Pattishall IP Blog

January 15, 2014

Ninth Circuit Declares GoDaddy Not Contributorily Liable For Cybersquatting

Filed under: Cybersquatting, Domain Name, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 1:08 pm

Paul Borovay F LRBy Paul A. Borovay, Associate

In December, the Ninth Circuit held that the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d), does not support a cause of action for contributory cybersquatting.  Petroliam Nasional Berhad v. GoDaddy.com, Inc., 737 F.3d 546, 548 (9th Cir. 2013).[1]

Petrolium Nasional Berhad (Petronas), a major oil and gas company with its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, owns the trademark PETRONAS.  In 2009, Petronas discovered that a third party had registered the domain names “petronastower.net” and “petronastowers.net.”  The third party then used GoDaddy’s domain name forwarding services to forward visitors of the two domain names to a pornographic web site. GoDaddy took no action against the alleged cybersquatting, claiming that (1) it did not host the site; and (2) it was prevented by the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”) from participating in trademark disputes regarding domain name ownership.  Id. at 548.

Petronas sued GoDaddy in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on a number of theories, including cybersquatting under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d), and contributory cybersquatting. Following limited discovery, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of GoDaddy. Petroliam Nasional Berhad v. GoDaddy.com, Inc., 897 F. Supp. 2d 856 (N.D. Cal. 2012) aff’d, 737 F.3d 546 (9th Cir. 2013).  Petronas appealed only with respect to its claim of contributory cybersquatting.

The Ninth Circuit defined cybersquatting as “registering a domain name associated with a protected trademark either to ransom the domain name to the mark holder or to divert business from the mark holder.” Petroliam, 737 F.3d at 550 n. 3 (citing Bosley Med. Inst., Inc. v. Kremer, 403 F.3d 672, 680 (9th Cir.2005)).  Under the ACPA, a person may be civilly liable “if … that person has a bad faith intent to profit from that mark … and registers, traffics in, or uses a [protected] domain name.” 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(A). Petronas argued that the ACPA provided for a cause of action for contributory cybersquatting, claiming that “Congress intended to incorporate common law principles of secondary liability into the Act by legislating against the backdrop of the common law of trademark infringement and by placing the ACPA within the Lanham Act.”  Petroliam, 737 F.3d at 550.  The Ninth Circuit disagreed.

Beginning its analysis with the text of the ACPA, the Ninth Circuit noted that the ACPA imposes civil liability for cybersquatting on persons that “register[ ], traffic[ ] in, or use[ ] a domain name” with the “bad faith intent to profit” from that protected mark. 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(A). The plain language of the statute thus prohibits the act of cybersquatting, but limits when a person can be considered to be a cybersquatter. Id.  Taking notice that the statute makes no express provision for secondary liability, the Ninth Circuit held that “[e]xtending liability to registrars or other third parties who are not cybersquatters, but whose actions may have the effect of aiding such cybersquatting, would expand the range of conduct prohibited by the statute from a bad faith intent to cybersquat on a trademark to the mere maintenance of a domain name by a registrar, with or without a bad faith intent to profit.” Petroliam, 737 F.3d at 550-51.

Petronas then argued that Congress incorporated the common law of trademark, including contributory infringement, into the ACPA, citing a number of district courts decisions that relied on that reasoning in finding a cause of action for contributory cybersquatting. See Verizon Cal., Inc. v. Above.com Pty Ltd., 881 F.Supp.2d 1173, 1176–79 (C.D.Cal.2011); Microsoft Corp. v. Shah, No. 10–0653, 2011 WL 108954, at *1–3 (W.D.Wash. Jan. 12, 2011); Solid Host, NL v. Namecheap, Inc., 652 F.Supp.2d 1092, 1111–12 (C.D.Cal.2009); Ford Motor Co. v. Greatdomains.com, Inc., 177 F.Supp.2d 635, 646–47 (E.D.Mich.2001).[2]  Again, the Ninth Circuit was not persuaded, holding that the “circumstances surrounding the enactment of the ACPA [. . . ] do not support the inference that Congress intended to incorporate theories of secondary liability into that Act.”  Distinguishing between the Lanham Act’s codification of unfair competition and common law trademark infringement and the ACPA, the Ninth Circuit stated that claims under traditional trademark law and the ACPA have distinct elements. Petroliam, 737 F.3d at 552  (for example, under the ACPA a mark holder must prove “bad faith,” which is not a requirement under traditional trademark infringement claims, and cybersquatting liability, unlike traditional trademark infringement, does not require commercial use of a domain name).[3]  As a consequence, the Ninth Circuit held that the ACPA simply created a new statutory cause of action to address the new cybersquatting problem and that imposing secondary liability on domain name registrars would unnecessarily expand the scope of the ACPA.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision was not surprising.  The purpose of the ACPA and the UDRP is to provide trademark owners with a remedy against those actively using their trademarks in “bad faith.”  As a domain name forwarding provider, GoDaddy simply did not meet the explicit definition of a “cybersquatter.”  Consequently, trademark owners must use the tools the ACPA and the UDRP provide to go after those the ACPA defines as liable, that is, the cybersquatters themselves.[4]

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Paul A. Borovay is an associate with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.   Paul’s practice focuses on litigation in trademark, media, online gaming and entertainment, advertising, as well as trademark prosecution and counseling.


[2] The Ninth Circuit commented that some of these district courts that recognized a cause of action for contributory liability required that a plaintiff show “exceptional circumstances” in order to hold a registrar liable under that theory. See Above.com Pty Ltd., 881 F.Supp.2d at 1178; Shah, 2011 WL 108954, at *2; Greatdomains.com, Inc., 177 F.Supp.2d at 647. The Ninth Circuit noted that the “exceptional circumstances” test has no basis in either the Act, or in the common law of trademark. Petroliam Nasional Berhad v. GoDaddy.com, Inc., 737 F.3d 546, 553 (9th Cir. 2013).  Rather than attempt to cabin a judicially discovered cause of action for contributory cybersquatting with a limitation created out of whole cloth, the Ninth Circuit explicitly declined to recognize such a cause of action in the first place.  Id.

[3] As a practical point, the Ninth Circuit noted that GoDaddy, a registrar holding over 50 million domain names, would have to presumably analyze its customer’s subjective intent with respect to each domain name, using the nine factor statutory test outlined in 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B).  Moreover, domain name service providers would then be forced to inject themselves into trademark and domain name disputes. which is contrary to the purpose of the ACPA and the UDRP. Petroliam Nasional Berhad v. GoDaddy.com, Inc., 737 F.3d 546, 549-54 (9th Cir. 2013).

[4] UDRP proceedings are a cost-effective means to protect your trademark online and to keep third parties from diverting people from your legitimate websites and siphoning off ad revenue.

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January 10, 2014

Kanye West Sends Cease and Desist Letter to Stop New COINYE WEST Virtual Currency

Filed under: Cybersquatting, Domain Name, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 12:01 pm

Paul Borovay F LRBy Paul A. Borovay, Associate

Whether you are in the Yeezus camp or the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy camp, or even if either of those references mean nothing to you, you might still be interested to know that a new currency is in development – in a few days we will all be able to own some COINYE WEST.  Or will we?

As the Wall Street Journal first reported, Kanye West has tried to stop seven anonymous coders behind a new virtual currency called COINYE WEST, similar to bitcoin.  Not surprisingly, Kanye West, by and through his attorneys, has claimed trademark infringement, unfair competition, cyberpiracy and dilution.  You can read the cease and desist letter here.  While the company has changed its domain name from coinyewest.com to coinyeco.in, the coders launched their site on January 7.

West has built a music empire on his KANYE WEST brand, a brand that, according to West’s interview with BBC Radio 1, is the most influential in the world.  As if being the “number one rock star on the planet” was not enough, West’s “I am a God” statement truly makes him a being to reckon with.

While West might be a bit high and mighty (pun intended), he does understand the importance of protecting his brand.  This situation highlights the cross section between trademark rights and the new and evolving internet frontier.  First it was domain names, then came AdWords, and now crypto currency.  While COINYE WEST might face an uphill battle if the case proceeds to court, similar disputes are certain to arise as new technologies develop.  At Pattishall, we strive to stay on the forefront of emerging technologies.  And, while I may not be in the market for any COINYE in the near future, I will be ready to purchase some KARDASH-CASH if Kim Kardashian ever makes any available.[1]

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Paul A. Borovay is an associate with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.   Paul’s practice focuses on litigation in trademark, media, online gaming and entertainment, advertising, as well as trademark prosecution and counseling.


[1] KARDASH-CASH is not a real trademark, nor is it a real currency.  I just made it up for fun.

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January 8, 2014

Who is Johnny Football?

Filed under: Licensing, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 11:28 am

Paul Borovay F LRBy Paul A. Borovay, Associate

Unless you have turned a blind eye to all sports over the last two years, there is a good chance that you have heard of Johnny Manzeil, the talented (and polarizing) quarterback from Texas A&M.   Manzeil was the first freshman football player to win the Heisman trophy, and he won it in style.  During his rise to the college football elite, he, like many athletes before him, received a nickname from the media: Johnny Football.  While NCAA amateurism rules kept Manzeil from profiting from his name and likeness during his collegiate sports career, those same rules did not keep the media and other private companies from making money on selling merchandise bearing the mark JOHNNY FOOTBALL.

In November 2012,  Kenneth R. Reynolds Family Investments (“Reynolds Investments”) filed an intent to use trademark application for JOHNNY FOOTBALL, which covered electronic games, athletic apparel and footballs.  Ser. No. 85/769,563.  Not surprisingly, Manzeil, submitted a Letter of Protest against Reynolds Investments’ application, claiming that JOHNNY FOOTBALL identifies a particular living individual and Reynolds Investments’ application failed to include Manzeil’s consent.

After receiving the Letter of Protest, the Examiner for this trademark application rescinded his approval of the trademark application and, on August 16, 2013, requested that Reynolds Investments submit a  the written consent of Mr. Manzeil to use his “name.”  The consent requirement includes any pseudonym, stage name or nickname, or signature, if the name or signature identifies a particular living individual.  Trademark Act Section 2(c), 15 U.S.C. §1052(c); TMEP §§813, 1206.04(a). Reynolds Investments has until February 16, 2014 to respond.

This situation is similar to that of Anthony Davis, the Kentucky basketball star and the NBA’s number one draft pick in 2012.  There, BlueZone, LLC, a local clothing store in Lexington, Kentucky, began selling T-Shirts and jerseys with the mark FEAR THE BROW.  The “brow” for which people should fear was actually Davis’ unibrow – a distinguishing feature that Davis wholeheartedly embraced.  To secure its rights in the mark, BlueZone applied for the trademark FEAR THE BROW.  Ser. No. 85/643,417.  Similarly, Davis contested the mark and filed his application for FEAR THE BROW.  Ser. No. 85/643,417.  BlueZone ultimately abandoned its application.

Like Davis’ situation, Manzeil technically remains second in priority for the mark JOHNNY FOOTBALL because he filed his trademark application in February 2013.    However, without Manzeil’s consent, Reynolds Investments will likely have no choice but to abandon its application, giving Johnny Football himself the right to finally make money off of JOHNNY FOOTBALL the trademark.

Davis and Manzeil, while stars in their own right, highlight a revenue stream that many athletes have yet to fully exploit.  As media licensing agreements and mobile advertising dollars increase exponentially, so to can athletes’ endorsements contracts.  If athletes protect their brands and build them properly, these endorsements will continue long after his or her professional career is over.  Athletes, now more than ever, need to actively manage their brands, which will ultimately ensure that Johnny Football profits from being “the” JOHNNY FOOTBALL and that Anthony Davis reaps the rewards of keeping the best kempt unibrow in the NBA.

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Paul A. Borovay is an associate with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.   Paul’s practice focuses on litigation in trademark, media, online gaming and entertainment, advertising, as well as trademark prosecution and counseling.

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November 22, 2013

“THANKSGIVUKKAH” Convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah—The Latest Pop Culture Trademark Sensation

Filed under: TM Registration, Trademark (General), Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:54 am

By Belinda Scrimenti, Partner

Many media outlets are asking:  Where is Adam Sandler when you need him?[1]  His well-known Hanukkah Song is due for a new verse that celebrates a hot new holiday “trademark.”

Popular culture events frequently are reflected in trademark filings.  The latest:  “THANKSGIVUKKAH” – This year’s rare convergence of Thanksgiving with the first full day of Hanukkah.   According to reports, the last time the overlap occurred was in 1888, and physicist Jonathan Mizrahi has calculated that the event will not occur for another 79,000 years.[2]

Indeed, this “once-in-eternity” event has brought a “cornucopia of money-making” opportunities as described by USA Today.[3]  And where there’s a money-making opportunity, there must be a trademark.

Reportedly, the “Thanksgivukkah” term was coined by a Boston resident, Dana Gitell,[4] who had the foresight to protect the mark by obtaining trademark registrations for the term, in Class 16 for greeting cards and other party goods, and in Class 25 for t-shirts and baby garments.  The applications, based on a stated first use date of December 3, 2012, were filed one day later, but nearly a year before the 2013 holiday.[5]

In another oft-reported story, a 9-year-old New York boy, Asher Weintraub, “invented” the “Menurkey” – a turkey-shaped menorah – and with his parents’ help, raised more than $48,000 on Kickstarter for the product.[6]   They have already filed for a federal trademark registration.[7]

Anxious to get in on the “Thanksgivukkah” trademark action?  Despite many media references to “Gobble tov,” as of this writing nobody has sought to register a trademark for it.  Also available:  “Hanu-Giving” and “Challahday Greetings,” the latter of which was first registered back in 1985 and has long since expired.

The trademark office is often a reflection of popular culture, but not surprisingly, many of these marks either never make it to registration, or are quickly forgotten and abandoned.  Government and historical events often spawn these filings.   For example, seven applications have been filed that incorporate the term “Obamacare” – mostly related to insurance services.  Three have already been abandoned, and four have pending office actions.  Nevertheless, this volume of filings pales in comparison to the adoption of other government catchphrases.

Remember the Iraq War’s “Shock & Awe”?  Within hours and days following the initial attack on Baghdad, applications for “SHOCK & AWE” in various formulations started flooding in to the USPTO.  Not counting applications for other marks incorporating the terms, 36 “SHOCK & AWE” applications were filed for everything from golf clubs to pesticides, lingerie to fireworks, and even “infant action crib toys.”  Of that, only four were eventually registered and remain on the register today.

During the same period, the ire over France’s lackluster support of the United States in the Iraq War led to another pop culture trademark spat.  French fries became “Freedom Fries.”   Within 60 days of the controversy, six companies sought to obtain a trademark registration for the term, and one tried two years later.  The first user of the mark ultimately prevailed in the registration battle, but years later, allowed the registration to go abandoned for failure to file the Section 8 maintenance declaration.[8]

The king of pop culture filings, however, occurred at the 2000 year millennium.  USPTO records reflect over 320 filings for trademarks incorporating the term “Y2K.”  Of that number, only 27 ultimately registered.  Today, only one registration remains on the register – for business consulting and information services.[9]

In contrast, the USPTO records may well be a good barometer of what is highly unpopular in the United States – as no one sought to register “FISCAL CLIFF,” “DEBT CEILING” or “GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN”!

With no threats of the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling negotiations or a government shutdown hanging over the month of November, that brings us back to Thanksgiving.  A far more enjoyable government event remains free of trademark interlopers – no one has applied to register “TURKEY PARDON.”

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Belinda Scrimenti is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.   Belinda’s practice focuses on litigation in trademark, copyright, trade dress, and Internet law, as well as trademark prosecution and counseling.  She has worked on numerous matters relating to the registration, protection, and enforcement of trademarks, and litigated in over 40 U.S. federal district courts.

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[1] See, e.g., http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/12/3748399/this-year-thanksgiving-hanukkah.html; http://mainstreetmusingsblog.com/2013/11/04/thanksgiving-and-hanukkah-makes-thanksgivukkah/; http://www.kansascity.com/2013/11/11/4614193/this-year-thanksgiving-hanukkah.html
[2]
http://jonathanmizrahi.blogspot.com/2013/01/hanukkah-and-thanksgiving-once-in.html; see http://bigstory.ap.org/article/gobble-tov-american-jews-ready-thanksgivukkah
[3] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/14/thanksgivukkah-products/3516299/
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgivukkah#cite_note-22
[5] See U.S. Registration Nos. 4,371,793 and 4,379,381.
[6] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/gobble-tov-american-jews-ready-thanksgivukkah; http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/14/thanksgivukkah-products/3516299/; http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304176904579112022682954300
[7] See U.S. Application Serial No. 85/956314.
[8] See U.S. Registration No. 3,220,999
[9] See U.S. Registration No. 3,677,414

September 30, 2013

The Likely Impact of a Federal Government Shutdown on the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Copyright Office, and Federal Courts

Filed under: Copyright, TM Registration, Trademark (General) — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:10 pm

By Belinda Scrimenti, Partner

Like many areas of commerce to be effected in the United States, the threatened government shutdown – currently scheduled for midnight on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 – will impact trademark owners, copyright applicants, and federal court litigants.  Immediately available information suggests that a brief shutdown would have little impact, but the impact of a longer shutdown is uncertain.  We will keep current status information posted here.

Patent and Trademark Office

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) has announced that, in the event the October 1, 2013 shutdown comes to pass, it will remain open and will continue to operate as usual for a period of as much as four weeks.  The USPTO is able to keep its doors open because it has enough available reserve fee collections  to remain in operation until that date.  Should a shutdown occur and continue longer than the four-week period, the USPTO has advised that it “would shut down at that time, although a very small staff would continue to work to accept new applications and maintain IT infrastructure, among other functions.”  The USPTO has advised that it will continue to post information on its website as it becomes available.  The agency’s plan for an orderly shutdown are available on page 78 of the United States Department of Commerce’s shutdown plan.  http://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2013/september/2013_doc_lapse_in_appropriations_plan_9_27.pdf

Copyright Office

The United States Copyright Office has not issued any public release about its operations during a shutdown.  Like all agencies, it will be required to follow Office of Management and Budget procedures outlining an orderly shutdown, which will leave only “exempt” (i.e., essential) personnel in place.  It remains unclear what effect this would have on services, such as, for example, the issuance of expedited copyright registrations during a shutdown.

Federal Courts

The federal court system will face a more urgent shutdown date.  The Judiciary has announced that, should Congress not agree on a continuing resolution to fund the government before October 1, “the federal Judiciary will remain open for business for approximately 10 business days. ”

On or around October 15, the Judiciary has advised that it “will reassess its situation and provide further guidance.”  The Judiciary also advised that, “[a]ll proceedings and deadlines remain in effect as scheduled, unless otherwise advised.”  The Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system will remain in operation for the electronic filing of documents with the courts.

The Judiciary has not provided further guidance as to the potential shutdown after October 15.However, the contingency plans likely would be comparable to those announced at the time of the threatened April 2011 shutdown.  At that time, the Judiciary described those functions as “limiting activities to those functions necessary and essential to continue the resolution of cases. All other personnel services not related to judicial functions would be suspended.”  Further guidance during that earlier threatened shutdown suggested that criminal trials would continue as needed, but left uncertain the impact on civil cases.

Following this expectation, late today The Department of Justice published its contingency shutdown plan which can be found at:  http://www.justice.gov/jmd/publications/doj-contingency-plan.pdf.  It “assumes” only a five-day furlough for planning purposes.  With respect to litigation, the Department of Justices’ plan assumes that the Judicial Branch will continue to operate through the furlough, noting that criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property.  However, the plan provides that civil litigation “will be curtailed or postponed to the extent that this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property,” and requires DOJ civil litigators to seek postponement of such cases.

Check back here for current updates.

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Belinda Scrimenti is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.   Belinda’s practice focuses on litigation in trademark, copyright, trade dress, and Internet law, as well as trademark prosecution and counseling.  She has worked on numerous matters relating to the registration, protection, and enforcement of trademarks, and litigated in over 40 U.S. federal district courts.

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April 11, 2013

Trademark Board Confirms That New York Yankees Are Evil

Filed under: TM Registration — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 3:38 pm

By Janet Marvel, Partner

As a life-long Chicago Cubs fan, I am pleased to report that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) has held that the New York Yankees are known as the “Evil Empire” and therefore, a third party using that term would create confusion as to source or sponsorship.

In New York Yankees Partnership v. Evil Enterprises, Inc., 2013 WL 1305332 (TTAB February 8, 2013) (non-precedential), Evil Enterprises, Inc., the owner of a web site selling Yankees-related products, filed an application for BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE.  The Yankees opposed, claiming that the team owned the name, and Evil Enterprises’ mark would confuse the public.  The Yankees also alleged that BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE created a false suggestion of connection between the applicant and the Yankees, and that the mark disparaged the Yankees.

The Yankees first had to prove that they owned the mark EVIL EMPIRE, even though they had never used it themselves.  Typically, the first party to use a mark is held to be the owner, but the Board held that the Yankees were entitled to a little-used exception, namely, that “‘even if a company itself has not made use of a term, it may have a ‘protectable property right in the term’ if the public has come to associate the term with the company or its goods or services.'” Other companies have employed this exception.  IBM was held to own BIG BLUE, Coca-Cola owned COKE, and Harley-Davidson owned HOG under this theory.  Note that some companies have now adopted their nicknames and own registrations for them.

The Yankees evidence that it owned EVIL EMPIRE was Legion (pun intended).  The Board had no trouble agreeing that the Yankees owned the mark and that the applicant’s mark both was likely to confuse the public, and likely to create a false association between the Yankees and the applicant.

The Board rejected the Yankees’ argument that EVIL EMPIRE disparaged the team, noting at one point in the opinion that the Yankees used Star Wars music (presumably the Darth Vader theme) during games.  In a particularly cogent comment, the Board stated “[H]aving succumbed to the lure of the dark side, opposer will not now be heard to complain about the judgment of those who prefer the comfort of the light.”

The takeaways from this case are (1) the Yankees are evil and the Cubs, by implication, are loveable, and (2) that if a company is known by a famous nickname, it may be able to claim ownership in it, even if it has not itself used the nickname in commerce.  If a company finds itself yoked with a nickname, it should consider adopting and using the name, thereby making misuses of the name easier to curtail.

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Janet Marvel is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Ms. Marvel’s practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling in domestic and international trademark, trade dress, Internet, and copyright law.  She co-authored the Sixth Edition of the Trademarks and Unfair Competition Deskbook, recently published by LexisNexis.

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August 22, 2012

The United States Patent and Trademark Office is Seeking Comments on Potentially Amending the Federal Trademark Act, the Lanham Act, to Require the Filing of a Declaration of Use After Three Years of Trademark Registration Rather Than the Current Five

Filed under: TM Registration — Tags: , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 5:10 pm

by Phillip Barengolts, Partner

On August 16, 2012, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a Request for comment in the Federal Register on the potential amendment of the Federal Trademark Act – the Lanham Act – to require the filing of the first Affidavit or Declaration of Use or Excusable Nonuse (Affidavit) from between the third and fourth year after the issuance of a trademark registration, or the six-month grace period that follows.  See www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-08-16/pdf/2012-20130.pdf.  Specifically, the USPTO “is interested in receiving public input on whether and why such an amendment is or is not favored.”  The deadline to submit comments is October 15, 2012.

Currently, under Sections 8 and 71 of the Lanham Act, the period to file the required Affidavit is between the fifth and sixth years after the trademark registration issues.  This proposal would require Congress to amend the Lanham Act, and the USPTO cannot implement this change itself through a rulemaking or otherwise.

The purpose of the Affidavit is to eliminate “deadwood” (marks that are not actually used) from the federal trademark register.  For attorneys and companies actively involved in the clearance of potential trademarks, having an accurate trademark register is valuable, and reduces trademark selection costs.  However, as any diligent trademark attorney will tell you, just because a trademark registration has expired does not mean that the underlying trademark is not in use, nor does an active trademark registration reveal the scope of use in the marketplace – only an investigation can provide such details.

A potentially important consideration for this request by the USPTO is that an applicant for a trademark registration in the U.S. relying upon a foreign trademark registration (under Sections 44(e) an 66(a) of the Lanham Act) does not need to submit a specimen of use to obtain the registration.  Thus, such registrations would now be subject to a use requirement two years sooner.

The specific questions on which the USPTO seeks comment are:

1.    Is ‘‘deadwood’’ on the trademark register a concern of yours, and what impact do you believe it has?

2.   Do you favor or oppose an amendment to shorten the first filing deadline for Affidavits or Declarations of Use or Excusable Nonuse under Sections 8 and 71 as a means of ensuring the accuracy of the trademark register? (Please explain why.)

3.   If you favor shortening the deadline, what time period do you believe would be most appropriate for the first filing deadline?

4.   Are you concerned that an amendment to the first Section 8 and 71 affidavit deadline would foreclose the ability to combine the filing with the filing of an Affidavit or Declaration of Incontestability under Section 15? What impact do you believe separating these filings would have?

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Phillip Barengolts is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Mr. Barengolts’ practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling in domestic and international trademark, trade dress, Internet, and copyright law.  He teaches trademark and copyright litigation at John Marshall Law School, and co-authored Trademark and Copyright Litigation, published by Oxford University Press.

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July 25, 2012

Who owns a trademark? Jeremy Lin wins Linsanity, as Anthony Davis fights for his unibrow.

Filed under: Licensing, Right of Publicity, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:38 am

By Paul A. Borovay, Summer Associate

THREE-PEAT is a well-known term that refers to a sports team’s third consecutive championship.[1] Byron Scott, an ex-Los Angeles Laker, coined the term after his team won its second consecutive NBA championship in 1988.[2] Unfortunately, Scott could not profit from licensing the term to apparel companies, advertising agencies, or sports teams. Why? Scott did not try to establish rights in the term THREE-PEAT, either through registration or use. Scott likely did not see the value in trademark licensing at the time, but his coach, Pat Riley, saw an opportunity and obtained a trademark registration for the term in November 1988. Even though Scott coined the term “Three-peat,” Riley is the one that has been earning royalties from use of the trademark.

The arena of sports provides a ripe field for coining catchphrases such as “three-peat,” as well as terms that incorporate the names and likenesses of the superstar athletes themselves. Understanding who owns a trademark that incorporates the name or likeness of one of these individuals requires understanding the basics of two distinct bodies of law: trademark and the right of publicity.

Celebrities can obtain trademark rights for catchphrases associated with them by using the marks in commerce in connection with a specific good or service. Celebrities can also obtain state registrations for their marks, or simply own common law rights without a registration after using the marks in commerce. Filing for a registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is important and will often trump later applications, except for a few exceptions that are discussed later in this article.

Under the protections afforded through state right of publicity statutes, a celebrity is protected against commercial loss caused when someone appropriates their name or likeness. The celebrity does not have to have used the catchphrase in commerce, nor would the celebrity have to use the catchphrase in the future, as the right of publicity protects celebrities’ entire persona from commercial exploitation. For example, Michael Jordan would have a right of publicity claim against a car wash company that used his photograph to promote its business. While the photograph may not be protected under trademark law, the right of publicity prohibits any unauthorized commercial exploitation of a person’s name or likeness.

Two recent trademarks surrounding basketball players Jeremy Lin and Anthony Davis illustrate the delicate balance between trademark law, the right of publicity, and the person who coins the catchphrase’s rights to his or her creation. (more…)

April 16, 2012

The Mud Thickens: The Federal Circuit Issues Its Latest Decision on Utilitarian Functionality, Refusing Registration to Becton Dickinson’s Blood Collection Tube Cap

Filed under: TM Registration — Tags: , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:09 am

By Janet Marvel, Trademark Attorney

On April 12, 2012, the Federal Circuit waded into the increasingly muddy waters of utilitarian functionality law with its decision in In re Becton, Dickinson and Co., 2012 WL 1216281.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the TTAB’s decision that Becton Dickinson’s (“BD”) closure cap for blood collection tubes (shown below) was functional and not registerable by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  The drawing for BD’s mark appeared as follows:

A shape is functional as utilitarian if it is “essential to the use or purpose of the article or affects the cost or quality of the article.”  TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23 (2001).  Functional shapes can never be protected as trademarks.  Over the past year or two, the courts have produced a number of utilitarian functionality decisions that unfortunately do little to help businesses predict whether their designs are functional or subject to trademark protection.  See, e.g., Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products LP v. Kimberly-Clark Corporation, 647 F.2d 723 (7th Cir. 2011) (quilted toilet paper design found functional); Specialized Seating v. Greenwich Industries, L.P., 616 F.3d 722 (7th Cir. 2010) (folding chair found functional as utilitarian despite hundreds of alternative designs); Jay Franco & Sons, Inc. v. Franek, 615 F.3d 855 (7th Cir. 2010) (round beach towel found functional on utilitarian and aesthetic grounds).  In re Becton Dickinson continues to grapple with the determination.

The Federal Circuit uses four factors to evaluate utilitarian functionality: (1) the existence of a utility patent disclosing the utilitarian advantages of the design sought to be registered; (2) advertising by the applicant that touts the utilitarian advantages of the design; (3) whether the design results from a comparatively simple or inexpensive method of manufacture, and (4) the availability of alternative designs.  In re Morton-Norwich Prods., Inc., 671 F.2d 1331 (C.C.P.A. 1982).

Before turning to the factors, the court evaluated BD’s main argument.  The drawing in BD’s application included both functional and non-functional elements.  BD argued that the existence of some non-functional features removed the mark “from the realm of functionality.”  The Board disagreed, noting that “a mark possessed of significant functional features should not qualify for trademark protection where insignificant elements of the design are non-functional.”  Id.  Far from finding that the TTAB’s weighing of the functional and non-functional features of the claimed design was improper, as BD claimed, the Federal Circuit stated that the inquiry was “mandated.” (more…)

March 21, 2012

Federal Circuit Rejects “Reasonable Manners” Test For Determining Scope of Standard Character Mark During Ex Parte Examination

Filed under: TM Registration — Tags: , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 9:41 am

By Seth Appel, Trademark Attorney

Viterra Inc. applied to register XCEED in standard character form for “agricultural seed.”  The examining attorney refused registration, and the Board affirmed, based on likelihood of confusion with the following registered mark for “agricultural seeds.”

On appeal to the Federal Circuit, Viterra conceded that the goods were the same, but it argued that there was no likelihood of confusion as a result of differences in the marks.  Viterra contended that its proposed standard character mark should not be construed so broadly as to cover the distinctive form of the registered mark.  The court disagreed and affirmed the Board’s decision refusing registration.  In re Viterra Inc., 101 U.S.P.Q.2d 1905 (Fed. Cir. March 6, 2012).

As the court observed, an application to register a standard character mark is “without claim to any particular font style, size, or color.”  37 C.F.R. § 2.52(a).  Traditionally, the Board used the “reasonable manners” test to determine the scope of a standard character mark.  That is, it considered all reasonable depictions of the mark when comparing it to another mark to determine the presence or absence of likelihood of confusion.  However, the Federal Circuit rejected this “reasonable manners” test in Citigroup v. Capital City Bank Group, Inc., 637 F.3d 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2011), an inter partes proceeding involving competing standard character marks.  In Viterra, the court held that the “reasonable manners” test is also improper when comparing a standard character mark and a word/design composite mark in the context of ex parte examination.

The court explained, quoting Citigroup:  “The T.T.A.B. should not first determine whether certain depictions are ‘reasonable’ and then apply the Du Pont analysis to only a subset of variations of a standard character mark.”  Rather, “the T.T.A.B. should simply use the DuPont factors to determine the likelihood of confusion between depictions of standard character marks that vary in font style, size, and color and the other mark.”  The court found no basis for limiting Citigroup to comparisons of word marks, and no basis for distinguishing between inter partes proceedings and ex parte examination.

In view of the foregoing, the court concluded, the Board was correct to find likelihood of confusion between the marks at issue.  After all, the applicant’s XCEED mark could be depicted as a capital “X” followed by “ceed” in small letters, making it similar to the registered mark.  Insofar as the T.T.A.B. applied the more restrictive and outdated “reasonable manners” test, it was harmless error.

Trademark users must remember Viterra when considering new marks, and trademark practitioners must keep Viterra in mind during clearance.  A registered word/design composite mark might create a conflict with a would-be applicant’s standard character mark – even if the applicant would never consider depicting its mark in that fashion.

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 Seth I. Appel is an associate attorney at Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Mr. Appel’s practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling with respect to trademark, trade dress, copyright and Internet law.

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