Tag Archives: Use in commerce

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.

Bring your discomfort bag (revised and expanded)

Originally posted 2007-01-08 10:50:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Technology & Marketing Law Blog: “The keyword advertising legal roller-coaster continues.”

The roller coaster I would not ride

As someone who is on that thrill ride — at least partly on the dime of my clients (as in the Buying for the Home case) — it is of course troubling for an expert such as Eric Goldman to acknowledge this. It is somewhat of a vindication, though, not least of the fact that attorneys practicing in this area really have no business telling clients they have any idea what the outcome of cases implicating these issues might be, no matter how well we think we know the law.

That’s fine as far as it goes. But what about the law? It is distressing enough to tell your client that his case involves an unsettled area of law and that two courts faced with similar facts could well come to different conclusions about the application of the “same” law to those facts. (It can even happen in the same case, as Eric points out in his commentary on Buying.) It is preposterous, however, that your client could get slammed on damages or, in theory, attorneys’ fees — which require a finding of willfulness, mind you — because courts are still feeling their way around.

What a fine opportunity for Congress to step in and provide guidance via legislation — for these angels dancing on the heads of virtual pins are in fact not so much legal decisions at all but real, live policy decisions: Shall the Lanham Act regulate, as a trademark infringement, the utilization of trademarks as search terms in Internet or other computer-based software engines?

This is not the case every time a trademark and the Internet get involved with each other. In the context of past trademark-on-the-Internet disputes, notably involving domains (which the world once thought would be the alpha and omega of trademark battlegrounds on the Web), we have argued that the issues at stake are not novel “cyberlaw” questions but merely require the application of hoary principles of unfair competition to somewhat novel situations. But that argument simply does not stand when we consider the search engine question. It is pedestrian to observe that Congress could not have contemplated this or that application of a law when it passed it. The common law tradition abjures us from such arguments. It is the job of judges to apply the law which affects the decisions we make about conduct to new factual situations by the application of analogy tempered with equity.

Yesterday you said tomorrowBut we are in a new world. When courts make fundamentally different conclusions about a question or cluster of questions — in this case whether trademarks are even “used,” as understood in the Lanham Act, by search engines [UPDATE:  See here.  They are.] It is time to recognize that these legal questions are political questions implicating not only law but commerce at all different levels, as well as technology and the shape of the Internet to come. Not everyone has the stomach for roller coaster rides. Let those who do have their fun. The rest of us, lawyers and clients alike, are entitled to the option of standing on terra firma while conducting our affairs. This is our stop.

Jews for Jesus v. Google and Brodsky – update and analysis

Originally posted 2006-01-22 12:59:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Jews for Jesus

I was on a panel called “Trademark Rights vs. Free Speech” at the Fall 2000 INTA Trademarks in Cyberspace Conference with Marty Schwimmer and David Bernstein. (Five years later I’m still glowing from the reflected brilliance!) The moderator was IP superstar Brendan O’Rourke, who cruelly, on-the-record, and correctly reminded me, “Ron, you lost the Jews for Jesus case, okay? Okay?” Yeah, well, okay. But that doesn’t mean the next guy–in this case, Google–has to! The “Jews for Jesus Whistle Blower” writes, at his Jews for Jesus blog:

Google has a few more days to respond to Jews for Jesus’ lawsuit over the rights to a blog. I bet Jews for Jesus is praying ferverently (and keeping their collective fingers crossed) that Google will give in. What is the likelihood that Google will set a precedent that all anyone has to do is sue Google and they’ll give in? Seems to me that Google is principled. And if they are willing to defend themselves against the government, there’s a good chance they’ll defend themselves against Jews for Jesus.

If Google doesn’t give in, will Jews for Jesus wilt? How much money do they have to pursue the control of a simple blog?

WB, they have plenty of money, and, as you cannily point out, they’re using this litigation to raise more. Jews for Jesus claimed (off the record) during the Brodsky litigation to have raised more in sympathetic donations than they spent on Thelen Reid’s legal fees. We’ll never know if that was true, but it’s food for thought.

As far as the “other side” went, although Steve Brodsky was the sole defendant and there was nothing but the most casual (well, and virtual) link between him and Rabbi Toviah Singer, certainly the two were aligned sympathetically. Rabbi Singer later told me that as a result of the controversy and the traffic that was generated as a result of the publicity for his website, a number of Messianic Jews (i.e., Christians with gefilte fish) returned to the Jewish fold. Maybe he was able to raise a dollar or too himself.

It is fair enough to say that the litigation was more helpful for J4J than it was for either Steve Brodsky, Rabbi singer or anti-J4J missionaries. The real loser, of course, was the law of trademark infringement, which still has not fully recovered. The most egregious aspect of J4J’s arguments on this point (as opposed to the even worse arguments–such as the cooked up “commercial use”–in the opinion) is the very premise that there is, with respect to these website cases, anything even approximating LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION.

As we put it in the Third Circuit brief which, among others, future Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito by all indications did not read (although he was on the panel that rubber-stamped the District Court decision with one sentence of affirmation):

Liability under the Lanham Act requires a showing, inter alia, of likelihood of confusion as to source. Scott Paper Co. v. Scott’s Liquid Gold, Inc., 589 F.2d 1225, 1228 (3d Cir. 1978). But, appellee has submitted no admissible proof to support a finding that confusion is likely.
. . .

[I]t takes virtually no time for even self-described “unsophisticated” users to quickly realize they are at Mr. Brodsky’s site, not that of appellee. The honesty of the non-confusing message on Mr. Brodsky’s website is in stark contrast to the defendant’s website in Planned Parenthood:

Because the words on the top of the page load first, the user is first greeted solely with the “Welcome to the Planned Parenthood Page!” It is highly likely that an Internet user will still believe that she has found plaintiff’s web site at that point.

42 U.S.P.Q.2d at 1438. That kind of confusion is simply impossible in the case of Mr. Brodsky’s website . . . In response to this argument, the District Court found that an individual may be a sophisticated consumer of the Internet but may be an unsophisticated consumer of information about religious organizations. Such a user may find his or her way to the Defendant Internet site and then be confused; the Defendant Internet site advocates views antithetical to those of the Plaintiff Organization.

The last two clauses in the excerpt above constitute a non-sequitur. They also make no sense in the context of the actual website at issue, which explicitly states its opposition to “the Jews for Jesus cult” and disclaims any affiliation with appellee. Concluding that Mr. Brodsky is not part of a Jews for Jesus organization does not require any particular “sophistication.” It only requires the ability to read.

In fact, the courts routinely define “sophistication” in much less “sophisticated” terms than did the court below, where a simple grasp of the obvious is all that is required to negate confusion. Thus, in Girls Scouts v. Personality Posters Mfg. Co., 304 F. Supp. 1228, 1231 (S.D.N.Y. 1969), the court ruled that “rational analysis” precluded confusion about whether the Girl Scouts were the source of a poster depicting a pregnant girl in the well-known uniform of the Girl Scouts appearing with the caveat “BE PREPARED.” Similarly, in Stop the Olympic Prison v. United States Olympic Committee, supra, 489 F. Supp. at 1123, a poster reading “Stop the Olympic Prison” was held not to violate the trademark of the United States Olympic Committee. The court reasoned as follows:

On the basis of its own examination of the poster, the Court finds it extremely unlikely that anyone would presume it to have been produced, sponsored or in any way authorized by the U.S.O.C. While at a fleeting glance, someone might conceivably mistake it for a poster advertising the Olympics, nobody could conceivably retain such a misconception long enough to do any harm: for example, there is no danger that anyone would purchase or display it as such.

Id. . . .  As in Girl Scouts and Olympic Prison, no rational person could believe that Mr. Brodsky’s message was in any way affiliated with appellee. The District Court nonetheless held that confusion is likely because Mr. Brodsky’s site is “related” to that of appellee [and that the use of the trademark was in fact more, not less, protected for this reason, on fair use grounds!-- RDC]. The court below inexplicably rejected the inescapable conclusion that consumers can dispel any confusion if they merely trouble to read Mr. Brodsky’s message, the way Chellathurai, Kalstein and Sanchez did.

If you’re still with me, here’s a last nail from the Third Circuit reply brief:

In defending the District Court’s likelihood of confusion analysis, appellee comes again to its prized exhibits: the three “confusion affidavits” of Chellathurai, Kalstein and Sanchez. There is little left to debate regarding whether these affidavits demonstrate confusion, or, more likely, the absence of confusion. This Court will simply have to read them. A076, A080, A257. Appellee suggests that the District Court found “initial interest confusion” here. Opp. Brief. at 37. But this doctrine is mentioned nowhere in the opinion below. Developed in a sales context, it has been applied only where “a potential purchaser is initially confused [such that] the [senior seller] may be precluded from further consideration.”

Weiss Assoc., Inc. v. HRL Assoc., Inc., 902 F.2d 1546 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (emphasis added). Thus it does not apply here. In fact, in Girl Scouts the Southern District of New York rejected transient confusion as proof of trademark harm in a social-commentary context:

Even if we hypothesize that some viewers might at first believe that the subject of the poster is actually a pregnant Girl Scout, it is highly doubtful that any such impression would be more than momentary or that any viewer would conclude that the Girl Scouts had printed or distributed the poster.

304 F. Supp. at 1231. As the Girl Scouts court recognized, ephemeral moments of confusion that do not threaten to divert sales are not evidence of actionable harm under the Lanham Act. Real harm must be shown to overcome the constitutional protection of free speech:

No evidence is found anywhere in the record before the court that the poster has to date damaged the plaintiff in any way. No facts are presented to show that contributions to the organization have fallen off, that members have resigned, that recruits have failed to join, that sales . . . have decreased, or that voluntary workers have dissociated themselves or declined to support the honorable work of the organization.

Id. at 1235. Similarly, there is no evidence in this case of any actionable or even discernible harm that appellee has suffered as a result of Mr. Brodsky’s website. Even the court below admitted that the publicity surrounding this dispute was, far from harmful, undoubtedly a boon for appellee. A436-37. And all three supposedly confused affiants found their way to appellee’s website, undeterred by Steven Brodsky and more zealous than ever in their devotion to appellee. In fact, their reports to appellee negate the suggestion of confusion; again from Girl Scouts:

[I]ndignation is not confusion. To the contrary, the indignation of those who [reported the offending use] would appear to make it clear that they feel that the Girl Scouts are being unfairly put upon, not that the Girl Scouts are the manufacturers or distributors of the object of indignation.

Id. at 1231. This passage perfectly describes the three “confusion” affidavits here: indignant, yes, but certain that appellee was not the source of Mr. Brodsky’s website. They were not confused.

They were not confused. Unfortunately, a lot of people were, and are–about what the Lanham Act is, and is not, meant to protect, and don’t get this key point:  Indignation is not confusion. We can survive that, as long as too many of them aren’t judges.

It’s a good bet, as Whistle Blower suggests, that Google will get a better hearing than lone idealist Steve Brodsky did in his case, and not just because it is better heeled. (My old firm, Pitney Hardin, handled the Brodsky litigation pro bono.) And the issues are somewhat different.

Still, Whistle Blower says that the Reverend David Brickner, the pleasant, non-Jewish head of Jews for Jesus, thinks this is the second coming of the Brodsky case. Jews for Jesus attorneys Thelen Reid probably hope so (though perhaps not every Thelen Ried partner is singing from the same sheet of music on the topic of God and intellectual property). WB beleives that from a legal point of view this seems like somewhat wishful thinking. (Not to mention the fact that this case was filed in the federal court in New York, not New Jersey, and that Judge Lechner of the former court has retired and moved onto bigger and better things.)

Then again, the Rev. Brickner’s statement is hardly the first instance of wishful confusion to eminate from the the precincts of Jews for Jesus–not hardly.

Keeping it real — the ultimate use in commerce

Originally posted 2009-05-07 12:35:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The TTABlog® reports, again, on the fraud issue, but that’s not what interests me here so much this time.  Rather, it’s the question of the lifecycle of a trademark’s “use in commerce” status when plotted against that of a specific product which may no longer be manufactured, but which arguably may have trademark significance.

Ron ColemanI have looked at this question in other contexts before, particularly in this post where I wrote about a company called River West Brands, that pokes through the junk-heap of “abandoned” consumer-products trademarks and tries to make money off them.  The focus in that post was on trademarks for lines of goods that no longer exist, and I linked to related items by Pam Chestek and, guess what, John Welch that dealt with the issue.  But here there’s a twist:  The trademark, WAVE, is very much alive in Bose’s successful line of high-end audio equipment.  But, as befits a “fraud on the PTO” case, the focus here is on one particular product in the list of goods and service that is no longer in production.  Can the trademark still be a trademark?

As John Welch explains, “The TTAB, in Bose Corp. v. Hexawave, Inc., 88 USPQ2d 1332 (TTAB 2007)…, found that Bose had committed fraud in its 2001 renewal of a registration for the mark WAVE for, inter alia, audio tape recorders and players.” In other words, Bose was found to have committed “fraud” because the list contains the tape recorders and players, but by the time Bose renewed its mark in 2001 it should not have continued to seek trademark registration for a product it no longer sells.

Bose acknowledged that it stopped manufacturing and selling audio tape recorders and players in 1996-97. Nonetheless, it did not delete those goods from the WAVE registration when filing for renewal. Bose contended that the renewal was proper “because owners of audio tape recorders and players continue to send their previously purchased goods to opposer for repair services and upon completion of the repair services opposer ‘transports’ them back to the owner.

This is a great argument, but evidently the TTAB didn’t buy it because there was no case law to support it, according to John.  As he says in a 2008 article:

The Board noted that Bose offered no case support for its theory that “transporting” a product back to its owner after repair constitutes use of a trademark on the product as contemplated by Section 45 of the Trademark Act. It acknowledged that a sale of goods is not necessary to establish trademark use; shipment of samples and prototypes may suffice, but the entity causing the shipment must be the owner of the goods at the time of transportation. Here, “the scenario presented by opposer does not constitute use sufficient to maintain a registration for goods.” The question then became “whether it was reasonable for opposer to believe that it did.” The Board found that it was not, because Bose “could not point to case law that supports” its interpretation of the statute.

I don’t have the appellate briefs, though I suppose an argument not made before the TTAB cannot be the basis of an appeal before the CAFC.  But I wouldn’t have argued that “shipment” of merchandise is the trademark use that justifies continued registration.  I would have argued that where, as here, (1) the trademark is still is very much in use by the company that manufactured the tape recorders and players not so long ago, and (2) consumers still have those machines and, indeed, are shipping them to Bose for repair, the trademark “use” was not the shipping but the repairing itself.  The maintenance of the item by Bose to the level of quality deemed appropriate by Bose is certainly trademark use. Read More…

Blame it on chain

Originally posted 2008-07-05 20:00:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

You’d think a catalog page would be a great way, in a trademark registration application, to show use of a trademark “in commerce” associated with the goods or services being offered. You could be wrong, though. John Welch reports a TTAB decision upholding the denial of a trademark application for machine chain supported by a specimen of use depicting the mark in a catalog.

It seems the catalog was so fancy-shmancy that it outdid itself by not really being a sales tool so much as a kind of “brand builder” that you could hardly do anything with other than, perhaps, razor out and frame for the living room. We’re talking about machine chain here, but looking at the specimen of an ad for … yeah, chain (here’s a link! ;-)) … you would think that you were beholding an ad for fine wine, jewelry or premium gasoline.

Here’s how the TTAB explained it:

[T]here was no record evidence as to how applicant and its competitors sell chain, or “whether customers, in fact, ‘know that orders are placed over the phone.’” InValenite [where a catalog was ruled to be adequate], the appellant submitted a declaration verifying that its customers regularly order products by telephoning the customer service department.

Second, here Applicant’s specimen does not contain the information necessary to order chains. In Valenite, the webpage specimen contained links to appellant’s “Technical Resource Center,” which included specification sheets, online calculators, and reference tables, and which provided toll-free customer service telephone numbers. Thus the Valenite website provided “sufficient information that the customer can select a product and call customer service to confirm the correctness of the selection and place an order.” Valenite at 1349-1350.

The Board found that Tsubaki’s catalog page is more like a fact sheet, catalog page, or brochure. It does not contain “any information normally associated with ordering products by the telephone or the Internet.” At best, the specimen provides a telephone number and a web address, but even the website “does not provide a means for ordering applicant’s chain online (or by telephone).”

The Board therefore found that Tsubaki’s specimen is not a display associated with the goods, and the refusal was affirmed.

“The crucial factual issue in this case is whether applicant’s specimen includes the information necessary to order applicant’s chain, thus making it a point-of-sale display,” wrote the Board. Guess I can follow the TTAB’s chain of thought, after all!

Best of 2009: “Keeping it real — the ultimate use in commerce”

This was first posted on May 7, 2009.

The TTABlog® reports, again, on the fraud issue, but that’s not what interests me here so much this time. Rather, it’s the question of the lifecycle of a trademark’s “use in commerce” status when plotted against that of a specific product which may no longer be manufactured, but which arguably may have trademark significance.

Ron ColemanI have looked at this question in other contexts before, particularly in this post where I wrote about a company called River West Brands, that pokes through the junk-heap of “abandoned” consumer-products trademarks and tries to make money off them. The focus in that post was on trademarks for lines of goods that no longer exist, and I linked to related items by Pam Chestek and, guess what, John Welch that dealt with the issue. But here there’s a twist: The trademark, WAVE, is very much alive in Bose’s successful line of high-end audio equipment. But, as befits a “fraud on the PTO” case, the focus here is on one particular product in the list of goods and service that is no longer in production. Can the trademark still be a trademark?

As John Welch explains, “The TTAB, in Bose Corp. v. Hexawave, Inc., 88 USPQ2d 1332 (TTAB 2007)…, found that Bose had committed fraud in its 2001 renewal of a registration for the mark WAVE for, inter alia, audio tape recorders and players.” In other words, Bose was found to have committed “fraud” because the list contains the tape recorders and players, but by the time Bose renewed its mark in 2001 it should not have continued to seek trademark registration for a product it no longer sells.

Bose acknowledged that it stopped manufacturing and selling audio tape recorders and players in 1996-97. Nonetheless, it did not delete those goods from the WAVE registration when filing for renewal. Bose contended that the renewal was proper “because owners of audio tape recorders and players continue to send their previously purchased goods to opposer for repair services and upon completion of the repair services opposer ‘transports’ them back to the owner.

This is a great argument, but evidently the TTAB didn’t buy it because there was no case law to support it, according to John. As he says in a 2008 article:

The Board noted that Bose offered no case support for its theory that “transporting” a product back to its owner after repair constitutes use of a trademark on the product as contemplated by Section 45 of the Trademark Act. It acknowledged that a sale of goods is not necessary to establish trademark use; shipment of samples and prototypes may suffice, but the entity causing the shipment must be the owner of the goods at the time of transportation. Here, “the scenario presented by opposer does not constitute use sufficient to maintain a registration for goods.” The question then became “whether it was reasonable for opposer to believe that it did.” The Board found that it was not, because Bose “could not point to case law that supports” its interpretation of the statute.

I don’t have the appellate briefs, though I suppose an argument not made before the TTAB cannot be the basis of an appeal before the CAFC. But I wouldn’t have argued that “shipment” of merchandise is the trademark use that justifies continued registration. I would have argued that where, as here, (1) the trademark is still is very much in use by the company that manufactured the tape recorders and players not so long ago, and (2) consumers still have those machines and, indeed, are shipping them to Bose for repair, the trademark “use” was not the shipping but the repairing itself. The maintenance of the item by Bose to the level of quality deemed appropriate by Bose is certainly trademark use. Read More…

Wherefore art thou trademark use?

I wrote a couple of days ago — and once again got hit hard by a learned commenter who disagrees with my view of the matter — about the Second Circuit’s ruling in the Rescuecom v. Google case that keyword advertising can be trademark use giving rise to an action to infringement.  That decision is dated the same day as my blog post, April 6th.  I wrote, “[U]ntil now, district courts in the Second Circuit have held that the use of trademarks as a term was not ‘trademark use.’”

romeo-juliette-by-andriolloNot quite right, it turns out.  For on March 26th, I learned yesterday via the New York Law Journal, Judge Thomas P. Griesa in the Southern District of New York anticipated the Second Circuit, at least insofar as acknowledging the limitations of that broad rule, and rejected a motion to dismiss based on the “keywords aren’t not trademark use” argument.

Ruling in a case with the felicitious caption of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal, Inc. v. Assara I LLC, Judge Griesa did not anticipate the Second Circuit’s legal ruling, however.  Rather, he focused on another often-overlooked point:  The difference between a keyword that generates a competitor’s otherwise inoffensive ad, and one that results in an ad that is it itself potentially confusing because it uses the keyword itself in a way not justifiable as a fair use.

According to the opinion, when a user searched for “romeo & juliette laser,” presumably the first search someone looking for romance-enhancing hair removal would make, the result came up with an ad like this:

trademark-use-ad
Needless to say, neither the Capulets or the Montagues authorized this use of their trademark by their competitor, Assara.  Nor is their any obvious justification for it under trademark law or otherwise.  This kind of use, Judge Griesa easily determined, was not immunized even under the then-current understanding of the Second Circuit’s 1-800 decision:

Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because any use of the mark in this context was non-infringing.  In support of this argument, they invoke the Second Circuit’s holding that a “company’s internal utilization of a trademark in a way that does not communicate it to the public” is non-infringing.  1-800 Contacts, 414 F. 3d at 109.  Thus if defendants had paid Google to display Assara’s advertisement in response to a search for “Romeo & Juliette,” without having the advertisement itself contain a reference to Romeo & Juliette, that would not have been a ‘use’ of the mark. . . . In this case, however, plaintiff alleges that the use of its mark was in Assara’s advertisement itself, as well as on the face of Assara’s website.  Therefore, the cases approving of the “internal utilization” of a trademark are inapposite.

So they are, and, by virtue of the Circuit’s decision earlier this week, they may be more — or less — than that, too.  The Romeo & Juliette decision is here.