Posts Tagged ‘USPTO’

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.


Likelihood of Confusion Case

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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.

Deceptive Marks

Friday, 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.

Selecting a Strong Trademark

Friday, January 10th, 2020

Not all trademarks are created equal. Certain types of marks are entitled to little or no protection, while others are afforded a strong scope of protection against competing marks. The purpose of a trademark is to inform consumers of the source of the goods or services. Strong trademarks can be used to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks (i.e. source identifiers) in connection with similar goods or services, so the consumer is not confused as to the source. Regardless of whether a mark is a common law mark or a registered mark, the strength of the rights acquired in the mark depends on its level of distinctiveness. There are five categories of trademarks within the spectrum of distinctiveness. Each category will be addressed from the weakest type of mark to the strongest.

Generic Marks: These marks are the weakest and an owner cannot use this type of mark to identify the source of his/her goods or services or register a generic mark with the USPTO. A generic term is one that describes a whole category or a group of goods or services. For example, an owner cannot register the trademark “COLA,” because the generic term describes an entire category of beverages. Because a generic term is simply a descriptor, no one owner can claim exclusive rights to it.

Descriptive Marks: These are the second weakest type of mark and often convey an immediate idea of the ingredients, qualities or characteristics of a good or service. Much like generic terms, these are words or phrases that are commonly used in connection with goods and services and can be difficult to distinguish from one another. An example of a descriptive mark would be “Clean Shower” for a shower cleaning product.  The mark is simply identifying what the product does and uses a descriptive term that is not unique to one specific product. Under the common law, a descriptive mark is entitled to little or no protection, with certain exceptions. The USPTO may not register “merely descriptive” marks. This is because registration would possibly prevent competitors from describing their own products. Sometimes, descriptive marks can become associated with the goods or services with which they are used. After a minimum of five years of using a mark in commerce with goods or services, the mark may be said to have acquired distinctiveness or secondary meaning because purchasers have come to associate the descriptive words with one source for the products or services. At the USPTO, an owner may attempt to show that they used the mark for at least five years exclusively and continuously. If it can be shown that by the fifth anniversary, the mark has acquired distinctiveness/secondary meaning, it may qualify for registration with the USPTO. Two examples of descriptive marks that have acquired a secondary meaning are AMERICAN AIRLINES and KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN. Surnames fall in the descriptive category as well, such as the hotel chain HILTON Hotel. Aside from famous marks, when descriptive marks are afforded protection, it is usually very narrow.

Suggestive Marks: These marks often suggest an aspect or feature of an owner’s goods or services without directly describing the product.  There is sometimes a fine line between suggestive marks and descriptive marks. Suggestive marks require more thought to grasp the connection between the mark and the good or service. They are more vague than descriptive marks, which directly describe the product. Suggestive marks have a higher chance of being approved by the USPTO because standing alone, the word or phrase does not immediately convey the goods or services to which it is connected. These marks, which are more unique or creative, can be afforded a broader scope of protection. An example of a suggestive mark would be “COPPERTONE,” for the brand of sunscreen. The mark “COPPERTONE,” suggests the outcome of the product, without directly describing it. Another example is “PLAYBOY.” Some of the most contentious litigation hinges on whether a mark is descriptive or offensive.

Arbitrary Marks: These are existing words or phrases that would not normally be associated with an owner’s goods or services. These are terms or phrases that are unrelated to the good or service itself. They are the second strongest type of mark because the owner is giving a common word or phrase a new or unique meaning by associating it with his/her product. An example of a strong arbitrary mark would be “UBER” for the ridesharing service. While the term “uber” is now associated mainly with the ridesharing service, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the term “uber” as, “being a superlative example of its kind or class.” Other examples include “APPLE” for technological products and “CAMEL” for tobacco products.

Coined or Fanciful Marks: These marks are the strongest, and most well-protected marks. A fanciful mark is a made-up term that does not have a previously existing dictionary definition. A coined term is a new and unique combination of words without a previous meaning. Since these terms did not exist prior to their usage, they are extremely difficult, or even impossible to challenge. Examples include: EXXON, ROLEX, LEXUS, XEROX and CLOROX.

In conclusion, when choosing a trademark, it is important for an owner to come up with a creative name for his/her goods or services.

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