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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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Counterfeit Dealer Gets Smoked in Trademark Preliminary Injunction Proceeding

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction barring the defendant from selling counterfeit e-cigarette and vaping products bearing the plaintiff’s logo because the plaintiff’s psychoactive products were legal and could support a valid trademark. AK Futures LLC v. Boyd St. Distro, LLC, Case No. 21-56133 (9th Cir. May 19, 2022) (Kleinfeld, Fisher, Bennett, JJ.)

AK Futures manufactures e-cigarettes and vaping products, including delta-8 THC goods marketed under its “Cake” brand. Delta-8 THC is a psychoactive compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant, which encompasses both hemp and marijuana. The compound is similar in effect to delta-9 THC, the primary psychoactive agent in marijuana, but delta-8 THC is typically manufactured from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD). The cultivation and possession of hemp was legalized by the Farm Act in 2018.

AK Futures sued Boyd Street Distro, a Los Angeles purveyor of smoke products, for trademark and copyright infringement. Boyd Street sold virtually identical counterfeit Cake-branded e-cigarettes and vaping products containing delta-8 THC. At the time of suit, AK Futures had a registered copyright protecting its Cake logo—a stylized “C” overlaying a two-tier cake—and pending trademark applications for six marks incorporating the word “Cake” or the Cake logo for use in connection with e-cigarette products. The district court granted AK Futures’ motion for preliminary injunction. Boyd Street appealed.

On appeal, Boyd Street conceded the copyright claim, but argued that AK Futures could not own a valid trademark in connection with its e-cigarettes and vaping products because the sale of delta-8 THC was prohibited under federal law. In response, AK Futures argued that the 2018 Farm Act legalized delta-8 THC and products containing the compound.

The Ninth Circuit agreed that AK Futures’ use of the marks in commerce was lawful and could give rise to trademark priority. The Court found that the “plain and unambiguous” text of the Farm Act indicated that delta-8 THC products were lawful. The Farm Act removed “hemp” and “tetrahydrocannabinols in hemp” from Schedule I in the Controlled Substances Act, where “hemp” is defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including . . . all derivatives, extracts, [and] cannabinoids . . . with a delta-9 concentration of not more than .3 percent.” The Court noted that the delta-9 THC concentration level was the only statutory metric for distinguishing marijuana from hemp, and that the terms “derivative, extract, or cannabinoid” were substantially broad. The Court thus concluded that “hemp” encompasses delta-8 THC products that contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC.

Boyd Street argued that the US Drug Enforcement Agency had interpreted the Farm Act as not applicable to delta-8 THC because it is “synthetically derived” and argued that US Congress never intended the Farm Act to legalize psychoactive substances. The Ninth Circuit perfunctorily dismissed these arguments based on the clear and unambiguous statutory language. Since the Cake-branded products allegedly contained less than 0.3% delta-9 THC, the Court held that AK Futures was likely to succeed in demonstrating that its [...]

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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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First Sale Defense Bars Trademark Infringement Where Trademarked Component Is Adequately Disclosed

A US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel vacated a grant of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, holding that the first sale doctrine applies when a trademarked product is incorporated into a new product. Bluetooth SIG Inc. v. FCA US LLC, Case No. 21-35561 (9th Cir. Apr. 6, 2022) (per curiam).

Bluetooth SIG administers standards for Bluetooth technology. SIG owns and licenses the trademarks below to product manufacturers:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) makes cars that contain Bluetooth-equipped head units. The head units are made by third-party suppliers that have been qualified by SIG, but FCA has not taken steps to qualify the Bluetooth capabilities in its cars. FCA uses the SIG trademarks on its head units and publications.

SIG sued FCA under the Lanham Act for trademark infringement. In its defense, FCA asserted the first sale doctrine. Under the doctrine, the right of a producer to control the distribution of its trademarked product does not extend past the first sale of the product. For example, a purchaser who stocks, displays and resells a producer’s product under a producer’s trademark violates no trademark rights under the Lanham Act. The district court granted partial summary judgment for SIG on the first sale issue, finding that the first sale doctrine was inapplicable because FCA’s conduct went beyond “stocking, displaying, and reselling a product.” FCA appealed.

The Ninth Circuit found that the lower court erred when it took a narrow view of the Ninth Circuit’s 1995 decision in Sebastian Int’l, Inc. v. Longs Drugs Stores Corp., in which the Court stated that “it is the essence of the ‘first sale’ doctrine that a purchaser who does no more than stock, display, and resell a producer’s product under the producer’s trademark violates no right conferred upon the producer by the Lanham Act.” The panel noted that the Sebastian Court never purported to articulate the outer bounds of the first sale doctrine; instead it simply captured the unauthorized resale of genuine goods.

The Ninth Circuit explained that the first sale doctrine also applies when a trademark is used to refer to a component incorporated into a new end product as long as the seller adequately discloses how the trademarked product was incorporated. The Court cited to the 1925 Supreme Court precedent in Prestonettes, Inc. v. Coty, which effectively extends the first sale doctrine beyond the examples stated in Sebastian. In Prestonettes, the Supreme Court held that trademark law did not prohibit a manufacturer from using a trademark, not to indicate the goods, but to say that the trademarked product was a component in a product being offered as new and changed. The Ninth Circuit also noted its 1998 holding in Enesco Corp. v. Price/Costco, in which it found that the first sale doctrine protected a retailer that resold dolls in allegedly inadequate packaging to the extent the repackaging was disclosed. The Enesco Court explained that if the public was adequately informed that [...]

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“TRUMP TOO SMALL” Trademark Decision Leaves Big Questions

Revisiting jurisprudence touching on the Lanham Act and the First Amendment from the Supreme Court’s decisions in Matal v. Tam and Iancu v. Brunetti, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that applying Sec. 2(c) of the Lanham Act (which bars registration of a trademark that consists of or comprises a name of a particular living individual without their written consent) may, in certain instances, unconstitutionally restrict free speech in violation of the First Amendment. In this instance, the Federal Circuit found that the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s (Board) refusal to register the trademark “TRUMP TOO SMALL” for use on t-shirts involved content-based discrimination that was not justified by a compelling or substantial government interest. In re: Steve Elster, Case No. 20-2205 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 24, 2022) (Dyk, Taranto, Chen, JJ.)

Steve Elster filed a US trademark application in 2018 for the mark “TRUMP TOO SMALL” (a reference to a 2016 Republican presidential primary debate exchange between then- candidate Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)) for use on shirts. The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) examining attorney, and subsequently the Board, refused registration of the mark on grounds that it clearly referred to former President Trump, and that Elster did not have written consent to use former President Trump’s name in violation of Sec. 2(c) of the Lanham Act. Sec. 2(c) requires such consent when a trademark identifies a “particular living individual.” Elster argued that his trademark aimed to convey that some features of former President Trump and his policies were diminutive and appealed the Board’s holding that Sec. 2(c) is narrowly tailored to advance two compelling government interests, namely, protecting an individual’s rights of privacy and publicity and protecting consumers against source deception.

The Federal Circuit started with a brief primer on relatively recent decisions in which the Supreme Court found certain provisions of Sec. 2(a) to be improper viewpoint discrimination because they barred registration of trademarks that were disparaging or comprised of immoral or scandalous matter. The Federal Circuit found that while neither Tam nor Brunetti resolved Elster’s appeal pertaining to Sec. 2(c), the cases did establish that a trademark represents private, not government, speech entitled to some form of First Amendment protection, and that denying a trademark registration is akin to the government disfavoring the speech being regulated. The Court then examined whether Sec. 2(c) could legally disadvantage the specific “TRUMP TOO SMALL” speech at issue in Elster’s case, and whether the government has an interest in limiting speech on privacy or publicity grounds if that speech involves criticism of government officials.

The Federal Circuit did not decide the matter on whether a trademark is a government subsidy, avoiding the somewhat varying opinions of the Supreme Court on that issue. Instead, the Federal Circuit found that Elster’s mark constituted speech by a private party for which the registration restriction must be tested by the First Amendment. Regardless of whether strict or intermediate scrutiny is applied [...]

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This .SUCKS: Trademark Applications for Identical Characters Is a No-Go

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board) decision affirming the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO) refusal to register two trademark applications for “.SUCKS.” In Re: Vox Populi Registry Ltd., Case No. 21-1496 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 2, 2022) (Lourie, Dyk, Stoll, JJ.)

Vox is a domain registry operator that maintains the master database of all domain names registered in each top-level domain. Vox filed two trademark applications for identical characters, one as a standard character and the other as a stylized form of .SUCKS, as shown below.

The PTO refused Vox’s applications on the grounds that, when used in connection with the domain services, each failed to function as a trademark. Vox appealed to the Board. The Board concluded that .SUCKS, whether as a standard mark or in the stylized form, would not be perceived as a source identifier. Vox appealed the Board’s decision only with respect to the stylized form of .SUCKS.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit noted that although Vox did not appeal the rejection of the standard character application, it spent much of its opening brief arguing that the standard character functions as a mark. As such, the Court reviewed the Board’s decision with respect to the standard character mark .SUCKS under the substantial evidence standard. Substantial evidence “means only such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” The Court found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s finding that consumers will view .SUCKS as only a non-source identifying part of a domain name, rather than as a trademark. The Court cited evidence reviewed by the Board, including Vox’s website, online articles and advertisements showing that .SUCKS refers to a product rather than as an identifiable provider or service. Ultimately, the Court found that the Board reasonably weighed the evidence.

The Federal Circuit next addressed the question of whether the stylized design of .SUCKS is registerable. The Court found no error in the Board’s analysis of whether the stylized form creates a separate commercial impression, where “all of the characters in the mark are the same height and width and are merely displayed in a font style that was once mandated by the technological limitations of computer screens.” Because the stylized design was not inherently distinctive, the Court rejected Vox’s application, thus affirming the Board’s decision in full.




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