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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.




A Primer on Practice at the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board

In a precedential decision rendered in an opposition proceeding, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) took the lawyers for each side to task for ignoring Board rules in presentation of their case, but ultimately decided the case on a likelihood of confusion analysis. The Board found that the parties’ marks and goods were “highly similar” and sustained the opposition. Made in Nature, LLC v. Pharmavite LLC, Opposition Nos. 91223352; 91223683; 91227387 (June 15, 2022, TTAB) (Wellington, Heasley and Hudis, ALJs) (precedential).

Pharmavite sought registration of the standard character mark NATURE MADE for various foods and beverages based on allegations of bone fide intent to use in commerce. Made in Nature (MIN) opposed on the ground that Pharmavite’s mark so resembled MIN’s registered and common law “Made In Nature” marks as to cause a likelihood of confusion when used on the goods for which registration was sought.

In its brief to the Board, Pharmavite raised, for the first time, the Morehouse (or prior registration) defense. MIN objected to the Morehouse defense as untimely. The Board agreed, noting that defense is “an equitable defense, to the effect that if the opposer cannot be further injured because there already exists an injurious registration, the opposer cannot object to an additional registration that does not add to the injury.” The party asserting a Morehouse defense must show that it “has an existing registration [or registrations] of the same mark[s] for the same goods” (emphasis in original).

Here, the Board found that this defense was not tried by the parties’ express consent and that implied consent “can be found only where the non-offering party (1) raised no objection to the introduction of evidence on the issue, and (2) was fairly apprised that the evidence was being offered in support of the issue.” In this case, Pharmavite did introduce into the record its prior NATURE MADE registrations but only for the purpose of supporting Pharmavite’s “[r]ight to exclude; use and strength of Applicant’s mark.” The Board found that this inclusion did not provide notice of reliance on the Morehouse or prior registration defense at trial.

In sustaining the opposition, the Board commented extensively on the record and how it was used, “[s]o that the parties, their counsel and perhaps other parties in future proceedings can benefit and possibly reduce their litigation costs.”

Over-Designation of the Record as Confidential

The Board criticized the parties for over-designating as confidential large portions of the record, warning that only the specific “exhibits, declaration passages or deposition transcript pages that truly disclosed confidential information should have been filed under seal under a protective order.” If a party over-designates material as confidential, “the Board will not be bound by the party’s designation.”

Duplicative Evidence

The Board criticized the parties for filing “duplicative evidence by different methods of introduction; for example, once by Notice of Reliance and again by way of an exhibit to a testimony declaration or testimony deposition.” The Board noted that such practice is viewed “with disfavor.”

Overuse of [...]

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Alleged Trademark Infringer Remains Hog-Tied after Appeal

The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit dismissed an appeal of a district court order denying a stay of a federal action for lack of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and reversed in part the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction. The Trial Lawyers College v. Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College at Thunderhead Ranch, Case No. 20-8038 (10th Cir. Jan. 27, 2022) (Bacharach, Briscoe, Murphy, JJ.).

The dispute between the parties arose out of a program called The Trial Lawyers College at Thunderhead Ranch in Wyoming. The College’s board of directors split into two factions known as the “Spence Group” and the “Sloan Group.” After the split, the two groups sued each other. The Spence Group sued in state court for dissolution of the College and a declaratory judgment regarding control of the board of directors. The Sloan Group sued in federal court claiming trademark infringement under the Lanham Act.

Both groups sought relief in the federal case. The Spence Group filed a motion to stay the federal court proceedings in light of the state court proceedings, and the Sloan Group requested a preliminary injunction. The district court denied the Spence Group’s stay and granted the Sloan Group’s request for a preliminary injunction. The Spence Group appealed both rulings.

The Tenth Circuit found that it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court’s stay denial. First, the state court resolved the dispute concerning board control, rendering part of the requested stay moot. Second, the Court determined that it lacked jurisdiction over the remaining motion for stay because it was not a final order. The Court explained that it needed to decide the appealability of the ruling based on the category of order rather than the particular facts of the case. The Court found that there was no unsettled issue of unique urgency or importance that warranted the Court exercising jurisdiction over the denial of the stay. Specifically, the Court explained that piecemeal litigation was unlikely because the state court already decided the issue of board control, and the Spence Group did not identify an unsettled issue of unique urgency.

The Tenth Circuit did exercise jurisdiction over the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction. The Spence Group challenged the district court’s finding of irreparable harm, the order to remove sculptures bearing the College’s name, restrictions on what the Spence Group could say and the consideration of evidence presented after the hearing ended. The Court reviewed the district court’s findings under an abuse-of-discretion standard. The Court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding irreparable harm, considering evidence after the hearing and enjoining the Spence Group from using words associated with the College. The Court explained that the district court reasonably found irreparable harm based on the College’s efforts to protect its name, logo and trademarks, as well as evidence of likely confusion among customers of the College based on the Spence Group’s use of those trademarks. As for the sculptures, the Court found [...]

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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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On the Border of Art and Trademark: First Amendment Trumps the Lanham Act

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit weighed trademark rights against free speech considerations and found that the First Amendment protected use of an artistic work that was not deliberately misleading. MGFB Properties Inc. et al. v. 495 Productions Holdings LLC et al., Case No. 21-13458 (11th Cir. Nov. 29, 2022) (Luck, Brasher, Hull, JJ.) (Brasher, J., concurring).

The suit was brought by MGFB Properties, Flora-Bama Management and Flora-Bama Old S.A.L.T.S. (collectively, the plaintiffs). The plaintiffs own and operate the Flora-Bama Lounge, Package and Oyster Bar on the Florida-Alabama border. The lounge has been in business since 1964 and is well known in the region. The plaintiffs registered their trademark FLORA-BAMA in 2013.

Viacom and 495 Productions (collectively, the defendants) produce reality television series, such as the hit 2009 series Jersey Shore. In light of Jersey Shore’s success, the defendants produced several spinoffs. In 2016 the defendants decided to develop a new spinoff based on “southern beach culture” and chose the term “Floribama” to describe “relaxing Florida beaches with the down-home Southern vibe of Alabama.” The defendants were aware of the name’s connection to the Florabama Lounge but used the term regardless to identify a specific stretch of the Gulf Coast (the Florida and Alabama coasts) and inserted dialogue into the show to explain the term. The show’s logo emphasized its connection to the Jersey Shore franchise:

The plaintiffs argued that the defendants’ use of “Floribama” was a violation of the Lanham Act and caused unfair confusion and damage to their brand. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit upheld the district court’s judgment that the defendants’ First Amendment rights as the creators of an artistic work outweighed the plaintiffs’ interest in their trademark and in avoiding confusion around their brand: “[c]reative works of artistic expression are firmly ensconced within the protections of the First Amendment.” In reaching its outcome, the Court applied the 1989 Rogers v. Grimaldi test.

Under the first prong of the Rogers test, “an artistically expressive use of a trademark will not violate the Lanham Act unless the use of the mark has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever.” Here, the Eleventh Circuit found that the defendants’ use of the term “Floribama” to describe the geographic area featured in Floribama Shore and the subculture of that region satisfied the first element of the Rogers test. The Court held that it was sufficient for the defendants’ use of “Floribama” to be relevant to their show, even if the term was not “necessary” to production of the show.

Under the second prong of the Rogers test, the Eleventh Circuit found that the defendants’ use of “Floribama” was not explicitly misleading “as to the source or content of the work” [...]

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Court Uncorks New Way to Serve Trademark Complaints

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that Section 1051(e) of the Lanham Act permits a plaintiff in a district court case to serve a complaint against a foreign defendant via the Director of the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO). San Antonio Winery, Inc. v. Jiaxing Micarose Trade Co., Ltd., Case No. 21-56036 (9th Cir. Nov. 14, 2022) (Siler, Callahan, Thomas, JJ.)

San Antonio Winery is a Los Angeles-based winery best known for its Stella Rosa brand of wines. The winery is owned and operated by the Riboli family. San Antonio has registered the trademarks RIBOLI and RIBOLI FAMILY, which it has used since at least 1998 to market its wines and other products.

Jiaxing is a Chinese company that has sold products using the Riboli name. In 2018, Jiaxing registered the mark RIBOLI for use in connection with articles of clothing and shoes. In 2020, Jiaxing applied to register the mark RIBOLI for use with additional types of products, including wine pourers, bottle stands, containers, cocktail shakers, dishware and various other kitchen and household items.

After learning that Jiaxing was using the Riboli name to sell products in the United States, San Antonio filed a complaint asserting Lanham Act claims for trademark infringement, trademark dilution and false designation of origin, as well as related state-law claims. San Antonio also sought an injunction prohibiting Jiaxing from using the RIBOLI mark in connection with its products, an order canceling Jiaxing’s 2018 registration of the RIBOLI mark, and an order either directing Jiaxing to abandon its 2020 application to register RIBOLI for additional uses or prohibiting the PTO from granting the application.

Because Jiaxing is a Chinese company, San Antonio’s service of process was governed by rules for serving parties abroad, such as by the Hague Convention. Concerned with the amount of time it might take to effect service under the Hague Convention, San Antonio instead sought to serve Jiaxing under Section 1051(e) of the Lanham Act, which applies to foreign domiciliaries who apply to register a trademark. Section 1051(e) states that if a trademark applicant is not domiciled in the United States, the applicant may designate the name and address of a person in the United States who may be served with notices or processes in proceedings affecting the mark. If the designated person cannot be found at the address, the notices or processes may be served on the PTO Director.

Seeking to avail itself of Section 1051(e), San Antonio inquired whether the US-based lawyer who had represented Jiaxing in connection with its trademark applications would accept service on Jiaxing’s behalf. When the lawyer did not respond, San Antonio served the district court complaint on the PTO Director, who then sent a letter to Jiaxing confirming service of process was effectuated pursuant to Section 1051(e).

After Jiaxing did not appear to defend itself in the action, San Antonio filed a motion for default judgment. The district court denied the motion on the ground that Jiaxing had not [...]

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Press # For Options, but Not for a Trademark Registration

In a precedential opinion addressing the most fundamental requirement for trademark protection, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) affirmed the US Patent & Trademark Office’s (PTO) refusal to register a “#” based mark on the ground that it fails to function as a mark. In re Pound Law, LLC, Ser. No. 87724338 (TTAB Nov. 9, 2022) (Adlin, Lynch, Larkin, ATJ)

Pound Law, claiming acquired distinctiveness under Section 2(f) of the Lanham Act, sought to register #LAW as a mark for providing legal services and legal referral services to consumers seeking a lawyer where legal representation or referral is initiated by phone. During prosecution, the Examining Attorney refused registration on the ground that #LAW failed to function as a service mark, reasoning that a consumer would only understand that dialing #LAW would put them in contact with some legal service provider, but not specifically Pound Law. Pound Law appealed.

Pound Law argued that the Examining Attorney improperly applied a per se rule against mnemonic or vanity telephone number marks as being incapable of functioning as a mark identifying the source of goods or services. In response, the Examining Attorney asserted that the PTO refused registration only after engaging in a specimen-based determination tailored to the #LAW mark. The Examining Attorney argued that, based on the manner of using the mark with a telephone, a consumer would regard #LAW only as a means of contacting Pound Law and concluded that #LAW does not indicate the source of legal services to be rendered, only a means by which legal services might be obtained.

To assess whether #LAW conveys an informational message or functions as a source identifier, the Board considered whether the nature of #LAW affects consumer perception of the asserted mark. The Board cited examples #LAW or #law being used throughout the legal industry, including as a hashtag in social media content. The Board reasoned that, in the context of social media, a hashtag functions as a searchable keyword, not as a source identifier. Pound Law argued that it ran radio advertisements vocalizing #LAW as “pound law” to explain to consumers that the asserted mark is not a hashtag.

The Board did not find Pound Law’s evidence persuasive, explaining that Pound Law’s radio advertising was insufficient to instill Pound Law as the source of the legal services in a consumer’s mind since “there is no correct pronunciation of a trademark, and consumers may pronounce a mark differently than intended by the brand owner.” The Board also pointed to evidence of Pound Law’s “extensive visual-only advertising,” which does not distinguish the use of an octothorpe as specifically a pound sign on a telephone keypad as opposed to a hashtag used on social media platforms. The Board concluded that many consumers would understand and pronounce #LAW as a hashtag (i.e., vocalized as “hashtag law”) “given the prevalence of social media and hashtags.” On this point, the Board highlighted “quite persuasive” evidence of numerous examples from the record showing third parties—e.g., law firms, legal [...]

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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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It Can Take Three Appeals to Make a Claim Construction Go “Right”—or Three Bites by Apple

In a nonprecedential opinion on remand from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and a US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Director-granted request for review, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) reconstrued claim terms it had previously construed in consideration of the patent specification, prosecution history and Federal Circuit construction of similar terms in a related case. Apple Inc. v. Personalized Media Communications, LLC, IPR2016-00754, IPR2016-01520 (P.T.A.B. Sept. 8, 2022) (Turner, APJ.)

In March 2016, Apple filed a petition to institute an inter partes review (IPR) against a patent (’635 patent) owned by Personalized Media Communications, LLC (PMC). After PMC filed its Patent Owner Preliminary Response (POPR), the Board instituted the IPR on some, but not all, of Apple’s requested grounds. Per Board procedure, PMC filed its Patent Owner Response (POR) and a contingent motion to amend its patent’s claims. In response, Apple filed a reply and an opposition to the contingent motion, and PMC filed a reply to Apple’s opposition. After oral argument the Board issued a Final Written Decision (754-FWD) finding all challenged claims unpatentable and denying the contingent motion to amend. PMC first sought rehearing of the Board’s decision and, after rehearing was denied, appealed the Board’s decision to the Federal Circuit.

Similarly, in July 2016, Apple filed another petition against the same PMC patent. After considering PMC’s POPR, the Board instituted an IPR on some of Apple’s requested grounds. PMC again filed a POR and a contingent motion to amend, to which Apple filed a reply and opposition (to which PMC filed its reply and Apple a sur-reply). Again, the Board held an oral hearing and issued a Final Written Decision (FWD) finding all challenged claims unpatentable and denying the contingent motion to amend. PMC again sought rehearing of the Board’s decision and, after rehearing was denied, appealed the Board’s decision to the Federal Circuit.

On appeal of each proceeding, PMC moved, and the Federal Circuit granted remand in light of and consistent with the 2021 Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Arthrex, Inc., where a five-justice majority found that the appointment of Board administrative patent judges was unconstitutional and a seven-justice majority concluded that the remedy was to vest the PTO Director with authority to overrule Board decisions.

On remand to the PTO, PMC filed a request for director review, which the Commissioner for Patents (performing the functions and duties of the PTO Director) granted. The Commissioner’s Granting Order agreed with PMC’s argument that the Board, in these two cases, had construed the claim terms “encrypted” and “decrypted” in a manner that could include “scrambling and descrambling operations on digital information, but could also include … on analog information” and was inconsistent with the Federal Circuit’s partial reversal of the Board’s construction in yet another IPR proceeding (755-IPR regarding another related PMC patent) between Apple and PMC. As to the related patent IPR, the Federal Circuit ultimately construed “encrypted digital information transmission including encrypted information” as “… limited [...]

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Oh, Fudge. TTAB Finds Curse Word Fails to Function as Trademark

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) denied registration of several US trademark applications for the mark FUCK, even though the applicant had overcome a prohibition on the registration of “immoral or scandalous” trademarks as a violation of the First Amendment in the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Iancu v. Brunetti. The applicant also had previously secured registration of the mark FUCT. The PTO nevertheless denied registration on grounds that the familiar curse word did not function as a trademark. In re: Brunetti, Ser. Nos. 88308426; 88308434; 88308451; 88310900 (TTAB Aug. 22, 2022) (Bergsman, Dunn, Lebow, Administrative Trademark Judges).

The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) issued a precedential decision affirming the PTO’s refusal to register the FUCK mark for a variety of goods and related services, including cellphone cases, sunglasses, jewelry, watches, bags and wallets. The Board found that the word FUCK expresses well-recognized sentiments and that consumers are accustomed to seeing the word in widespread use by many different sources. As a result, the word failed to create the commercial impression of a source indicator and therefore failed to function as a trademark to distinguish the goods from others.

BACKGROUND

Artist and entrepreneur Erik Brunetti applied to register the mark FUCK in relation to a wide variety of wearable goods, electronics accessories and related retail, marketing and business services in 2019 while his appeal to the Supreme Court regarding the FUCT mark was still pending. When the Supreme Court issued its decision, the FUCK applications were removed from suspension and could no longer be refused on grounds that the mark comprised “immoral or scandalous” material. The PTO examining attorney re-examined the applications and refused registration on the so-called “failure to function” ground, finding that the mark was a term that did not function as a trademark to indicate the source of the applicant’s goods or services and to identify and distinguish them from others. Brunetti appealed to the Board.

In response to Brunetti’s argument that there was no statutory basis for a failure to function refusal, the Board made clear that the PTO is statutorily constrained to register a mark on the Principal Register “if and only if it functions as a mark.” Matter that does not operate to indicate the source or origin of the identified goods or services and distinguish them from those of others does not meet the statutory definition of a trademark and may not be registered. The Board reminded applicants that not every designation adopted with the intention that it perform a trademark function necessarily accomplishes that purpose.

Matter may be merely informational and fail to function as a trademark if it is a common term or phrase that consumers are accustomed to seeing used by various sources to convey ordinary, familiar or generally understood concepts or sentiments. The critical inquiry in determining whether a proposed mark functions as a trademark is how the relevant public perceives it.

The Board described the Examining Attorney’s evidence supporting the failure to function [...]

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