Tag Archives: Trademark Law

Turn the other one? Or liberty? Or death?

Originally posted 2009-04-23 11:46:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

“Trademark” is not a verb.

Right — we will resolve these all here and now.  Key issues.  Fish or cut bait.  Or we most assuredly will all hang separately!

The Daily Mail reports, ” Cheeky team applies to use ‘Obama’ as a European trademark“:

A group of enterprising Spaniards is set to win the European trademark rights to a word with instant global recognition – OBAMA.

EU trademark rules once stopped opportunists turning the names of heads of state and other prominent figures and celebrities into branding gold.

But now, unless the use of an instantly identifiable name is deemed to be an act of deception, little else prevents the first-comer grabbing the rights.

Trademark is Not a Verb, Mr. Hart

Trademark is Not a Verb, Mr. Hart

This item stands for two key points which we all must know; nay, knit unto our very hearts.  Permit me some down-the-middle pedantry here.

1.  Trademark is NOT a verb.  Why do I refuse to give up my hopelessly-outnumbered position against the use of the word “trademark” as a verb?  This usage is everywhere, even on the INTA discussion list.  The reason is not only because I am a reactionary.  (Not only.)  It is because the whole point of U.S. trademark doctrine — that trademark rights are, and by the grace of God and Senator Lanham ought to be, earned by use.  First comes secondary meaning, then comes “rights.”

As I have said before, just as you cannot be “bar mitzvahed,” you cannot “trademark” something.  The “Trademarking” is not “done” via the filing of some paper or granting of a registration.  And this fact is obscured by the awful neologism “trademarked,” which suggests you can … well, it suggests you can do exactly what we’re reading this “cheeky team” did in the Daily Mail piece, and which a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that we all acknowledge they should not be able to ought to be do.  Ing.

Trademark is Not a Verb

Trademark is Not a Verb, or Give me Death!

2.  Speaking of self-evident truths, we solemnly publish and declare that even it had not become necessary for one people — Amur’ca — to dissolve the political bands which had connected it to another — England, of course — the injury imposed on the American language by the latter by the jarring, ugly and sick-making term “cheeky” as in the Daily Mail headline would make it necessary now.

And if I have to live with “trademarked” to never again see “cheeky,” may the Supreme Judge of the world, in recognition of the rectitude of my intentions, so grant me.

Thus endeth the lesson. Trademark is not a verb.

As to “European trademark” — “sheesh!

New law of trademark dilution

Originally posted 2006-10-06 16:15:10. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

My old friends at Kaye Scholer (link fixed!) give you the skinny on the new Trademark Dilution Act.  Bottom line:  Good for big companies.  Not so good for defendants. 

SUPER HERO® my foot

Originally posted 2006-03-27 16:08:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

UPDATE: Our NPR interview on this topic was on NPR’s “All Things Considered” just before 6 tonight.

We blogged on this topic last week. Today the LA Times weighs in, writing, confusingly:

TICKETS TO THE California Science Center’s latest exhibit, “Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition,” sell for $6.75 and up. But there’s one lesson the exhibition offers free of charge to anyone who wanders by the museum, and it’s not about science.

The lesson is in the giant sign looming over the center’s entrance archway: “Marvel ® Super Heroes(TM) Science Exhibition.” The “TM” stands for trademark, signifying that Marvel is claiming exclusive rights to use the term “super hero” as a marketing term for, well, superheroes. The company and its largest competitor, DC Comics, jointly obtained the trademark from the federal Patent and Trademark Office in 1981.

The government’s action means that any company wishing to market a comic book, graphic novel or related item with any variation of “super hero” in the name or title must get permission from Marvel and DC. Dan Taylor, the Costa Mesa-based creator of the “Super Hero Happy Hour” comic, learned about this absurdity two years ago when he was contacted by lawyers for Marvel and DC, prompting him to rename his series to the more pedestrian “Hero Happy Hour.”

What government action? What happened in 1981? (See below — someone else found the answer.) Nor does a claim of a valid registration make any sense in light of the claim in the editorial that the sign says:

Marvel ® Super Heroes(TM) Science Exhibition

If SUPER HEROES were a bona fide registered mark, it should say “Marvel ® Super Heroes ®,” not “Super Heroes(TM).” “TM” signifies the assertion of common-law trademark rights — not a registered mark and, as a practical matter, that a mark was either refused registration or that legal counsel advised against seeking registration (because the refusal would harm a future common law claim).The editorial argues that SUPER HEROES is a generic term not entitled to any trademark protection, which is correct. Genericness is the only way to defend against a registered and incontestible trademark, which presumably one registered in 1981 would be.

Even if it were true that two competing companies could own a trademark jointly in an area where they compete — thereby violating the axiom that trademarks indicate a single source of a good or service with which they are used — they seem to be succesfully avoiding the issue of their absurd joint registration, even as their giant signs claim only a “TM” common-law mark.

I guess that’s some super-heroic PR / legal spin job by the comic book fiends, but why journalists aren’t “getting this” — or why I [couldn't] for the life of me find the source that does indicate a registration — leaves me pretty confused at the very unlikelihood of it all.

UPDATE: Attorney Robert J. Sinnema points me to registration number 1179067:

SUPER HEROES (“PUBLICATIONS, PARTICULARLY COMIC BOOKS AND MAGAZINES AND STORIES IN ILLUSTRATED FORM [(( ; CARDBOARD STAND-UP FIGURES; PLAYING CARDS; PAPER IRON-ON TRANSFER; ERASERS; PENCIL SHARPENERS; PENCILS; GLUE FOR OFFICE AND HOME USE, SUCH AS IS SOLD AS STATIONERY SUPPLY;] NOTEBOOKS AND STAMP ALBUMS )).

He adds:

If you look at the owner/assignment information it appears to show joint ownership between DC and Marvel. (I’m with you, though–I don’t know how the mark can be a valid indicator of source.)

And why the plural? Believe me, there’s a reason for everything, including the companies’ continued non-use of the ®. They simply don’t want to draw attention to preposterous joint ownership (again — by competitors!) of the registration of a generic term. Ah, but utilizing the joint assignment — when a joint application would never have passed muster — is diabolically clever. It’s still not an enforceable trademark, however — registration, assignment or not.

UPDATE: Via (and according to) aTypical Joe, I have discovered my inner (trademark – protected) self! Read More…

An emphatic NO!

Originally posted 2009-10-05 14:36:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

JOOP!

Chatty Kathy:

German designer Wolfgang Joop’s bid to have a punctuation mark trademarked [sic] for his Joop! clothing and perfume company has been denied by European Union judges. Joop applied to register two versions of an exclamation point: the first is a simple exclamation and the other is inside a rectangular frame.

Can’t blame him for trying!

Say — maybe he can get a registration for WRITING IN ALL CAPS INSTEAD?!

Blog o’ briefs

Originally posted 2009-12-03 23:27:20. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Just found this blog called Trademark Law Briefs.  It’s all Ninth Circuit stuff — which is plenty.

It’s short little “briefs” summarizing recent trademark law decisions in that August federal Circuit, by California lawyer Cynthia Jones.

I’d say if you mainly read this blog for your trademark learning you should balance it out with that one.  You’ll learn at least as much and not have to claw your way past all the ego you get, well… yeah, here.

I did say balance.

Google Plaintiffs Start Here

Originally posted 2005-01-23 11:57:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

It may or may not be true that sooner or later, everyone in intellectual property law will be suing Google.

Well, it’s almost certainly not true. But there’s no question that this dominant player in the Internet (yes, I own a few shares!) (to be exact: four. or five.) is starting to present a ripe target for many a frustrated trademark or copyright owner that is miffed about having its IP properties diced and sliced the Google Way. (UPDATE: And some others.)

As a service to the IP bar, and via the No Watermelons Allowed blog, here’s the first order of business: Coming to a coherent technical understanding of how Google works, courtesy of the Computer Society of those rapscalions at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Be sure and give me a head’s up when you find someone who has abstracted this into English. But frankly, who wouldn’t like to see more heavy-lifting, drawing on this sort of nuts and bolts technological insight, in the many judicial opinions that brush so very broadly on the issues that will have a vast impact on the Internet and the economy to which it has given birth. For nearly a decade now judges have been ruling on critical cases involving the Internet and IP, trade law and other areas of law without evincing much proof of having gone beyond their own hunches (and maybe those of their clerks) as average Internet Explorer users.

In reality, Congress should be making these calls, not the courts. The question, for example, of whether a search engine is or is not causing likelihood of confusion by delivering results utilizing key word searches that happen to be someone’s trademark is essentially a metaphysical one — which is to say that judges are making policy decisions, which Congress is supposed to do. There is no right or wrong answer to whether someone searching for Coke, and getting the Pepsi website, should be protected from such “unfair competition.” Congress has the horses to get people knee-deep into articles such as this one, to utilize their hard-care technology expertise, and to make appropriate legislative recommendations.

This is all starting to matter too much to be left up to District Court judges in the most overturned Circuit in the country. Or have you heard what I am told is the latest bit of waggery among certain sectors of the bar: How does a typical U.S. Supreme Court opinion now begin? “This case is on certiori from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The other grounds for reversal are as follows….”

Isn’t it possible for the legal-political-commercial regime to make some attempt to manage, rather than be managed by, the development of the law of the Internet?

(By the way, don’t have a cybercow. I said manage development of the law of the Internet — not “manage the Internet” or “manage the development of the Internet.”)

Hershey keeps pushing it

Originally posted 2008-10-30 00:01:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

And as usual, Marty’s on top of it like chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream.

Hershey’s (Hershey’s’s?) pushing of the wrapper, foil and all, is one of our regular obsessions here.  You know, someone ought to do something about these guys…

Secret defrauder ring (UPDATED)

Originally posted 2010-02-15 13:15:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I want one, too!

What is the FRAUD-O-METER™?  Its creator, John Welch, explains:

Some say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly true with regard to the TTABlog FRAUD-O-METER™ brand legal indicator. We all know that the CAFC in In re Bose Corporation jettisoned the TTAB’s “knew or should have known” standard for fraud set out in Medinol v. Neuro Vasx, ruling that the Board had “erroneously lowered the fraud standard to a simple negligence standard.”  The appellate court also held that proof of intent to deceive is required to establish fraud and it indicated that even “gross negligence” is not enough, but it declined to address the issue of whether “reckless disregard for the truth” would suffice.

The FRAUD-O-METER™ illustrates the current state of trademark fraud jurisprudence: the now defunct Medinol standard is depicted by the grey arrow resting in the “Negligence” wedge, while the white arrow, representing our post-Bose uncertainty, unsurely leans toward the “Reckless Disregard” wedge.

If the chart looks a bit blurry, then I suggest that you (1) move closer to your computer screen; (2) check your eyeglass prescription; or (3) double click on the chart for a larger version that you can print out or save as your computer wallpaper.

Or, kids, you can collect the whole set!

This is very clever.  Yet I have the sneaking feeling that John…  he is not to laugh from this PTO fraud, so much.

UPDATED:  The Beta for version 2.0 is out!  John explains:

The Board has yet to decide whether “reckless disregard for the truth” is enough to support a fraud ruling. There are some suggestions (including a recent article by TTAB Judge Lorelei Ritchie [TTABlogged here]) that “willful blindness” may be enough. With that in mind, I have created Version 2.0 of the Fraud-O-Meter, still in beta testing.

A theory of likelihood of confusion

Originally posted 2007-08-24 08:02:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Legal Theory Blog excerpts from a recent article on the the back story of trademark litigation, by one Michael Grynberg:

The plaintiff effectively represents two parties. She defends her trademark and simultaneously protects consumers who may be confused by the defendant’s behavior. The defendant, by contrast, stands alone.The resulting “two-against-one” storyline gives short shrift to the interests of non-confused consumers who may benefit from the defendant’s purportedly infringing behavior. Ignoring these consumers is especially problematic given the ease with which courts apply pejorative labels, like “misappropriation” and “free riding,” to the conduct of trademark defendants. As a result, courts are too receptive to non-traditional trademark claims, like initial interest and post-sale confusion, for which the case for consumer harm is questionable.

More rational results are available by appreciating trademark litigation’s parallel status as a conflict between consumers. This view treats junior and senior trademark users as proxies for different consumer classes and recognizes that likely confusion among one group of consumers may affirmatively harm others.

I like anyone who tries to push back harm-to-the-plaintiff-free trademark lawsuits based on “non-traditional trademark claims,” and I have not read the whole article (I don’t think it’s available on line), but I don’t quite think this works. As a practical matter I do not believe that this “two against one” burden is a meaningful one for defendants; on the contrary, it is a burden the plaintiff has to carry: He has to convince the courts that not only he, but consumers, are being harmed by the alleged infringement.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The problems is the opposite one from what it seems Grynberg is saying: Judges ignore the consumer-harm burden placed on the plaintiff, and treat trademarks as rights in gross. Or at least, some do; and the corporate trademark bar most certainly wants them to.

Thus the problem is the mirror image of the one posited.  The solution: Don’t add a factor to the defendant side; merely recognize it on the plaintiff side. It’s been there all along, feeling lonely, judges.

U.S. District of Arizona: “No automatic injunction upon a finding of copyright infringement”

Originally posted 2008-09-05 17:38:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Not that the plaintiffs in the Designer Skin case didn’t get an injunction:  They did (here it is); a narrow one utilizing proposed language by defendants explicitly permitting S&L to use its own photographs of Designer Skin merchandise on its website (see the prior post).  But the Court ruled that they were not entitled to it merely by virtue of proving copyright infringement.  Here’s an excerpt from the opinion, discussing the point:

The parties dispute the law governing the issuance of a permanent injunction in a copyright-infringement case. Relying on MAI Sys. Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511, 520 (9th Cir. 1993), Designer Skin argues that “a permanent injunction [should] be granted in a copyright infringement case when liability has been established and there is a threat of continuing violations.”  Conversely, S & L Vitamins argues that the MAI rule has been overruled by the recent Supreme Court opinion in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388 (2006), and that the traditional four-factor test reaffirmed by eBay applies.

MAI’s general rule may accurately describe the result of applying the four-factor test to a copyright-infringement case in which liability has been established and there is a threat of continuing violations. Nevertheless, as Judge Wilson persuasively demonstrated in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 518 F. Supp. 2d 1197, 1209-10 (C.D. Cal. 2007), this general rule, as a rule, is clearly inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay. Thus, for the reasons given by Judge White in Grokster, Designer Skin’s reliance on this pre-eBay rule is unavailing, and the Court will apply the traditional four-factor test. . . .

This is an important holding, making the District of Arizona among the handful of earliest courts to apply the rule of eBay to copyright infringement.  After the jump, you can see how the court did apply it to one particular factor of interest, the need for a plaintiff seeking an injunction to prove irreparable harm.  The court agreed with S&L that past infringement does not lead to a presumption of future infringement. Unfortunately, to our client’s (nominal) detriment, and despite our argument that, seeing as how Designer Skin enunciated no coherent description of harm it suffered by the infringement — and that, in fact, it probably benefited from it — an injunction should not issue, the court found that there was irreparable harm, for reasons best expressed in its own words. Read More…

But it is the Dark Side? Or just plain old The Force?

Originally posted 2010-09-22 15:59:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Evan Brown:  “Behold the power of in rem actions“:

In rem actions over domain names are powerful tools. A trademark owner can undertake these actions when it identifies an infringing domain name but cannot locate the owner of that domain name.  In a sense, the domain name itself is the defendant. . . .

An “impostor” registered mediavestw.com, and “tricked” at least one of plaintiff’s business partners into signing up for advertising services. Plaintiff owns a trademark for MEDIAVEST and operates a website at mediavestww.com.  Plaintiff filed an in rem action and sought a temporary restraining order (TRO). . . .

The court found that the TRO would serve the public interest because such interest favors elimination of consumer confusion. (Consider whether there really was any consumer harm that took place here if the alleged fraud was on a business-to-business level. Compare the findings in this case with the finding of no consumer nexus in the recent Reit v. Yelp case.)

The court found that plaintiff had made such a strong showing of the likelihood of success that it did not require plaintiff to post a bond. It ordered the domain name transferred into the court’s control immediately. Behold the power of in rem actions.

Oh, when the defendant is this naughty, Evan, a question such as “was it really consumer confusion”? — perhaps we could ask, instead, “Was there really LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION given the sophistication of consumers?”–is, as we say in yeshiva, “not really a question.”

You’ve got a copycat domain name, a competing business and, for heaven’s sake, the Golden Ring itself — actual confusion?  Don’t give me questions!  And as Evan says, it’s for cases such as this one where the wrongfulness of the act is, not surprisingly, matched by the ethereality of the defendant that Congress gave us the in rem action.  Powerful stuff!

Some intel on INTEL®

Originally posted 2010-04-07 03:15:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

CIA Headquarters - intel inside

There's intel inside.

BUMPED from January 1, 2010 and UPDATED due to decision (scroll to the bottom for the stunning conclusion):

Had you heard about this one from Mike Masnick?

Chip giant Intel has a bit of a reputation for being a trademark bully at times, threatening or suing many companies just for having “intel” in their name somewhere — including a travel agency and a jeans company. Now, before anyone brings it up, yes, as a trademark holder the law requires you to enforce your trademark against infringement, lest it become considered “generic” (such as xerox machines, kleenex tissues, aspirin and other brand names that became generic).  But, the key in all of those generic situations was that the use was applied to things that directly competed with the original brand’s products. People referred to other tissues as “kleenex” and it stuck. Intel’s lawyers seem to go out of their way to find potential infringement where there obviously is none at all.

Paul Alan Levy alerts us to the latest such case, where Intel has sued the operators of the Mexico Watch newsletter, because its domain is LatinIntel.com. Of course, the reason for that is that it is using the commonly accepted abbreviation of “intel” as short for “intelligence.” It’s common shorthand, especially within government circles, to refer to gathered intelligence as simply “intel.” . . .

More importantly, no one is going to look at LatinIntel.com and confuse it for the world’s largest computer chip maker. No one is going to look at that site and wonder how come they can’t order a Centrino processor. There’s simply no confusion at all. . . .

Well, when I first read that post, I thought Mike may just be on to something there. Here’s how I see it now:

UPDATE:  Intel loses (don’t get excited about the “decision” itself however!)

Yay us!

Glory and gratitude to my co-counsel Colby Springer who nailed it at oral argument.

MORE:  Is less.