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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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Trademark Cancellation Is Appropriate Sanction for Misconduct

In upholding a grocery store chain’s standing to petition for cancellation of a US trademark registration, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s (TTAB’s) express authority to impose cancellation of a trademark by default judgment as a sanction in a TTAB proceeding. Corcamore, LLC v. SFM, LLC, Case No. 19-1526 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 27, 2020) (Reyna, J.).

SFM owns US federal trademark registrations for the mark SPROUTS for use in connection with its retail grocery store services. SFM filed a petition to cancel Corcamore’s US trademark registration for the mark SPROUT for use in connection with vending machine services, alleging a likelihood of consumer confusion with SFM’s prior trademark rights. The TTAB denied Corcamore’s motion to dismiss the cancellation petition for lack of standing. Relying on Empresa Cubana del Tabaco v. General Cigar Co., the TTAB confirmed SFM’s standing based on its “real interest” in the cancellation petition and a “reasonable belief of damage” caused by the continued registration of Corcamore’s SPROUT trademark.

Following the TTAB’s denial of its motion to dismiss, Corcamore undertook a series willful, bad-faith procedural maneuvers that resulted in two separate sanctions. When Corcamore’s further procedural misconduct violated both sanctions orders, the TTAB entered default judgment cancelling Corcamore’s SPROUT trademark registration. Corcamore appealed.

On appeal, Corcamore alleged that the TTAB (1) erred in applying Empresa Cubana rather than the Supreme Court of the United States’ Lexmark v. Static Control framework in affirming SFM’s standing, and (2) abused its discretion in granting default judgment as a sanction. On the issue of standing, the Federal Circuit rejected the TTAB’s “unduly narrow” conclusion that the Supreme Court’s Lexmark framework was inapplicable, since Lexmark related to a claim of false advertising under § 1125(a) of the Lanham Act, while Empresa Cubana addressed the right to bring a cancellation proceeding under § 1064. The Federal Circuit concluded that Lexmark applied to § 1064 and § 1125(a) because both are statutory causes of action. Nevertheless, the Court found no meaningful substantive difference between the analytical frameworks for standing expressed in Lexmark and Empresa Cubana, and found that the Lexmark “zone-of-interests” proximate cause analysis and the “real interest” and “reasonable belief of damage” requirements under Empresa Cubana similarly provided a right to bring a cause of action. As such, the Court ultimately agreed with the TTAB’s conclusion that SFM’s pleaded allegations of a likelihood of consumer confusion based on a similarity of the parties’ SPROUTS and SPROUT trademarks, and their respective goods and services, were sufficient to demonstrate a reasonable belief of damage under Empresa Cubana and thus supported the right to challenge Corcamore’s registered trademark via cancellation.

With regard to the TTAB’s grant of default judgment, Corcamore did not challenge the TTAB’s express authority to grant default judgment as a sanction under 37 CFR § 2.120(h) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2). Instead, Corcamore argued that the TTAB had no factual or legal basis to enter default judgment in the first [...]

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The Naked Truth About Trademark Cancellation: Only Harm, No Proprietary Interest Required

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit determined that a contracting party that contractually abandoned any proprietary interest in a mark may still bring a cancellation action if it can “demonstrate a real interest in the proceeding and a reasonable belief of damage.” Australian Therapeutic Supplies Pty. Ltd. v. Naked TM, LLC, Case No. 19-1567 (Fed. Cir. July 24, 2020) (Reyna, J.) (Wallach, J., dissenting).

Australian sold condoms with the marks NAKED and NAKED CONDOMS, first in Australia in early 2000, then in the United States in 2003. Two years later, Australian learned that Naked TM’s predecessor had registered a trademark NAKED for condoms in September 2003. Australian and Naked TM communicated by email regarding use of the mark for a few years. Naked TM contended that the parties reached an agreement; Australian disagreed and said no final terms were agreed upon. Australian filed a petition to cancel the NAKED trademark registration. Ultimately, and after trial, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) concluded that Australian lacked standing because it had reached an informal agreement that Naked TM reasonably believed was an abandonment of any right to contest Naked TM’s registration of NAKED. Thus, the TTAB found that Australian lacked a real interest in the proceeding because it lacked a proprietary interest in the challenged mark. Australian appealed.

The Federal Circuit reversed. First, the Court clarified that the proper inquiry was a matter of proving an element of the cause of action under 15 USC § 1064 rather than standing. The Court explained that, contrary to the TTAB’s conclusion, “[n]either § 1064 nor [its] precedent requires that a petitioner have a proprietary right in its own mark in order to demonstrate a cause of action before the Board.” Assuming without deciding that the TTAB correctly determined that Australian had contracted away its rights, the Court found that fact irrelevant. Ultimately, even though an agreement might be a bar to showing actual damages, a petitioner need only show a belief that it has been harmed to bring a petition under § 1064.

The Federal Circuit found that Australian had a reasonable belief in its own damage and a real interest in the proceedings based on a history of two prior applications to register the mark, both of which the US Patent and Trademark Office rejected on the basis that they would have created confusion with Naked TM’s mark. The Court rejected Naked TM’s argument that Australian’s abandonment of those applications demonstrated there was no harm, instead concluding that Australian’s abandonment of its applications did not create an abandonment of its rights in the unregistered mark. Moreover, as a prophylactic rationale, the Court explained that Australian’s sales of products that might be found to have infringed the challenged registration also create a real interest and reasonable belief in harm.

Judge Wallach dissented. Although he agreed that the TTAB erred by imposing a proprietary-interest requirement to bring suit under § 1064, he disagreed that Australian properly demonstrated an alternative, legitimate interest—i.e., a belief [...]

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Deleting Goods from Registration Subject to Cancellation During Audit May Result in Adverse Judgment

The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) addressed, for the first time, whether the deletion of goods and services as a result of a post-registration audit during a cancellation proceeding triggers Trademark Rule 2.134 and found that it does. The Board required the respondent to show cause as to why its deletion of certain goods from the challenged registration should not result in an adverse judgment. Ruifei (Shenzhen) Smart Technology Co., Ltd. v. Shenzhen Chengyan Science and Technology Co., Ltd., Cancellation No. 92077931 (TTAB Jan. 12, 2023) (Lykos, Lynch, Larkin, ATJ)

Ruifei (Shenzhen) Smart Technology petitioned to cancel a trademark that was registered to Shenzhen Chengyan Science and Technology Co., Ltd. (Chengyan) based on abandonment and fraud. Ruifei thereafter filed a motion for leave to amend its pleadings and concurrently filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Finding that Chengyan did not contest the motion for leave to amend, the Board granted Ruifei’s motion and accepted the proposed amended petition to cancel. The summary judgment motion, however, was deferred, pending Chengyan’s response to the instant order.

After the cancellation proceeding was initiated, Chengyan filed a Section 8 Declaration of Use in connection with the contested registration and received a post-registration office action audit. In response to the audit, Chengyan deleted some of the goods from the contested registration’s identification.

Ruifei mentioned the amendment to the contested registration in its motion for partial summary judgment. The Board, having been made aware of the deletion of goods, held that the amendment raised new issues requiring Chengyan’s input before it could consider the motion for partial summary judgment.

Without the written consent of a petitioner, a respondent’s deletion of goods or services from a registration subject to a pending cancellation action typically would result in judgment against the respondent under Trademark Rule 2.134. The purpose of this rule is to prevent respondents in cancellation proceedings from avoiding judgment by cancelling certain goods or services to render the cancellation action moot.

Trademark Rule 2.134(b) provides respondents with the opportunity to explain why certain goods or services were cancelled under Section 8 to avoid judgment being entered against them:

After the commencement of a cancellation proceeding, if it comes to the attention of the . . . Board that the respondent has permitted its involved registration to be cancelled under section 8 . . . an order may be issued allowing respondent . . . to show cause why such cancellation . . . should not be deemed to be the equivalent of a cancellation by request of respondent without the consent of the adverse party and should not result in entry of judgment against respondent.

The Board had not previously considered a situation in which goods or services were deleted as a result of a post-registration audit but held that the “same concerns . . . and [] policies underlying Trademark Rule 2.134(b) apply.” Accordingly, the Board granted Chengyan 20 days to file a response showing why its deletion of certain goods should not [...]

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PTO Publishes Regulations to Implement Trademark Modernization Act

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

Ex Parte Proceedings

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

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

Reexamination

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

Expungement

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

Requirements for Ex Parte Petitions

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

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

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

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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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TTAB Cancellation Proceedings Not Preclusive in District Court, Even Between Same Parties

Addressing the preclusive effect of judgments by tribunals with limited jurisdiction, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that trademark cancellation proceedings before the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (TTAB) do not have preclusive effect against trademark infringement lawsuits in federal district courts. Beasley v. Howard, Case No. 20-1119 (3d Cir. Sept. 17, 2021) (Chagares, J.)

In 1969, Beasley started a band named The Ebonys. In the mid-1990s, Howard joined the band, and in 1997, Beasley obtained a New Jersey state service mark for “The Ebonys.” Several years later, Beasley and Howard parted ways. In 2012, Howard registered “The Ebonys” as a federal trademark with the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO).

In 2013, Beasley filed a petition with the TTAB to cancel Howard’s mark, arguing that Howard had defrauded the PTO. The TTAB rejected Beasley’s 2013 petition. In 2017, Beasley filed a second petition with the TTAB, again arguing that Howard had defrauded the PTO and for the first time arguing that Howard’s mark could be confused with Beasley’s separate “The Ebonys” mark. The TTAB rejected Beasley’s 2017 petition, this time on claim preclusion grounds, finding that Beasley should have asserted his likelihood-of-confusion claim in his 2013 petition. Beasley did not appeal either dismissal.

In 2019, Beasley initiated a lawsuit in federal district court, requesting that the court vacate Howard’s mark, award Beasley monetary damages and permit Beasley to register his own “The Ebonys” mark with the PTO. The district court dismissed Beasley’s complaint, finding that claim preclusion applied because the complaint turned on the same factual and legal arguments litigated in the 2017 petition, even though Beasley did not seek damages in the 2017 petition. Beasley appealed.

The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal, concluding that the TTAB’ s cancellation proceedings did not preclude Beasley from bringing his § 43(a) infringement claim in the district court. The Court noted that the TTAB has limited jurisdiction to determine the right to register a trademark and does not have authority to consider questions of infringement, unfair competition, injunctions or damages. It reasoned that because the TTAB does not have jurisdiction to award any remedy beyond cancellation of the mark, a broader § 43(a) cause of action for deceptive use in commerce, as alleged by Beasley, could not have been brought in a TTAB cancellation proceeding.

The Third Circuit also rejected Howard’s argument that Beasley should have brought trademark cancellation claims in the district court in the first instance, noting that even though a federal district court has authority to order a cancellation, a TTAB petition is the primary means of securing a cancellation, and that forcing Beasley to litigate in the district court in the first instance would “encourage[] litigants to sit on their claims and undermine[] the Lanham Act’s adjudicative mechanisms.”

Practice Note: In the Third Circuit, plaintiffs are encouraged to bring their trademark cancellation claims before the TTAB in the first instance, rather than waiting to bring their trademark cancellation and trademark infringement claims together before [...]

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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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