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Waiver in PTO Trademark Appeals Applies “Per Decision, Not Per Case”

Addressing a “narrow question of statutory interpretation,” the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a trademark case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that a party that appeals a Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (TTAB) decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit may, after remand to and issuance of a new decision by the TTAB, seek review of the new decision in federal district court. Snyder’s-Lance, Inc. v. Frito-Lay N.A., Inc., Case No. 19-2316 (4th Cir. Mar. 17, 2021) (Wynn, J.)

Princeton Vanguard, a snack food producer, applied to register its mark “Pretzel Crisps” on the principal register. Frito-Lay opposed. The TTAB denied Princeton Vanguard’s application, concluding that the mark was generic.

Under the Lanham Act, Princeton Vanguard could appeal the TTAB’s original decision to either the Federal Circuit under 15 USC § 1071(a) or federal district court under § 1071(b). Princeton Vanguard elected a direct appeal to the Federal Circuit pursuant to § 1071(a), thus waiving its right to district court review. The Federal Circuit concluded that the TTAB applied the wrong legal standard in evaluating whether Princeton Vanguard’s mark was generic and remanded the case to the TTAB. The TTAB again concluded that Princeton Vanguard’s mark was generic. This time, Princeton Vanguard appealed to a federal district court pursuant to § 1071(b).

The district court sua sponte dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that Princeton Vanguard’s appeal of the original decision to the Federal Circuit pursuant to § 1071(a) precluded Princeton Vanguard from appealing the second decision to a district court pursuant to § 1071(b). Princeton Vanguard appealed.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the statutory text of the Lanham Act supported Princeton Vanguard’s argument in favor of jurisdiction. The Court explained that Princeton Vanguard’s waiver of its right to district court review of the original TTAB decision pursuant to § 1071(a) did not apply to any subsequent decisions in the same case, and that the waiver applied “per decision, but not per case.”

The Court rejected Frito-Lay’s argument that Princeton Vanguard was taking a second bite at the apple by seeking re-review in federal district court of issues already decided by the Federal Circuit, reasoning that Princeton Vanguard was seeking district court review of the second, separate decision that had not been reviewed by the Federal Circuit. The Court stressed, however, that the Federal Circuit’s review of the TTAB’s original decision was binding as to issues it decided.

Practice Note: If the TTAB issues multiple decisions in the same proceeding, each decision is considered a separate decision for purposes of waiver under §§ 1071(a) (b), even if the decisions implicate similar issues.




Texas Hammer Nails Trademark Infringement Appeal

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of an initial confusion trademark complaint, finding that the plaintiff alleged a plausible claim of trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. Adler v. McNeil Consultants, LLC, Case No. 20-10936 (6th Cir. Aug. 10, 2021) (Southwick, J.)

Jim Adler is a personal injury lawyer who trademarked and used several terms, including JIM ADLER, THE HAMMER and TEXAS HAMMER, to market his business, including via keyword advertisements. McNeil Consultants, a personal injury lawyer referral service, purchased keyword ads using Adler’s trademarked terms, which allowed McNeil’s advertisements to appear at the top of any Google search of Adler’s trademarked terms. McNeil’s advertisements used generic personal injury terms, did not identify any particular law firm and clicking on the ads placed a phone call to McNeil’s call center rather than directing the user to a website. The call center used a generic greeting so consumers did not realize with whom they were speaking.

Adler filed suit against McNeil, asserting Texas state law claims as well as trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. McNeil moved to dismiss, arguing that its keyword ads did not create a likelihood of confusion. The district court agreed and dismissed Adler’s complaint. Adler appealed.

To successfully plead a trademark infringement claim under Fifth Circuit law, the holder of a protectable trademark must establish that the alleged infringing use “creates a likelihood of confusion as to source, affiliation, or sponsorship.” To determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists, the Court weighs a non-exhaustive list of several confusion factors, including the similarity of the marks, the similarity of the products, the defendant’s intent and the care exercised by potential consumers.

The Fifth Circuit explained that Adler alleged initial interest confusion, which exists where the confusion creates consumer interest in the infringing party’s services even where no sale is completed because of the confusion. The Court noted that this case presented the first opportunity for the Fifth Circuit to consider initial interest confusion as it pertains to search engine keyword advertising. Relying on Ninth Circuit precedent and parallel reasoning to its own opinions on initial interest confusion in the context of metatag usage, the Court concluded that Adler’s complaint alleged a plausible claim of trademark infringement under the Lanham Act.

The Fifth Circuit noted that initial interest confusion alone is not enough to raise a Lanham Act claim. The Court explained that if a consumer searches TOYOTA and is directed to search results containing a purchased ad clearly labeled as selling VOLKSWAGEN products, a consumer who clicks on the VOLKSWAGEN ad has been distracted, not confused or misled into purchasing the wrong product. Distraction does not violate the Lanham Act. However, the Court explained that where the use of keyword ads creates confusion as to the source of the advertisement—not mere distraction—an infringement may have occurred. Because McNeil’s advertisements were admittedly generic and could have been associated with any personal injury law firm, the Court found that the keyword [...]

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Change the Look of the Room: Appeal Transferred to Federal Circuit

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit transferred an appeal of a preliminary injunction enjoining alleged copyright and trademark infringement to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit because the operative complaint included six counts of patent infringement and thus arose under patent law. Hudson Furniture, Inc. et al. v. Lighting Design Wholesalers Inc., Case No. 20-3299 (2d Cir. Dec. 21, 2021) (Livingston, CJ; Kearse, Lee, JJ.) (per curiam).

Hudson filed a complaint against Lighting Design alleging patent, trademark and copyright infringement. The district court granted Hudson’s preliminary injunction and enjoined Lighting Design from alleged infringement of Hudson’s copyrights and trademarks. The district court also denied Lighting Design’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and its motion for reconsideration permitting alternative service of process. Lighting Design appealed the rulings to the Second Circuit.

Hudson asked the Second Circuit to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the appeal arose from a complaint involving patent law claims and thus fell under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit. Under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1292 and 1295, the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals involving any action that arises under any act of US Congress relating to patents. An action arises under patent law when a well-pleaded complaint establishes that (1) federal law creates the cause of action or (2) the plaintiff’s right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law.

The Second Circuit agreed that exclusive jurisdiction rested with the Federal Circuit, explaining that the operative complaint included six counts of patent infringement, and the appeal concerned the district court’s ruling on a motion for injunctive relief involving patent law and non-patent law claims. The Court rejected Lighting Design’s argument that patent law did not constitute a substantial part of the overall success of the case since Hudson failed to secure preliminary injunctive related to the patent law claims. The Court explained that Lighting Design’s argument focused on only the second basis for Federal Circuit jurisdiction (whether the right to relief depends on a “substantial question” related to patent law). The Court found that even if it accepted Lighting Design’s argument, the fact that federal patent law created the cause of action was sufficient to establish Federal Circuit jurisdiction under the first basis of jurisdiction. While the Second Circuit agreed with Hudson, it declined to dismiss the appeal and instead opted to transfer the appeal to the Federal Circuit because the original appeal was timely filed in good faith and transferring the appeal was in the interest of justice.




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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Big Little Lies: Guidelines for Challenging Trademark Acquired Distinctiveness Claims

For the second time, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit examined the standard for demonstrating fraud in a party’s claim of a trademark’s acquired distinctiveness for purposes of registration under Section 2(f) of the Lanham Act. The Federal Circuit found that a party challenging an applicant’s Section 2(f) claim based on substantially exclusive use of that trademark does not need to establish secondary meaning in its own mark to undercut the applicant’s claim of substantially exclusive use. The Court also found that use of the mark by any party, regardless of its relationship to the challenger, may undercut a trademark applicant’s claim of substantially exclusive use. Galperti, Inc. v. Galperti S.R.L., Case No. 21-1011 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 12, 2021) (Taranto, J.)

Galperti S.R.L. (Galperti-Italy) filed a US trademark registration for the mark GALPERTI in 2008. In an effort to overcome the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO) initial refusal to register the trademark as “primarily merely a surname” (and therefore not registrable unless the mark has become distinctive of the applicant’s goods in commerce), Galperti-Italy asserted acquired distinctiveness of the GALPERTI mark under Section 2(f) and stated that the mark had become distinctive of Galperti-Italy’s metal hardware goods through its substantially exclusive and continuous use in commerce for the five years prior to the trademark registration. In 2013, Galperti-USA, a US company unrelated to Galperti-Italy that operates in the similar business of metal flanges and related products, petitioned to cancel Galperti-Italy’s registration on various grounds, including fraud in Galperti-Italy’s claim of substantially exclusive use of the GALPERTI trademark during the years 2002 – 2007. Galperti-USA claimed that it and other third parties also used the mark during that time, undercutting Galperti-Italy’s “substantially exclusive use” claims.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board) rejected Galperti-USA’s cancellation claims, including the fraud claim. Galperti-USA filed its first appeal, and the Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s determination that Galperti-USA failed to prove the falsity of Galperti-Italy’s Section 2(f) claim. The Court remanded to the Board to assess whether the other uses of GALPERTI noted by Galperti-USA were significant or inconsequential, which would impact the proof of falsity of Galperti-Italy’s representations to the PTO. On remand, the Board again found that Galperti-USA failed to prove significant—rather than inconsequential—uses of GALPERTI between the years 2002 – 2007 so as to make Galperti-Italy’s representations of “substantially exclusive use” false. Galperti-USA filed its second appeal.

In this appeal, Galperti-USA challenged the Board’s conclusions that (1) Galperti-USA had to show that it acquired secondary meaning in its own GALPERTI trademark during the relevant time period, and (2) Galperti-USA could not undercut Galperti-Italy’s claims of substantially exclusive use with evidence of use by third parties with no privity to Galperti-USA. The Federal Circuit determined that both of the Board’s premises for its fraud analysis were incorrect as a matter of law, and it was therefore unclear whether the Board’s determination was affected by these errors. Taking a closer look at the Board’s conclusions, the Court found that [...]

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Standing Challenge Brews Trouble in Trademark Dispute

Addressing for the first time Article III standing in a trademark case, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that hypothetical future injury is insufficient to establish standing to oppose a trademark application. Brooklyn Brewery Corp. v. Brooklyn Brew Shop, LLC, Case No. 20-2277 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 27, 2021) (Dyk, J.)

Brooklyn Brewery brews and sells craft beers. Brooklyn Brew Shop (BBS) sells beer-making kits and related accessories. Between 2011 and 2016, the Brewery and BBS collaborated on the sale of co-branded beer-making kits. In 2011, BBS obtained a trademark in its name for beer-making kits. In 2014, BBS filed an application to register a mark in its name for several Class 32 goods, including various types of beer and beer-making kits, as well as Class 5 “sanitizing preparations.”

In 2015, the Brewery petitioned for cancellation of BBS’s 2011 trademark registration and filed a notice of opposition to BBS’s 2014 trademark application. The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (TTAB) denied the petition for cancellation and rejected the opposition. The Brewery appealed.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit first addressed whether the Brewery had standing to appeal the TTAB’s decision. The Court noted that while it “ha[d] not yet had occasion to address Article III standing in a trademark case,” a party appealing a TTAB decision must satisfy both statutory and Article III requirements. The Court held that the Brewery did not have Article III standing to appeal the TTAB’s decision dismissing the opposition with respect to the Class 5 sanitizing preparations because the Brewery did not make or sell sanitizing preparations. The Court found the possibility that the Brewery might someday expand its business to include the sale of sanitizing preparations was not enough to establish the injury-in-fact prong of the Article III standing test. However, the Court found that the Brewery’s past involvement in the sale of co-branded beer-making kits with BBS was sufficient to establish the Brewery’s standing to challenge BBS’s registration and application for Class 32 beer-making kits.

On the merits, the Federal Circuit affirmed the TTAB’s decision with respect to BBS’s 2011 trademark registration. The Court agreed with the TTAB that the Brewery failed to establish inevitable confusion as to the beer-making kits and failed to establish that BBS’s mark was merely descriptive. The Court vacated the TTAB’s decision with respect to the 2014 trademark application, finding that the TTAB erred by not considering whether BBS proved acquired distinctiveness of its application and remanded for further proceedings.

Practice Note: Before seeking review of a TTAB decision in federal court, a party should ensure that it has satisfied the three-part test for Article III standing.




US Lawyers Aiding Scam Trademark Applications May Face Sanctions

As reported by the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) this past summer, since mid-2020 trademark applications from US and foreign applicants have “surged to unprecedented levels.” In December 2020 alone, the PTO received 92,608 trademark applications, an increase of 172% over December 2019. Not only has this extraordinary volume of applications created a backlog and delay in the procedural review of new US trademark application filings, but the PTO is experiencing a notable increase in what it calls “suspicious submissions ranging from inaccurate to fraudulent.”

These illegitimate trademark filings harm the quality and integrity of the trademark register and have significant legal and financial impact on legitimate brand owners whose applications may be blocked by fraudulent filings for marks that are identical or similar to their real brands. Faced with a legal obligation to defend and enforce their trademarks, legitimate brand owners are forced to dispute such illegitimate filings with letters of protest, by filing oppositions or cancellation actions in the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board, and even by taking action in the federal courts. Such enforcement and defensive actions can clog up these forums and force brand owners to take on costs that would not otherwise be necessary, and which may distract from, or reduce the budget for, real trademark disputes.

The PTO outlined various strategies and tools to review, assess, challenge and combat suspicious and fraudulent filings, including aspects of the Trademark Modernization Act of 2020. In 2019, the PTO also implemented a rule requiring any overseas trademark applicant to file with a US lawyer. The requirement for a US lawyer appears to have resulted in many foreign applicants (primarily from China) making up fake names, addresses and bar credentials for the US lawyers named in their applications. Not all named US lawyers are fake, however, as the PTO’s investigations into certain lawyers lodging a high volume of trademark filings for Chinese-based applicants have revealed that some US-based lawyers may be taking on clients from China without conducting proper diligence as to the veracity of the client’s trademark application information. For example, the PTO’s investigation of some potentially illegitimate filings from applicants in China reveal doctored or disingenuous specimens of use, including e-commerce listings for products that may not actually exist or are no longer “in stock” (and likely never were “in stock”).

In September 2021, the PTO’s investigations into US lawyers with a high volume of filings for Chinese applicants resulted in two sanctions orders. The first was issued against a lawyer found to have filed thousands of applications for overseas parties deemed fraudulent by operating as a US-based agent for a centralized “filing gateway” platform located in India. The sanction order includes a 12-month probationary period and required ethics and trademarks classes. The second sanction against a US-based lawyer specifically noted that the lawyer did not do enough to properly review the applications that they signed on behalf of an applicant based in China. It has [...]

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Injunctive Relief Available Even Where Laches Bars Trademark Infringement, Unfair Competition Damage Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed a district court’s conclusion that laches barred an advertising and marketing company’s claims for monetary damages for trademark infringement and unfair competition, but remanded the case for assessment of injunctive relief to protect the public’s interest in avoiding confusion between two similarly named companies operating in the advertising sector. Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group, Inc. v. Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group, LLC, Case No. 19-15167 (11th Cir. Aug. 2, 2021) (Branch, J.)

Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group (Pinnacle Illinois) is an Illinois-based company and owner of two registered trademarks including the name “Pinnacle.” Pinnacle Illinois learned of a Florida-based company operating under almost the same name that was also in the advertising and marketing space—Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group (Pinnacle Florida) —through potential clients and a magazine’s accidental conflation of the two unrelated companies. Several years later, Pinnacle Illinois sued Pinnacle Florida for trademark infringement, unfair competition and cybersquatting. Pinnacle Florida filed a counterclaim seeking to cancel Pinnacle Illinois’s trademark registrations and also alleged that Pinnacle Illinois’s claims were barred by the doctrine of laches.

Following a jury trial, the district court granted Pinnacle Florida’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on Pinnacle Illinois’s cybersquatting claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Pinnacle Illinois on its claims for trademark infringement and unfair competition, awarding Pinnacle Illinois $550,000 in damages. The district court then granted Pinnacle Florida’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on its laches defense, concluding that Pinnacle Illinois’s trademark infringement and unfair competition claims were barred by laches because it waited more than four years to bring suit after it should have known that it had a potential infringement claim against Pinnacle Florida. The district court also cancelled Pinnacle Illinois’s registrations because it concluded that Pinnacle Illinois’s marks were merely descriptive and lacked secondary meaning. Pinnacle Illinois appealed.

Pinnacle Illinois argued that the district court abused its discretion in finding that Pinnacle Illinois’s claims were barred by laches, and that even if laches did bar Pinnacle Illinois’s claims for money damages, the district court should have considered whether injunctive relief was proper to protect the public’s interest in avoiding confusion between the two companies. Pinnacle Illinois also argued that the district court erred when it cancelled its registrations without regard to the jury’s findings of distinctiveness and protectability or the presumption of distinctiveness afforded to its registered marks.

The 11th Circuit found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that laches barred Pinnacle Illinois from bringing its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims for monetary damages. Pinnacle Illinois sued after the Florida four-year statute of limitations had passed, and the Court found that the company was not excused for its delay because it did not communicate with Pinnacle Florida about the infringement until it filed suit. Pinnacle Florida also suffered economic prejudice because it invested significant time and money, including around $2 million, in developing its business under [...]

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Don’t Count Your Lamborghinis Before Your Trademark is in Use

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment, finding that a trademark registrant had alleged infringement of its trademark without having engaged in bona fide use of the trademark in commerce, as required by the Lanham Act. The Court found no material issue of fact as to whether the registrant had used the mark in commerce in a manner to properly secure registration, and the alleged infringer therefore was entitled to cancellation of the registration. Social Technologies LLC v. Apple Inc., Case No. 320-15241 (9th Cir. July 13, 2021) (Restani, J., sitting by designation)

This dispute traces back to a 2016 intent-to-use US trademark application filed by Social Technologies for the mark MEMOJI in connection with a mobile phone software application. After filing its application, Social Technologies engaged in some early-stage activities to develop a business plan and seek investors. On June 4, 2018, Apple announced its own MEMOJI software, acquired from a third party, that allowed users to transform images of themselves into emoji-style characters. At that date, Social Technologies had not yet written any code for its own app and had engaged only in promotional activities for the planned software.

Apple’s MEMOJI announcement triggered Social Technologies to rush to develop its MEMOJI app, which it launched three weeks later (although system bugs caused the app to be removed promptly from the Google Play Store). Social Technologies then used that app launch to submit a statement of use for its trademark application in order to secure registration of the MEMOJI trademark. The record also showed that over the course of those three weeks, Social Technologies’ co-founder and president sent several internal emails urging acceleration of the software development in preparation to file a trademark infringement lawsuit against Apple, writing to the company’s developers that it was “[t]ime to get paid, gentlemen,” and to “[g]et your Lamborghini picked out!”

By September 2018, Apple had initiated a petition before the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board to cancel Social Technologies’ MEMOJI registration. Social Technologies responded by filing a lawsuit for trademark infringement and seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement and validity of its MEMOJI registration. When both parties moved for summary judgement, the district court determined that Social Technologies had not engaged in bona fide use of the MEMOJI trademark and held that Apple was entitled to cancellation of Social Technologies’ registration. Social Technologies appealed.

Reviewing the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, the Ninth Circuit framed its analysis under the Lanham Act’s use in commerce requirement, which requires bona fide use of a mark in the ordinary course of trade and “not merely to reserve a right” in the mark. The issue on appeal was whether Social Technologies used the MEMOJI mark in commerce in such a manner to render its trademark registration valid.

The Ninth Circuit then explained the Lanham Act’s use in commerce requirement, which requires “use of a genuine character” determined by the totality of the circumstances (including “non-sales [...]

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Second Circuit Rejects FTC Challenge of 1-800 Contacts, Highlighting Procompetitive Trademark Policy

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a final order of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which had found that agreements to refrain from bidding on keyword search terms for internet advertisements violated Section 5 of the FTC Act. The Court made clear that although trademark agreements are not necessarily immune from antitrust scrutiny, they are entitled to significant deference. 1-800 Contacts, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission, Case No. 18-3848 (2d Cir. June 11, 2021) (Per Curium). The Second Circuit held that the FTC applied an incorrect analytical framework and incorrectly concluded that the agreements were an unfair method of competition under the FTC Act.

1-800 Contacts and its competitors advertise online through search advertising. They bid on search engine keywords, which help display their websites in response to consumer searches. They also bid on negative keywords, which prevent their ads from being displayed when consumers search for specified terms.

Between 2004 and 2013, 1-800 Contacts entered into a series of settlement agreements to resolve trademark disputes with competitors, as well as one commercial agreement with a competitor, all of which included terms prohibiting the parties from using each other’s trademarks, URLs and similar terms as search advertising keywords. The agreements also required the parties to use negative keywords so that a search including one party’s trademarks would not trigger a display of the other party’s ads. 1-800 Contacts enforced these agreements when it believed them to be breached.

The FTC challenged the agreements, alleging that they “unreasonably restrain truthful, non-misleading advertising as well as price competition in search advertising auctions,” violating Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45. An administrative law judge (ALJ) subsequently found the agreements to violate Section 5. 1-800 Contacts appealed to the full Commission, which affirmed the ALJ’s decision. 1-800 Contacts appealed.

The Second Circuit vacated the FTC’s decision but noted that the FTC was correct to reject 1-800 Contacts’ argument that trademark settlement agreements are necessarily immune from antitrust scrutiny. Citing the Supreme Court decision in Actavis, the Second Circuit held, “the mere fact that an agreement implicates intellectual property rights does not immunize an agreement from antitrust attack.”

The Second Circuit disagreed with the FTC’s specific antitrust analysis, however. The Court held that the FTC erred by applying an “inherently suspect” analysis—also known as a “quick-look” analysis—rather than the rule of reason. The Court focused on the fact that “the restraints at issue here could plausibly be thought to have a net procompetitive effect because they are derived from trademark settlement agreements,” and the fact that the FTC acknowledged as much by finding that the company’s justifications were “cognizable and, at least, facially plausible.” The Second Circuit also noted that courts have limited experience with these types of agreements. The Court concluded that “[w]hen, as here, not only are there cognizable procompetitive justifications but also the type of restraint has not been widely condemned in our judicial experience . . . . [w]e are bound . . [...]

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