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The Saddest Hour? Closing Time for Trademark Cancellation Petition

In a precedential decision, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) denied a petition to cancel a trademark registration based on priority. The Board explained that the petitioner bears a higher burden of proof to show prior use when it has amended its trademark application during prosecution to allege an earlier use date. JNF LLC v. Harwood Int’l Inc., Cancellation No. 92070634 (TTAB Sept. 21, 2022) (Wellington, Greenbaum, Heasley, ATJ)

On October 6, 2014, Harwood International applied to register the standard character mark HAPPIEST HOUR on the Principal Register for “bar and restaurant services.” The application matured into a registration on July 26, 2016. Almost two years later, on May 1, 2018, JNF applied to register the mark THE HAPPIEST HOUR in standard characters on the Principal Register for “restaurant and bar services.” In its application, JNF claimed to have first used the mark anywhere and in commerce “at least as early as 10/00/2014.” The examining attorney assigned to JNF’s application issued an office action citing Harwood’s HAPPIEST HOUR registration as a bar to registration. JNF then amended its claimed date of first use to September 7, 2014. JNF subsequently filed a petition to cancel Harwood’s registration and further requested suspension of its application pending disposition of the cancellation proceeding. Harwood answered the petition and admitted that its registered mark HAPPIEST HOUR was cited as confusingly similar to JNF’s THE HAPPIEST HOUR application but denied that JNF had established prior rights to the mark.

The Board explained that for priority purposes, Harwood may rely on the filing date of the underlying application that matured into its involved registration. The Board further explained that JNF bears the burden of proving that its mark was “previously used in the United States,” before Harwood’s constructive filing date of October 6, 2014. The Board also noted that while a petitioner must ordinarily prove its priority entitlement by a preponderance of the evidence, in the circumstances of this case, the burden was heavier. Because JNF alleged a first use date of “at least as early as 10/00/2014” when it filed its application to register THE HAPPIEST HOUR, the date presumed for purposes of examination was the last day of the month, October 31, 2014—several weeks after Harwood’s constructive use date of October 6, 2014.

As the Board explained, although JNF subsequently amended its date of earliest use, that amendment came with a cost. The Board explained that where an applicant has stated an earliest use date under oath but then amends the oath and attempts to show an earlier date, the applicant is under a heavier burden of proof: clear and convincing evidence. Citing to Federal Circuit precedent, the Board further explained that the original allegation of first use date may be considered to have been made against interest at the time of filing. The Board found that this rationale applied with even greater force in the current situation because the alleged dates were very close to Harwood’s constructive use date and because JNF only [...]

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Delay in Enforcing Trademark Measured from When Infringement Became Actionable

Addressing laches and progressive encroachment, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s grant of summary judgment based on laches because the district court failed to “conduct a meaningful analysis” as to when the trademark infringement first became actionable. A.I.G. Agency, Inc. v American International Group, Inc., Case No. 21-1948 (8th Cir. May 13, 2022) (Loken, Gruender, Grasz, JJ.)

A.I.G. Agency (Agency) is a family-owned insurance broker in Missouri and American International Group, Inc. (International) is a large insurance company. Each company has used its version of an AIG trademark for decades. Agency first adopted the mark in 1958 while International began using AIG sometime between 1968 and 1970. In 1995, International sent a demand letter to Agency notifying it of International’s trademark registration and requesting that Agency cease use of the AIG mark. Agency responded that it had the right to use AIG in Missouri and Illinois because it had been using the trademark in those states long before International obtained its registration. In 2008, International again reached out to Agency demanding that it stop using AIG as a mark. Agency again asserted that it had the right to use the mark in Missouri and Illinois. International responded that it did not object to Agency’s use of AIG in St. Charles and St. Louis Counties in Missouri, but it would contest Agency’s use beyond that limited geographic scope.

Nearly a decade later, in 2017, Agency sued International for common law trademark infringement and unfair competition. International asserted that Agency’s claims were barred by laches and counterclaimed for trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition. Both parties moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment for International, finding that Agency’s claims were barred by the doctrine of laches. Agency appealed.

The Eighth Circuit explained the difference between the equitable affirmative defense of laches (which is meant to bar claimants from bringing unreasonably delayed claims) and the doctrine of progressive encroachment (under which the period of delay in a trademark infringement case is measured not from when a claimant first learned of the allegedly infringing mark, but from when that infringement first became actionable). The Court explained that “[t]he doctrine [of progressive encroachment] saves trademark holders from being hoisted upon the horns of an inequitable dilemma—sue immediately and lose because the alleged infringer is insufficiently competitive to create a likelihood of confusion, or wait and be dismissed for unreasonable delay.” Here, Agency argued that it did not have an actionable and provable claim for infringement until 2012 when International changed its marketing strategy.

The Eighth Circuit found that the district court failed to “conduct a meaningful analysis” to determine when the infringement became actionable, noting that the district court found that laches barred the claims because “both parties have been using ‘AIG’ in the same markets for decades, each with full knowledge of the other’s activities.” The Court further criticized the district court for not employing a specific test to determine [...]

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Wild and Untamed Trademarks: Madrid Protocol Grants Right of Priority as of Constructive Use Date

Addressing for the first time the question of enforceability of a priority of right in a trademark granted pursuant to the Madrid Protocol where the registrant’s actual use in commerce began after the allegedly infringing use, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the Madrid Protocol grants priority as of the constructive use date, but to prevail on an infringement action based on that superior right of priority, the registrant must still establish the requisite likelihood of confusion under the Lanham Act. Lodestar Anstalt v. Bacardi & Co., Case No. 19-55864 (9th Cir. Apr. 21, 2022) (Baldock, Berzon, Collins, JJ.)

Under the Madrid Protocol, applicants with trademarks in another country may obtain an “extension of protection” (generally equivalent to trademark registration) in the United States without needing to first use the mark in US commerce. Instead, the grant may be based on an applicant’s declaration of bona fide intent to use its mark in the United States.

In 2000 and 2001, Lichtenstein-based company Lodestar developed a brand of Irish whiskey called “The Wild Geese,” which was marketed in the US as “The Wild Geese Soldiers & Heroes.” Around 2008 and 2009, Lodestar developed the idea for the “Untamed” word marks, and in 2009 the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) accepted for filing two applications on behalf of Lodestar seeking extension of protection under the Madrid Protocol for the internationally registered “Untamed” word marks. The PTO published the marks for opposition, then granted the extensions of protection in 2011. In 2013, Lodestar developed a rum under The Wild Geese Soldiers and Heroes brand that used the Untamed word mark on the label. The rum was shown at the April 2013 Rum Renaissance Trade Show in Florida, where consumers sampled the rum. The rum was also featured in print advertisements associated with the trade show. But by June 2013, Lodestar had “decided to park the USA rum project as [it was] getting better returns in other markets.”

In 2012, Bacardi began developing the ad campaign “Bacardi Untameable.” Before launching the campaign, Bacardi ran a trademark clearance search that turned up Lodestar’s “Untamed” trademarks. From 2013 to 2017, Bacardi ran its “Bacardi Untameable” campaign. In response, Lodestar began promoting a then-nonexistent product “Untamed Revolutionary Rum” in an effort “to complement the Wild Geese Rum and also to combat Bacardi’s attempts to take over our Untamed mark.” In January 2015, the first Untamed Revolutionary Rum was sold to US retailers. In August 2016, Lodestar sued Bacardi for trademark infringement, arguing injury based on reverse confusion, as well as associated claims for unfair competition. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Bacardi. Lodestar appealed.

The Ninth Circuit found that the district court erred on the threshold question of whether Lodestar’s Revolutionary Rum should be considered in the analysis of likelihood of confusion. The district court had found that the relevant products were those existing prior to launch of Bacardi’s campaign (excluding the later-created Revolutionary Rum). The Court found [...]

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PTO Publishes Regulations to Implement Trademark Modernization Act

The US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) recently published its final rules implementing provisions of the Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 (TMA). Most changes are effective as of December 18, 2021, but certain changes (i.e., adjustments to the office action response period) won’t go into effect until December 1, 2022. The new regulations are summarized below.

Ex Parte Proceedings

The TMA created two new ex parte proceedings by which any third party (including the PTO director) can seek to challenge registrations for nonuse: Reexamination and expungement.

One of the TMA’s underlying legislative aims was to clean up the “clutter[ed]” register by removing registrations for marks not properly in use in commerce. These new proceedings offer efficient and less expensive alternatives to a cancellation proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board).

Reexamination

Any party (or the PTO director) can file a reexamination action to cancel some or all of the goods or services covered by a use-based registration if the trademark was not in use in commerce in connection with those goods or services before (1) the application filing date when the application was based on Section 1(a) (Use in Commerce), or (2) if the application was filed based on Section 1(b) (Intent to Use), the date the amendment to allege use was filed, or the deadline by which the applicant needed to file a statement of use, whichever is later. A reexamination proceeding must be initiated within the first five years of registration.

Expungement

Similarly, an expungement action can be brought by any party (including the PTO director) seeking to cancel some or all of the goods and/or services from a registration based on the registrant never having used the trademark in commerce in connection with the relevant goods/services. An expungement proceeding must be initiated between the third and 10th year of registration. However, until December 27, 2023, an expungement action can be requested for any registration that is at least three years old, regardless of how long it has been registered.

Requirements for Ex Parte Petitions

The final rules detail the requirements for a petition for expungement or reexamination:

  • A $400 fee
  • The US trademark registration number of the registration being challenged
  • The basis for the petition
  • The name and contact information of the petitioner
  • The name and contact information of the designated attorney, if any
  • A list of the goods and services that are subject to challenge
  • A verified statement of the facts, which should include details of the reasonable investigation of nonuse and a “concise factual statement of the relevant basis for the petition”
  • Copies of the supporting evidence with an itemized index.

A reasonable investigation of nonuse will vary depending on the nature of the goods and/or services but “should focus on the mark disclosed in the registration and the identified goods and/or services, keeping in mind their scope and applicable trade channels.” Also, “[a]s a general matter, a single search using an internet search engine likely would not be [...]

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Pardon My French: France Wins Trademark Dispute Using Sovereign Immunity

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a district’s court denial of sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA) and remanded the case to be dismissed with prejudice, holding that France was immune from a trademark infringement claim in the United States brought by the former owner of the domain name France.com. France.com, Inc. v. The French Republic, Case No. 20-1016 (4th Cir. Mar. 25, 2021) (Motz, J.)

Jean-Noel Frydman and his company France.com, Inc. (collectively, Frydman) purchased and registered the domain name France.com and trademarked the name in the United States and in the European Union. In 2015, the Republic of France (RoF) intervened in an ongoing lawsuit between Frydman and a third party, asserting the exclusive right to the use of the term “France” commercially. The RoF also insisted that the use of “France” by a private enterprise infringed on its sovereignty. The Paris District Court agreed and ordered the transfer of the domain name to the RoF.

Frydman filed suit for trademark infringement, expropriation, cybersquatting and reverse domain name hijacking, and federal unfair competition in a Virginia district court against the RoF. The RoF moved to dismiss the claim based on the FSIA. The district court denied the motion, stating that the FSIA immunity defense would be best raised after discovery. The RoF appealed.

The Fourth Circuit first determined, based on Supreme Court precedent, that sovereign immunity was a threshold question to be addressed “as near to the outset of the case as is reasonably possible” and not to be postponed until after discovery.

The Court next considered whether the RoF was immune to suit. The FSIA provides a presumption of immunity for foreign states that can only be overcome if the complaint provides enough information to satisfy one of the specified exceptions. Frydman argued that the commercial activity and expropriation exceptions applied.

The commercial activity exception removes immunity where a foreign state has commercial activity in, or that has a direct effect in, the United States. Essentially, a court must determine whether the actions of the foreign state are those of a sovereign or those of a private party engaged in commerce. The Fourth Circuit first identified that the actual cause of the injury at issue to Frydman was the French court’s ruling that the domain name belonged to the RoF, and found that all claims of wrongdoing by the RoF flowed form the French court’s decision. Additionally, even if it was solely the transfer of the domain name that harmed Frydman, and not the French court’s judgment, the transfer was still based on the French court’s judgment that provided the basis for RoF to obtain the domain name. Because the cause of action was based on the powers of a sovereign nation (the foreign judgment) and not the actions of a private citizen in commerce, the Fourth Circuit found that the commercial activity exception did not apply.

The Fourth Circuit next rejected Frydman’s assertion of the expropriation exception. This exception [...]

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BREXIT: How Will It Impact Your European Trademark Rights?

The United Kingdom (UK) has officially withdrawn from the European Union (EU) on February 1, 2020, but will only become a third party after a transition period ending on December 31, 2020. With that date fast approaching, you are probably wondering what will change for your trademark rights on January 1, 2021?

EU TRADEMARKS REGISTERED BEFORE JANUARY 1, 2021

  • Owners of EU trademarks (and EU parts of International Registrations) registered on or before December 31, 2020 will automatically receive a registered and enforceable UK trademark on January 1, 2021, without any re-examination or additional costs. The UK trademark will be for the same sign, the same goods, and the same filing, priority or seniority date as its corresponding EU trademark.
  • Trademark owners will have the right to opt-out from this automatic cloning as of January 1, 2021 if they have no interest in the UK territory.
  • As of January 1, 2021, EU registered trademarks and corresponding UK clones must be renewed separately.
  • Renewals made before January 1, 2021 for EU trademark registrations expiring after this date will not apply to UK clones. Also, UK clones expiring within the six (6) months following January 1, 2021 will benefit from an additional six (6)-month renewal period, with no late renewal fee to be paid.
  • If a EU trademark is declared invalid or cancelled in the EU as result of a procedure that was ongoing on December 31, 2020, its UK clone will also be deemed invalid or cancelled on the same date if the grounds are applicable in the UK.

EU TRADEMARK APPLICATIONS FILED BEFORE JANUARY 1, 2021

  • EU trademark applications (and EU parts of International Registrations) filed, but not yet registered, before January 1, 2021 will not be automatically cloned into UK trademark applications.
  • The holders of such applications have until September 30, 2021 to reapply for an identical trademark in the UK that will benefit from the earlier filing date of its corresponding EU trademark. These new UK filings will be subject to an examination process as well as UK national filing fees.

EU TRADEMARK APPLICATIONS FILED AFTER JANUARY 1, 2021

  • As of January 1, 2021, new EU trademark applications will cover the 27 remaining EU Member States, but will not be protected in the UK.
  • To acquire trademark protection in the UK, one will have to apply for a separate UK trademark which may still claim priority of an earlier national or EU trademark filed within the preceding six (6) months.

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

  • As of January 1, 2021, pending or new oppositions or invalidity actions based solely on UK rights will be dismissed.
  • Licenses recorded for EU trademarks will not automatically be recorded for UK clones or new UK filings.
  • Existing EU Customs applications for action will not continue to have effect in the UK unless granted by UK customs authorities.
  • Agreements will have to be checked to amend provisions if appropriate.

If you are conducting or planning to conduct business [...]

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Supreme Court to Consider Whether Lanham Act Reaches Foreign Defendants’ Extraterritorial Conduct

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to review the geographic scope of the Lanham Act and the extent to which trademark owners can use US trademarks to police foreign sales. Abitron Austria GmbH et al. v. Hetronic International Inc., Case No. 21-1043 (Supr. Ct. Nov. 4, 2022) (certiorari granted). The question presented is as follows:

Whether the court of appeals erred in applying the Lanham Act extraterritorially to petitioners’ foreign sales, including purely foreign sales that never reached the United States or confused U.S. consumers.

In the underlying case, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld a damages award for Hetronic International based on its conclusion that the Lanham Act can affect conduct that substantially affects US commerce, such as the products Hetronic Germany and others sold to European customers.

The US Solicitor General suggested that the case is “a suitable vehicle” to clarify the Lanham Act’s geographic scope, noting that the Lanham Act provides a remedy for a foreign defendant’s use of a US trademark abroad only if that use is likely to cause confusion within the United States.




Yes, and It Counts! Single Purchase in Forum Establishes Personal Jurisdiction over Infringer

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed exercise of personal jurisdiction over a foreign online retailer for a trademark infringement claim where the trademark owner purchased the only allegedly infringing article sold in the forum. NBA Properties, Inc. v. HANWJH, Case No. 21-2909 (7th Cir. Aug. 16, 2022) (Ripple, Scudder, JJ.)

NBA Properties owns the trademarks for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and NBA teams. HANWJH is a China-based online retailer that sells allegedly infringing NBA branded products on a well-known e-commerce site. HANWJH offered 205 allegedly infringing products that were available for purchase in Illinois, the forum state. HANWJH’s only online order in Illinois was made by an investigator for NBA Properties who purchased a pair of basketball shorts for delivery to an Illinois address. The shorts were delivered to the Illinois address before NBA Properties filed suit against HANWJH.

NBA Properties sued HANWJH for trademark infringement and counterfeiting under 15 U.S.C. § 1114 and false designation of origin under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) in the Northern District of Illinois. NBA Properties sought and received a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, including a temporary asset restraint on HANWJH’s bank account. After HANWJH failed to timely answer the complaint, NBA Properties moved for default judgment. HANWJH moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing the following:

  • Operating a website is not sufficient on its own to establish personal jurisdiction.
  • A single transaction by the plaintiff cannot support the exercise of personal jurisdiction.
  • Even if the exercise of personal jurisdiction were otherwise appropriate, such exercise would offend the traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

The district court denied HANWJH’s motion to dismiss and entered a default. HANWJH failed to object to the motion for default judgment, and the district court entered a final judgment. HANWJH appealed.

The Seventh Circuit reviewed the “minimum contacts” International Shoe criterion before turning to a more recent line of cases applying this standard to online retailers. Citing its 2020 decision in Curry v. Revolution Laboratories, the Court noted that the minimum contacts requirement is satisfied if “the defendant reasonably could foresee that its product would be sold in the forum.” The Court reasoned that allowing customers to order products from a website to the forum and then fulfilling an order to the forum can form the basis of personal jurisdiction—even when the only orders to the forum were made by the plaintiff, as long as the orders were made before filing suit. Applying these principles, the Court found that HANWJH had purposefully directed conduct at Illinois by establishing an online store, demonstrating a willingness and capacity to ship goods to Illinois and intentionally shipping an infringing product to an Illinois address. The Court explained that it was irrelevant that only a single allegedly infringing article was sold in Illinois and that it was purchased by the plaintiff, because the proper focus of the analysis was on HANWJH’s purposeful conduct. The Court also concluded that HANWJH’s [...]

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PTO Presentation Seeks to Clarify Subject Matter Eligibility Requirements

On August 9, 2022, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) gave a public presentation, “Subject Matter Eligibility Under 35 U.S.C. § 101: USPTO Guidance and Policy.” During the presentation, the PTO indicated that its goal is to identify eligible subject matter and not reject patent applications under 35 U.S.C. § 101 where possible. However, subject matter eligibility must be determined in accordance with Supreme Court precedent as set forth in Bilski v. Kappos (2010); Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs, Inc. (2012); Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. (2013); and Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International (2014). The PTO presented several biotech examples demonstrating how subject matter ineligible claims could be redrafted to encompass eligible subject matter.

The PTO presented a detailed explanation of the two-step subject matter eligibility flowchart in MPEP § 2106 and emphasized the differences between the two prongs of Step 2A. The first prong is to evaluate whether the claim recites a judicially recognized exception to eligibility. If the claims do not recite an exception, they qualify as eligible subject matter. If the claims do recite a judicial exception, the analysis proceeds to the second prong of Step 2A, which is to evaluate whether the claims recite additional elements that integrate the exception into a practical application of the exception. If the claims do recite additional elements integrating the exception into a practical application of the exception, they qualify as eligible subject matter. If the claims do not do so, the analysis proceeds to Step 2B to determine whether the claims recite additional elements that amount to significantly more than the judicial exception.

While there is significant overlap between Step 2A prong two and Step 2B, the PTO noted that under Step 2A prong two, the additional elements may be well understood, routine, conventional activity, unlike in Step 2B. For example, if conventional steps were used to affect a particular treatment or prophylaxis for a disease or medical condition, or if conventional material was used in an unconventional application, the claims would be subject matter eligible.

The PTO warned against claiming methods as a series of mental processes, mere data gathering or steps that merely apply the judicial exception.

As noted, the PTO highlighted techniques for transforming subject matter ineligible claims into subject matter eligible claims. These techniques include reciting properties that naturally occurring compositions do not possess, showing that the claimed composition possesses properties not found in naturally occurring compositions, using a conventional material or conventional method in an unconventional application and specifying a particular treatment.

Practice Note: Readers may be interested in an IP Update Legislative Alert reporting on a bill introduced by Senator Tillis to amend §101, which can be found here.




PTO Proposes Standardization of the Patent Term Adjustment Statement Regarding Information Disclosure Statements

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) announced on July 12, 2022, that it intends to revise the rules pertaining to patent term adjustment to require that the patent term adjustment statement regarding information disclosure statements (IDS) be submitted on a PTO form. The PTO believes that the use of the form will streamline prosecution and be more accurate and efficient by eliminating the need for a manual review of the patent term adjustment statement.

The regulations in 37 CFR 1.704(c)(1) through (14) establish the circumstances that constitute an applicant’s failure to engage in reasonable efforts to conclude processing or examination of an application and the resulting reduction of any patent term adjustment. 37 CFR 1.704(d)(1) also provides a safe harbor for filing IDS. Filing only an IDS in compliance with §§ 1.97 and 1.98 or a request for continued examination with only a compliant IDS is not considered a failure to engage in reasonable efforts to conclude prosecution (processing or examination) of the application under 37 CFR 1.704(c)(6), (8), (9) or (10) if it is accompanied by the required statement. The statement required to accompany the paper or request for continued examination must affirm that each item of information contained in the IDS meets one of the following requirements:

  • It was first cited in any communication from a patent office in a counterpart foreign or international application or from the PTO, and this communication was not received by any individual designated in § 1.56(c) more than 30 days prior to the filing of the IDS.
  • It is a communication that was issued by a patent office in a counterpart foreign or international application or by the PTO, and this communication was not received by any individual designated in § 1.56(c) more than 30 days prior to the filing of the IDS.

The PTO proposes adding new paragraph (d)(3) to 37 CFR 1.704(d), which requires filers to submit the patent term adjustment statement under 37 CFR 1.704(d)(1) on a form PTO/SB/133 to derive the safe harbor benefit under 37 CFR 1.704(d). Form PTO/SB/133 includes the required statement described above. Filers who submit a 37 CFR 1.704(d)(1) patent term adjustment statement without using the form PTO/SB/133 and filers who submit the form PTO/SB/133 with any modification to the patent term adjustment statement will not receive the benefit of the safe harbor under 37 CFR 1.704(d). Under such circumstances, the IDS or the request for continued examination, with no submission other than an IDS, will be treated as unaccompanied by a patent term adjustment statement under 37 CFR 1.704(d)(1).

Comments on the proposed rule must be received by September 12, 2022, to ensure consideration.




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