Tag Archives: Dilution

Best of 2009: Char’ed, I’m sure

Originally posted 2015-01-28 12:07:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

First posted December 8, 2009. 
Poor Starbucks.  So much trademark trouble they have!  Other trouble, too.  And now the people who gave you five-dollar coffee in a paper cup had lost another one — one they thought they had won, namely the Starbucks v. Charbucks case (decision here, posted by Marty; the real name of the case is Starbucks Corp. v. Wolfe’s Borough Coffee, Inc.) involving trademark infringement and its genetic freak of a cousin: trademark dilution.

In fact, Starbucks lost this case a lot.  They lost and lost and lost.

Then, they won.  Starbucks won!



At least, they won a shot at winning.  Which, given their litigation luck these days, must be like a double espresso administered intravenously, juridically speaking.  And, brand-wise.

That Law.com piece by Mark Hamblett in the last link is a good summary of the docket-slaloming.  For the law lesson, let’s just skip to smart person Rebecca Tushnet, who may or may not be fueled by caffeine when she blogs but all the same has done all the heavy lifting here:

As we all know, Starbucks is big and famous. Wolfe’s does business as Black Bear, a small business that sells coffee via mail order, the internet, and a limited number of New England supermarkets. In 1997, Black Bear began selling a dark roasted blend, Charbucks Blend, and later Mister Charbucks.

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McCarthy speaks

This is really something!  I always knew John Welch was the definitive resource online, and then some, for what’s going on at the Trademark Trials and Appeal Board — the TTAB, of course — via his seminal, inimitable and comprehensive TTABlog®.  But I didn’t know that his blog was now an official resource for ex cathedra pronouncements from Himself!

Check. This. Out. July 11, 2016 on the TTABlog:

Professor McCarthy Criticizes the TTAB’s Dilution Analysis

Professor J. Thomas McCarthy has been a consistent critic of the TTAB’s analysis in dilution cases, particularly the Board’s failure to properly consider the issue of “impairment” or “damage” arising from the alleged dilution. He sent me the following comment for posting:

I wish the T.T.A.B. would stop saying that dilution of a mark can be shown merely by proving that the challenged mark causes people to think of the famous mark. In its March 31, 2016 decision in theOmega case (118 U.S.P.Q. 2d 1289, 1298) it quoted from its last year’s decision in the New York Yankees case (114 U.S.P.Q. 2d 1497, 1506). It said that dilution by blurring occurs when “a substantial percentage of consumers, on seeing the junior party’s use of a mark on its goods, are immediately reminded of the famous mark and associate the junior party’s use with the owner of the famous mark, even if they do not believe that the goods come from the famous mark’s owner.” That’s just a part of what dilution demands and is not what the statute says. . . .

The Supreme Court made it clear that as a matter of basic dilution theory, proof of association is itself neither proof of blurring nor proof that blurring is likely: “‘[b]lurring’ is not a necessary consequence of mental association. (Nor, for that matter, is ‘tarnishing.’)” Moseley v. V Secret Catalogue, Inc., 537 U.S. 418, 434 (2003).

This is the best thing in the world, and the way it ought to be, because you won’t believe what happened next!

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The Empire strikes back

SparkleVia the Duets Blog, a trademark resolution that has been building for far too long:

It is not easy to establish fame for purposes of showing a likelihood of dilution by blurring.  Owner of the Empire State Building marks rose to the challenge in a recent decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“the Board”).  ESRT Empire State Building, LLC v. Michael Lang, Opposition No. 91204122 (June 17, 2015) [not precedential].

NYC Beer Co’s proposed mark

Others have tried and lost.  See Coach Servs., Inc. v. Triumph Learning LLC, 101 U.S.P.Q.  Omega SA v. Alpha Phi Omega, Opposition Nos. 91197504 and 91197505 (Mar. 31, 2016) (finding that Omega had failed to show fame prior to any established, continuous use of mark with the specific goods or services in the application or registration, but allowed Omega to amend its opposition to show this evidence if it could); Virgin Enterprises Limited v. Steven E. Moore, Opposition No. 91192733 (August 31, 2012) (telling Richard Branson that his VIRGIN mark was not famous because his company failed to provide sufficient evidence or a survey supporting fame).

Specifically, in the Empire State Building proceedings the applicant was seeking to register the mark below for various beers, ales, extracts for making beer, alcohol-free beers and other related goods. . . .

Empire State Building Trademark

Opposer’s Empire State Building Mark

Not surprisingly, the ESRT Empire State Building, L.L.C. (“ESRT”) opposed the application on the grounds of dilution of its famous registrations for the EMPIRE STATE BUILDING mark with respect to “entertainment services, namely providing observation decks in a skyscraper for purposes of sightseeing” (Reg. No. 2,411,972), and with respect to “real estate services, namely management and leasing of real estate” (Reg. No. 2,413,667).  Further, ESRT owned the registration for the design mark below in connection with “entertainment services, namely providing observation decks in a skyscraper for purposes of sightseeing” (Reg. No. 2,429,297),  and with respect to “real estate services, namely management and leasing of real estate” (Reg. No. 2,430,828).

In finding fame, the Board explained that testimony and evidence established that “[f]or 40 years, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world, and presently is the fifth tallest building in the United States.” . . .

Of course.  And yet it I must admit I never really quite got it here at LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION until just now.  It makes sense, however, that it would be iconic Empire State Building — the world’s tallest edifice of most of my New York City youth, and a towering presence for much of my recent adulthood — that would, despite the shadow it casts, make me see the light.

No excuse for this, really.  Because for years I’ve been interested in assertions of intellectual property rights in connection with landmark buildings.  In a bunch of posts, I’ve written about and tried to make the following points: Read More…

Giving up the Web

Originally posted 2010-11-05 17:11:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

ClickZ News says lawyers are “Giving Up on Web Trademark Infringement”:

“Trademark dilution is death by a thousand cuts,” said Joe Dreitler, partner at Frost Brown Todd. “And if there are a thousand people doing parodies of Louis Vuitton, at what point [does it occur]?”

It’s almost as if the claim of trademark dilution, regarding which we have long been very dubious, brings its own punishment: It is now so relatively easy for a truly famous mark (such as Vuitton, which we have represented) to make a meritorious dilution claim and yet it is even easier to dilute a trademark on the Internet. And the bigger the trademark the more dilutable… the more it cries out for dilution… the more lawyers and trademark owners trip over themselves trying to figure out what to do about it. As this article demonstrates, they’re increasingly frustrated over their inability to do anything as the truly anarchistic nature of the Internet defies enforcement regardless of budgets or ambitions.

Probably the smart thing would be to forget about dilution, which the world lived without since Creation, and focus on tight brand building and enforcement against real infringements. But of course that is a course the trademark owners are constitutionally incapable of considering. Are they on the verge of making utter fools of themselves in the RIAA “constant nuclear option” enforcement — I mean, “enforcement” — mode? Probably. And law firms will profit all the way, which is the up side. (You think I meant that as a bad thing?!)

Inducement to contribute to infringe … to roll on

Originally posted 2013-02-12 16:34:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Michael Atkins:

Novel causes of action for contributory cybersquatting and contributory dilution appear to viable here in the Western District [of Washington].

On Jan. 12, Western District Judge Ricardo Martinez refused to dismiss such claims plaintiff brought in Microsoft Corp. v. Shah.

In that case, Microsoft alleges defendants, among other things, induced others to engage in cybersquatting and dilution by instructing them on how to use Microsoft trademarks to increase traffic on their Web sites. Microsoft also alleges defendants sold a product that contained software that enabled buyers to create Web sites incorporating Microsoft marks to help sell emoticon-related software, including a video narrated by defendant Amish Shah.

Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing claims for contributory cybersquatting and contributory dilution are not recognized.

The court denied the motion.

This is an interesting development, and one to watch, in light of what I see as the overall reluctance of courts to extend the law of secondary liability for trademark infringement — including with respect to domain name registrars.

An opinion to Di for

Originally posted 2013-06-27 11:41:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I do a lot of bellyaching around here about how there are never any consequences for filing frivolous trademark and copyright lawsuits. What’s the worst thing that can happen to a well-heeled plaintiff that wants to use the expense of defending, even meritoriously, against a “federal case” as a way to effectuate a “business message” (namely, you’re out of business, because we say so)? Usually, nothing. Not just usually. Really pretty much a lot usually.

"Do you have Princess Di in the can?"

Not this time.  This is a little dense if you’re not used to reading judicial opinions, but the payoff is worthwhile.  Emphasis is mine:

The Franklin Mint Company and its principals, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, (collectively, Franklin Mint) appeal from a judgment dismissing their malicious prosecution action against the law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP and attorney Mark S. Lee (collectively, Manatt). Manatt represented the executors of the estate of Diana, Princess of Wales and the trustees of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund (collectively, the Fund) in a lawsuit filed against Franklin Mint alleging claims related to Franklin Mint’s use of Princess Diana‟s name and image in connection with merchandise Franklin Mint advertised and sold. . . .

We conclude that, based on the record before us, no reasonable attorney could find tenable the false advertising claim as it was alleged and litigated in the underlying action. Therefore, we hold there was no probable cause to prosecute that claim. We also hold there was no probable cause to prosecute the trademark dilution claim because no reasonable attorney could conclude that the claim could satisfy two fundamental, long-standing principles of trademark law. First, to be protectable as a trademark, a word, phrase, name, or symbol must be used in commerce to identify goods or services and their source. Although Manatt contends that Princess Diana used her name in connection with her appearances at charitable events, that use does not demonstrate trademark use. Second, a trademark that is descriptive — such as a personal name — must acquire secondary meaning to be protectable in a trademark dilution action. In other words, the primary meaning of the mark (i.e., the descriptive meaning) must in the minds of the public be subordinate to its meaning as the source of goods or services. Because “Diana, Princess of Wales” has such an extraordinarily strong primary meaning as descriptive of Princess Diana as a person, the contention that it had acquired secondary meaning at the time of the underlying lawsuit was, as the district court in the underlying lawsuit observed, “absurd.” (Cairns v. Franklin Mint Co. (C.D. Cal. 2000) 107 F.Supp.2d 1212, 1222 (Cairns III).) Therefore, we conclude that the trademark dilution claim was untenable.

Now this is really interesting on several levels.  One is the obvious one I’ve already alluded to–a court calling attorneys out and saying, “Stop the baloney.  You knew what you were doing here was fallacious, but you just kept doing it.  If malice and damages are proved, that’s actionable.”  It’s astonishing to read that.  Don’t even ask what has happened, in my own experience in the vaunted federal courts facing just such claims, that leaves me so dumbstruck reading this.

But then there’s the substantive legal stuff.  Diana, Princess of Wales, not a “trademark”?  Just because she’s mostly really a person (no longer a living one, granted, but you get the idea)?  But what about all those other celebrity trademark names? Read More…

Trademark parodies and iconic marks: can foul become fair?

In 2010 I wrote this post about a now-notorious case, eventually ensconced as Louis Vuitton Malletier, S.A. v. Hyundai Motor America, 2012 WL 1022247 (S.D.N.Y., March 22, 2012) and covered intensely (as the links there indicate) by Marty Schwimmer among others, in which the Southern District of New York ruled that the Hyundai’s use of the iconic trademarks depicted on the basketball shown was not fair use.

Going against type, I argued that the plaintiff had something legitimate to say for its litigation approach, at least, considering everything; many others found the outcome quite unsatisfactory, urging that the use should have been viewed as that often claimed, but seldom seen, species of fair use called parody.  Evidently, as Mr. Schwimmer now reports, history is moving in favor the “anti’s”:

my-other-bag-beige-zoey-tote-product-1-16432681-3-104253920-normalclassic-zoey-mono2-257x300Followers of the legal treatments of parodies of trademarks may want to skip immediately to footnote 4 of the decision.

You see the top two pictures [at right]? One side of the bag says ‘My Other Bag …” and the other side is a depiction of an LV bag. Get it? Ok, that’s fair use. LV’s causes dismissed.

You see the picture of the ‘LV’ basketball [above]? The SDNY ruled in 2012 that that was actionable. And now this SDNY court says in footnote 4 that it won’t follow Hyundai.

And what, indeed, is in the bag that is Footnote 4?:

Even if Hyundai were not distinguishable, this Court would decline to follow it. In the Court’s view, the Hyundai Court blurred the distinction between association and dilution. As discussed in more detail below, association is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a finding of dilution by blurring. See, e.g., Moseley v. V Secret Catalogue, Inc., 537 U.S. 418, 433 (“[T]he mere fact that consumers mentally associate the junior user’s mark with a famous mark is not sufficient to establish actionable dilution. . . . [S]uch mental association will not necessarily reduce the capacity of the famous mark to identify the goods of its owner.”).

That’s the way the ball bounces!

Best of 2010: Dough, a dear

First posted August 11, 2010.

Pillsbury Doughboy

“TM” this, “TM” that….

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man wreaked some havoc in his time, but who would have thought that his inspiration — the Pillsbury Doughboy — would act the part of a veritable Gozer the Destroyer himself, at the expense of a funky new-age bakery?

A few weeks ago, the founder of a Salt Lake City-based bakery, My Dough Girl, got a letter from General Mills, the conglomerate that owns Pillsbury. To the 45-year-old entrepreneur’s surprise, the food giant had written to inform her she needed to change the name of her business — claiming it was too similar to Pillsbury’s famous doughboy mascot — or she risked facing legal action. Cromar decided, essentially, that was just the way the cookie crumbles. “I started baking cookies as a way to bring happiness to myself and others, so I really didn’t need this to become some canker on my existence,” Cromar said. “Plus, I just don’t have the resources to fight them.” The case marks the second time in recent weeks that a major corporation has taken issue with a small business over possible trademark infringement.

“The second time in recent weeks,” eh?  That must be awful.


Over here

Sit down, have a croissant.  Let’s talk about this. Dough boy, dough boy, dough boy… where have I heard that? Right — over here (right) — those guys. But while there are batches and batches of DOUGHBOY trademark registrations — some dead, but plenty alive — it does seem that Pilsbury is understandably sensitive about the use of the term in association with baked goods, made famous by its lovable mascot, POPPIN’ FRESH® !

Well actually, a bunch of POPPIN’ FRESH registrations seem to have gone stale, but evidently he’s still a doll (Reg. No. 72307131), and ain’t he? Anyway, back to his, uh, generic name — the DOUGHBOY thing.

Well before we even talk about whether a bakery called DOUGH GIRL is likely to be confused with a commercial baked goods company’s DOUGHBOY , did you notice the graphic on top up there?  How Pillsbury uses a “TM” instead of a ® symbol all over its site?

That is interesting, isn’t it?  Pillsbury does, after all, have a couple of registrations — though not exactly the ones you’d think:

  • Reg. No. 2832951 is for “Baking mix for cake,” in International Class 030 — Staple foods, baked goods, just what you’d think
  • Reg. No. 2764538 is for “Refrigerated dough.”  Same deal.
  • Reg. No. 2091501 is for “Clothing, namely, T-shirts [and boxer shorts].”  Class 25.  Well, sure.

Ok, still, that seems close enough, doesn’t it?  If I were Pillsbury I wouldn’t want anyone selling baked good using DOUGHBOY either, and I’ve got some good and famous registrations to help me stop them.  So why does the Pillsbury site utilize the TM — a common-law assertion of trademark rights, rather than an indication of federal trademark registration — instead of the “circle R”? Read More…

Trademark on the Left Bank

Originally posted 2006-02-05 01:40:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Interesting discussion, on one level or another, among non-specialists including Matthew Yglesias of a leftish stripe on the politics of trademark infringement at TPMCafe. They’re disappointed that Democrats are going along with the proposed changes to the federal dilution statute, and they should be. Yglesias links back to a column by Atrios, who says, “The original purpose of trademark law was to protect consumers from confusion, not to protect the sanctity of a brand.” Who’s said that before?

UPDATE:  Another point of view, via Instapundit.

Unlovely SPAM

Hormel won’t give up.  And neither will Spam Arrrest, LLC (which makes a great product I used for years). A press release from Spam Arrest reports:

Spam Arrest LLC, which provides the popular web service software to eliminate email spam, hopes to end its four year legal battle against Hormel next month. Spam Arrest is the only company ever, except Hormel Foods Corporation, to secure a trademark including the word “spam” recorded on the principal United States trademark register. For nearly four years, Spam Arrest has defended its trademark against Hormel’s lawsuit seeking to cancel the SPAM ARREST trademark registration….

Spam Arrest has incurred almost $500,000 defending its trademark rights. “We’ve spent years fighting for our trademark, while much larger companies have simply abandoned their trademark applications after threats from Hormel,” said Brian Cartmell, CEO of Spam Arrest. “Not one person confuses our anti-spam service with Hormel’s canned meat — the average American consumer is smarter than that.”

There you have it, canned and virtually inedible. Read More…