The US Patent & Trademark Office Trademark Trial & Appeal Board found that a consumer did not have standing to oppose an application for registration because the consumer failed to establish a commercial interest and injury that would be proximately caused by the registration of the mark. Rebecca Curtin v. United Trademark Holdings, Inc. (TTAB May 4, 2023) (Adlin, Lynch, Bunn, ATJs.)
Rebecca Curtin, a trademark law professor, has purchased various toys for her daughter. Curtin filed an opposition to United Trademark Holdings’ (UTH) application to register RAPUNZEL for use in connection with “dolls; toy figures.” Curtin alleged that RAPUNZEL fails to function as a trademark and is generic (or merely descriptive) of the identified goods and that UTH committed fraud. Curtin lamented that competition would be impeded if “private companies are allowed ‘to trademark the name of a famous fairytale character in the public domain,’” which would likely force consumers to pay higher prices for the relevant goods. Curtin also stated that allowing this registration “could chill the creation of new dolls and toys by fans of the Rapunzel fairytale, crowding out the substantial social benefit of having diverse interpreters of the fairytale’s legacy.”
More than four years ago, the Board denied UTH’s motion to dismiss, finding that Curtin had standing by relying on a case from 1999 that addressed the Trademark Act’s bar to registration for “immoral” or “scandalous” marks. Months after the Board’s initial decision, however, the Supreme Court ruled in Iancu v. Brunetti that the portion of the Trademark Act barring registration for “immoral” or “scandalous” marks was unconstitutional, and updates were issued on the “standard for determining whether a party is eligible to bring a statutory cause of action.”
A plaintiff has standing to oppose registration of a mark “when doing so is within the zone of interests protected by the statute and [opposer] has a reasonable belief in damage that would be proximately caused by registration of the mark.” Here, the Board explained that the statute at issue was the Trademark Act, which identifies its interest as regulating commerce and protecting plaintiffs with commercial interests: “[A] mere consumer that buys goods or services is not under the Trademark Act’s aegis.”
Moreover, Curtin failed to demonstrate that an injury would result from registration of the mark. The Board was unconvinced by Curtin’s explanations of the potential harm to competition and resulting higher prices for consumers, stating that the “allegations of damage are  too remote, because the alleged damage to Opposer depends first on the alleged effect of registration on other commercial doll markets or sellers.” The Board, therefore, dismissed the opposition.