limited mark protection within the area of use. Under common law, an owner can send a cease and desist letter in an attempt to prevent infringement by a secondary user of the mark.  Common law trademark rights can be enforced in federal court under the Lanham Act or in state court under state statutes.

Though federal trademark registration is not required, it can enhance and extend the owner’s common law protections in many ways. First, federal registration of the mark gives the owner legal presumption of the exclusive rights to use the mark throughout the United States and its territories in connection with the goods or services identified in the registration. This is advantageous when the owner is attempting to police his/her mark in and out of court.

Second, because it is a federal registration, the mark is listed in the USPTO database. Others will see the owner’s mark in the database when conducting a search prior to filing their own. This can help to prevent others from using a mark that is too similar to the one already registered. It also puts secondary users on constructive notice of the registrant’s rights. Moreover, the USPTO uses the database when conducting its own searches during trademark examination and will cite the owner’s mark against a confusingly similar one in a later-filed application.

Third, a federal registration allows the owner the right to record his/her trademark with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agency will then have the ability to use the trademark registration to help prevent others from importing infringing or counterfeit foreign goods.

Finally, a federal trademark registration means that the owner has the benefit of using the encircled “R” with his/her mark. The mark is usually added to the right side of the mark and indicates that the owner has federally registered the mark with the USPTO. The encircled “R” acts as actual public notice of the owner’s exclusive nationwide rights in the mark.

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