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ITU Applicants Beware: Federal Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Pending Trademark Applications

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part a district court’s ruling in a trademark dispute, upholding its decision to invalidate trademark applications. The Ninth Circuit held that district courts have jurisdiction to alter or cancel trademark applications in an action properly brought under 15 U.S.C. § 1119, and that in the context of challenges to intent-to-use (ITU) applications, proof of a lack of bona fide intent can invalidate. BBK Tobacco & Foods LLP v. Central Coast Agriculture, Inc., Case Nos. 22-16190; -16281 (9th Cir. Apr. 1, 2024) (Hurwitz, Desai, JJ.) (Bumatay, J., dissenting).

BBK sells and distributes smoking-related products with BBK’s “RAW” branding. Central Coast Agriculture (CCA) sells cannabis products using “Raw Garden” branding. BBK filed a complaint against CCA including claims of trademark infringement and a petition to void several ITU trademark applications owned by CCA for lack of a bona fide intent to use the relevant trademarks in commerce. Instead of disputing the merits of BBK’s claims, CCA argued that the district court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate this issue. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of BBK on its claims to invalidate the trademark applications. CCA appealed.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment in favor of BBK on its claims to invalidate CCA’s trademark applications. The Court explained that “when an action involves a claim of infringement on a registered trademark, a district court also has jurisdiction to consider challenges to the trademark application of a party to the action.” The Lanham Act, at 15 U.S.C. § 1119, provides that “[i]n any action involving a registered mark the court may determine the right to registration, order the cancelation of registrations, . . . restore canceled registrations, and otherwise rectify the register with respect to the registrations of any party to the action.” The Lanham Act, at § 1051, defines an application for use of trademark as a “request for registration of a trademark on the principal register.” Because a challenge to an application affects the applicant’s right to the registration, the Court reasoned that § 1119 authorizes a district court to resolve disputes over trademark applications.

The Ninth Circuit held that a “lack of bona fide intent to use a mark in commerce is a valid basis to challenge a trademark application,” aligning with decisions in sister circuits and the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board. An applicant can seek to register a mark if the mark is already being used in commerce or if the applicant has a bona fide intention, under circumstances showing the good faith of such person, to use a trademark in commerce. While applicants filing under the ITU provisions may begin the registration process based on a bona fide intent to later use the mark in commerce, the Lanham Act requires such applicants to either subsequently file a verified statement of actual use of the mark or convert their application into a use application. As a result, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling [...]

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Taking the High Road: Ambiguity Regarding “Versions” of Beer Precludes Summary Judgment

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a district court’s summary judgment denial and determination that the definition of “beer” (which encompassed “other versions and combinations” of beer and malt beverages) in a trademark licensing agreement was ambiguous. Cerveceria Modelo de Mexico, S. de R.L. de C.V. v. CB Brand Strategies, LLC, Case No. 23-810 (2d Cir. Mar. 25, 2024) (Cabranes, Wesley, Lohier, JJ.) (nonprecedential).

In 2013, Modelo granted Constellation Brands a perpetual sublicense to use Modelo’s trademarks for Corona and Modelo to sell “beer” in the United States. The sublicense defined “beer” as “beer, ale, porter, stout, malt beverages, and any other versions or combinations of the foregoing, including non-alcoholic versions of any of the foregoing.” Several years later, Constellation launched Corona Hard Seltzer and Modelo Ranch Water, both of which are flavored alcoholic seltzers derived from fermented sugar.

Modelo sued Constellation in 2021, alleging that Constellation’s sales of the “Corona” or “Modelo” branded hard seltzers violated the sublicensing agreement because the license for use of the marks on “beer” did not encompass sugar-based hard seltzers. Modelo moved for summary judgment, which the district court denied after determining that the agreement’s definition of “beer” was ambiguous. At trial, the jury found that Modelo had failed to show that the seltzers were not “beer” under the sublicense definition. Modelo appealed.

Modelo asserted that the district court erred in denying summary judgment, arguing that the agreement’s definition of “beer” was unambiguous and challenged the district court’s jury instructions and exclusion of certain evidence at trial.

The Second Circuit agreed that the term “beer” as used in the agreement was ambiguous. The Court noted that a motion for summary judgment in a contract dispute generally may only be granted when the relevant language has a definite meaning and is unambiguous. Modelo argued that the sublicense plainly excluded the hard seltzers because they were not “beer,” “malt beverages,” or versions or combinations of either. Modelo contended that the term “versions” was limited to beverages with characteristics in common with “beer” and “malt beverages” and would not include “malt-free,” “hops-flavorless” hard seltzers.

The Second Circuit assumed for purposes of the opinion that the plain and ordinary meaning of “beer” and “malt beverages” excluded seltzers but reasoned that Corona Hard Seltzer and Modelo Ranch Water could plausibly be understood as a “version” of either. The Court found Modelo’s limited view of the term “versions” unpersuasive, given that the sublicense allowed for “nonalcoholic versions” of beer and malt beverages, even though dictionary definitions uniformly define “beer” as containing alcohol. Because each party’s reading of “versions” was at least plausible, the Court concluded that the relevant contract language was ambiguous and affirmed the district court’s summary judgment denial.

Modelo also argued that the district court failed to instruct the jury that undefined words should be given their plain and ordinary meaning and improperly instructed the jury to ignore dictionary definitions. The Second Circuit rejected this argument, noting that the instructions properly informed the jury [...]

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PTO Proposes Trademark Application Filing Changes, Fee Adjustments

On March 26, 2024, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register concerning changes to trademark application filings and fee adjustments in trademark cases for 2025. The PTO solicits written comments from the public on the proposed rule changes on or before May 28, 2024. The proposed rules seek to generate sufficient multiyear revenue for trademark operations in future years based on projections described in the notice.

The changes are recommended to support the PTO’s strategic goals and objectives, including optimizing trademark application pendency through the promotion of efficient operations and filing behaviors, issuing accurate and reliable trademark registrations, and encouraging access to the trademark system for stakeholders.

The proposal seeks to incentivize more complete and timely filings, improve prosecution, adjust 31 trademark fees and impose 12 new fees while discontinuing six existing fees. The proposal also seeks to consolidate the present Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) filing options (i.e., TEAS Plus and TEAS standard) into a single electronic filing option. The single option would include most of the same requirements as TEAS Plus, while eliminating those under TEAS Standard. The new filing framework would discontinue the previous filing fees and fees for failing to meet the requirements of a TEAS Plus application. Similar to TEAS Plus, however, applicants complying with the proposed requirements in their initial filing would pay the lowest fees.

The proposed fee adjustments would:

  • Set the fee for a base application at $350 using the ID Master List (which is $100 more than the current fee for a TEAS Plus application)
  • Discontinue current fees for filing an application under the Madrid Protocol
  • Require surcharge fees between $100 and $200 for applications that are noncompliant with the base filing requirements
  • Require an additional $200 fee per class for the identification of goods and services entered in the free-form text field to incentivize use of the Trademark ID Manual for such identifications instead
  • Require an additional $200 fee for each additional group of 1,000 characters in the free-form text field; identifications directly from the ID Manual would not incur these fees
  • Increase fees by $50 for filing amendments to allege use (AAU) and statements of use (SOU), with fees being discounted $100 for electronic filings
  • Increase post-registration maintenance fees from $50 to $75
  • Increase the letter of protest fee from $50 to $150.

Regarding the proposed fee adjustments, the notice describes changes to 37 CFR 2.6 and 7.6. The notice further describes changes to 37 CFR 2.22 and 2.71 with respect to base application fees and amendments to correct informalities, respectively.

For further details, see the Federal Register notice.




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All That Glitters: Use of Registered Mark To Describe Watch Color Was Fair Use

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgement to a luxury-watchmaker defendant, holding that its use of a registered and incontestable trademarked term was fair use because it was used descriptively and in good faith. Solid 21, Inc. v. Breitling U.S.A., Inc., Case No. 22-366 (2d Cir. Mar. 14, 2024) (Wesley, Sullivan, JJ.) (Park, J., dissenting). The case is notable for its analysis of the fair use defense’s good faith prong, which, as the Second Circuit majority notes, “is not litigated frequently.” This was also the element that provoked Judge Park’s dissent, who argued that the majority’s analysis attempts to resolve factual disputes about Breitling’s intentions that should, instead, go to a jury.

“Red gold” and “rose gold” are terms used to describe a gold-copper alloy that causes gold to have a pinkish hue. Sellers of men’s watches sometimes prefer the term “red gold” because “rose gold” sounds effeminate. Solid 21 is a luxury watch and jewelry business that sells a collection of jewelry and watches under the RED GOLD mark, which was registered in 2003 and now has incontestable status. Breitling is a Swiss company that makes and sells luxury watches, some of which it advertises as available in “red gold,” among other color choices. Solid 21 filed a trademark infringement suit against Breitling, alleging that its use of the term “red gold” was “likely to cause confusion, reverse confusion, mistake, and/or deception as to the source” of Breitling’s watches. Breitling moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the term “red gold” was generic, and the trademark registration was invalid, or alternatively, that its use of the term fell under the Lanham Act’s fair use defense, which allows use of a protected mark to describe one’s goods so long as the use is in good faith and not used as a mark.

Initially, the district court denied Breitling’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Breitling could have used terms like “rose gold” to describe its products and thus did not satisfy the descriptive use requirement. However, on reconsideration, the district court decided that the mere existence of alternative terms for the alloy did not preclude summary judgment, and that Breitling’s materials showed clearly that it was using the term “red gold” descriptively to indicate hue. The district court also found that Breitling satisfied the good faith element, even if Breitling was aware of Solid 21’s RED GOLD mark. Solid 21 appealed.

The Second Circuit affirmed, finding that Breitling’s advertising materials clearly showed that it used the term “red gold” as a descriptor for color and not as a mark. The Court rejected the argument that this conclusion as to descriptive use was undermined by the availability of the term “rose gold” as an alternative descriptor and pointed out that Solid 21 bears the risk of some consumer confusion in choosing to trademark a descriptive term that describes a color of metal. Finally, the Court found that Breitling’s use of [...]

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District Court Subpoena Power Plays “Supporting Role” to PTO Rules

Addressing the subpoena power of district courts to compel evidence for use in US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) proceedings, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a district court’s decision (albeit on alternative grounds), holding that district courts’ authority to issue subpoenas in support of PTO proceedings is limited by the PTO Rules of Procedure. Xactware Solutions, Inc. v. Buildxact Software Ltd., Case No. 22-1871 (4th Cir. March 13, 2024) (Gregory, Harris, Floyd, JJ.)

Buildxact, an Australian company, filed a trademark application at the PTO for BUILDXACT. Xactware opposed the BUILDXACT application at the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board and requested to depose three of Buildxact’s officers via video. When Buildxact objected indicating it would only allow written depositions (citing the PTO rules, which state that foreign depositions must be in writing unless the parties stipulate otherwise or the deposing party shows good cause), Xactware subpoenaed Buildxact through service on Buildxact’s default agent – the PTO Director – for an in-person deposition of a Buildxact corporate representative.

Buildxact filed a motion in the district court to quash the subpoena. The district court magistrate judge granted Buildxact’s motion, finding that Buildxact, which has no office, employees, or regular business in or near Virginia, did not have sufficient contacts to qualify as “being within” the district. Xactware moved for a review of the order, but the district court agreed with the magistrate judge’s ruling. Xactware appealed.

Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 23, the PTO may establish its own rules for depositions in cases before the Board. Additionally, 35 U.S.C. § 24 grants the “clerk of any United States court for the district wherein testimony is to be taken for use in any contested case in the Patent and Trademark Office” the power to “issue a subpoena for any witness residing or being within such district, commanding him to appear and testify before an officer in such district authorized to take depositions and affidavits.”

Xactware argued that Buildxact is “within” the district because it has an agent designated to receive service of process there (i.e., the PTO Director). The PTO argued that even if Buildxact were “within” the district, the subpoena must still be quashed as the deposition was improper under the PTO rules. The Fourth Circuit agreed, noting that it consequently need not address whether Buildxact was “within” the district or not.

The Fourth Circuit held that the district court lacked the authority to issue a subpoena compelling Buildxact’s deposition because the deposition being sought was prohibited by PTO rules and would not be admissible in any PTO proceeding. Looking at the legislative history, the Fourth Circuit noted that the district court’s subpoena power under § 24 is only available to the extent the courts are empowered to aid the PTO: “Section 24 assigns a supportive role to the district courts to ensure the smooth functioning of the [PTO] procedures.” Moreover, the explicit language of § 24 requires that a district court can only subpoena testimony “for use [...]

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No Home Away From Home: Federal Circuit Confirms PTO Domicile Requirements

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit confirmed the US Patent & Trademark Office’s (PTO) refusal to register a trademark based on the applicant’s failure to comply with the domicile address requirement of 37 C.F.R. §§ 2.32(a)(2) and 2.189. In re Chestek PLLC, Case No. 22-1843 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 13. 2024) (Lourie, Chen, Stoll, JJ.)

Chestek included only a PO box for its domicile address in its trademark application. The PTO found this information noncompliant with the domicile address rule, which requires trademark applicants to either have a domicile within the United States or be represented by US counsel. The PTO implemented the requirement in 2019 following a notice-and-comment period. Chestek appealed the PTO’s refusal to register based on the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and challenged the processes surrounding implementation of the domicile address requirement.

Chestek first argued that the requirement was improperly instituted because the PTO failed to comply with the notice-and-comment rulemaking requirement under 5 U.S.C. § 533 by failing to provide notice of the domicile address requirement adopted in the final rule. However, the Federal Circuit held that the formalities of the notice-and-comment were not required under § 533(b)(A) because the rule was procedural, not substantive (i.e., effecting a change in existing law or policy that affects individual rights and obligations). As the Court explained, the rule did not affect the substantive trademark standards used during examination to evaluate applications but was simply an applicant information requirement.

Chestek next argued that the domicile address requirement was arbitrary and capricious because in implementing the final rule, the PTO “offered an insufficient justification for the domicile address requirement” and failed to consider important repercussions of the requirement, such as its effects on privacy. The Federal Circuit rebuffed that argument, explaining that the domicile requirement and the explanations given for it (determining whether the US attorney requirement applied) were “at least reasonably discernable.” The Court stated that as long as an agency does not give “almost no reason at all” for a new policy, the change is sufficiently justified and not arbitrary or capricious. The Court also noted that the APA does not require an agency to consider and respond to every impact of a proposed policy change.




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Trademark Trial & Appeal Board Gets a DuPont 101 Lesson

Addressing errors in the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s likelihood of confusion analysis in a cancellation action, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the Board erred by failing to give sufficient weight to the first DuPont factor (similarity of the marks) and failing to consider the relevant evidence for the third (similarity of established trade channels). Naterra International, Inc. v. Samah Bensalem, Case No. 22-1872 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 15, 2024) (Moore, Stoll, Cunningham, JJ.)

In 2020, Naterra International filed a petition to cancel Samah Bensalem’s registration for BABIES’ MAGIC TEA for use in connection with “medicated tea for babies that treats colic and gas and helps babies sleep better” based on a likelihood of confusion with Naterra’s multiple registrations for BABY MAGIC for use in connection with infant toiletry products such as lotion and baby shampoo. The Board denied Naterra’s petition, finding that Naterra failed to prove a likelihood of confusion. The Board found that while the first DuPont likelihood of confusion factor (similarity of the marks) weighed in favor of a likelihood of confusion, factors two (similarity of the goods) and three (similarity of established trade channels) did not, and Naterra’s BABY MAGIC mark “fell somewhere in the middle” for factor five (fame of the prior mark). The Board found that factors four (conditions of purchasing), six (number and nature of similar marks in use on similar goods), eight (length of time and conditions of concurrent use without evidence of actual confusion), 10 (market interface between applicant and owner of a prior mark) and 12 (extent of potential confusion) were neutral. Naterra appealed.

Naterra argued “that substantial evidence does not support the Board’s finding that the similarity and nature of the goods (DuPont factor two) and trade channels (DuPont factor three) disfavor a likelihood of confusion,” and that the Board did not properly weigh the first (similarity of the marks) and fifth (fame of the prior mark) DuPont factors.

DuPont Factor Two – Relatedness of the Goods

The Board rejected Naterra’s expert testimony that other so-called “umbrella” baby brands offered both infant skincare products and ingestible products, calling it “unsupported by underlying evidence.” The Federal Circuit disagreed, stating that “testimony that third-party companies sell both types of goods is pertinent to the relatedness of the goods.” Nonetheless, because the Court could not determine whether the Board rejected the expert testimony for other reasons, it remanded the case for further consideration and explanation of its analysis on this point.

DuPont Factor Three – Similarity of Trade Channels

The Board found that the third factor weighed against a likelihood of confusion, stating that it lacked the “persuasive evidence” necessary to “conclude that the trade channels are the same.” The Federal Circuit found that the Board erred by not addressing relevant evidence, namely Bensalem’s admission that the parties’ goods were sold in similar trade channels. The Court also noted that the Board “did not identify in its decision any evidence showing a lack of [...]

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Bling It On: Laches Prevents Profit Disgorgement in Diamond-Studded Trademark Battle

In a dispute involving allegedly counterfeit luxury watches, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s finding of trademark infringement and its finding that a laches defense prevented disgorgement of profits. Rolex Watch USA, Incorporated v. BeckerTime, L.L.C., Case No. 22-10866 (5th Cir. Jan. 26, 2024) (Douglas, King, Willett, JJ.)

Rolex is a luxury watch seller with legally protectable interests in numerous trademarks. BeckerTime modifies Rolex-branded watches by adding diamonds, aftermarket bezels, and bands not authorized by Rolex and then sells them as “Genuine Rolex” watches. Rolex filed a lawsuit against BeckerTime, alleging trademark infringement and seeking an injunction and disgorgement of profits. After a bench trial, the district court concluded that BeckerTime infringed Rolex’s trademark but refused to order disgorgement of profits based on BeckerTime’s laches defense. This appeal followed.

On the issue of infringement, BeckerTime argued that the district court erroneously applied the traditional likelihood of confusion analysis without considering the Supreme Court’s decision in Champion Spark Plug v. Sanders (1947). In Champion, the Supreme Court held that a defendant in a trademark infringement case was not obligated to remove trademarks from repaired or reconditioned products. This ruling was grounded in the distinction that these products were distinctly marketed as “repaired or reconditioned” as opposed to brand new items. The Supreme Court clarified that a misnomer exception would only be applicable if the extent or nature of the repair or reconditioning was so profound that using the original name would be misleading, even if terms such as “used” or “repaired” were added to describe the item.

In drawing a comparison to Champion, the Fifth Circuit differentiated BeckerTime’s actions from mere repairs or reconditioning. Unlike the defendant in Champion, BeckerTime went beyond restoration, actively modifying Rolex watches by incorporating diamonds, aftermarket bezels and bracelets or straps. Consequently, the watches BeckerTime sold were materially distinct from those offered by Rolex. The Court reasoned that BeckerTime’s alterations amounted to customization rather than mere restoration, as was the case in Champion. Applying the misnomer exception from Champion, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, asserting that BeckerTime’s customized watches created a likelihood of confusion among consumers and thereby infringed upon Rolex’s trademark.

On the issue of disgorgement of profits, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s application of laches to deny an award of disgorgement. Rolex argued that BeckerTime’s deliberate counterfeiting precluded laches, while BeckerTime responded that Rolex had failed to show the required unclean hands or undue prejudice to justify disgorgement. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that Rolex had failed to establish unclean hands by BeckerTime, as the evidence did not show intentional infringement. The Court also agreed that the delay in filing the lawsuit caused undue prejudice to BeckerTime by enabling it to build a successful business.

While Rolex sought a complete ban on BeckerTime’s use of non-genuine bezels and dials on its modified Rolex watches, the Fifth Circuit only partially agreed. Recognizing the potential for consumer confusion, the Court ordered [...]

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Stay in the Know: Informational Message Is Not a Source Identifier

Addressing whether the mark EVERYBODY VS. RACISM was registrable, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s final refusal to register the mark because it failed to function as a source identifier. In re: GO & Assoc., LLC, Case No. 22-1961 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 13, 2023) (nonprecedential) (Fed. Cir. Jan. 22, 2024) (precedential) (Lourie, Reyna, Hughes, JJ.)

On June 2, 2020, GO & Associates filed a trademark application seeking registration on the principal register of EVERYBODY VS. RACISM, identifying the goods and services as various apparel “promoting public interest and awareness of the need for racial reconciliation and encouraging people to know their neighbor and then affect change in their own sphere of influence.”

In a non-final office action, the examining attorney refused to register the mark, asserting that it “failed to function as a source identifier for GO’s goods and services.” The examiner noted that the mark “merely convey[ed] support of, admiration for, or affiliation with the ideals conveyed by the message.” The examiner presented examples of the mark being used in informational settings, such as by referees in the National Basketball Association; in YouTube videos; on clothing; and in titles of rap songs, podcasts and church sermons. Although GO presented evidence that the mark had hardly been used or searched prior to its use in May 2020, the examining attorney continued to reject the application. The examiner found that “the ornamental uses of the mark only reinforced the fact that consumers would likely view the mark as a sentiment rather than a source.” The examiner also noted that the applicant’s first use of the mark coincided with the “general timeline of the heated anti-racism protests throughout the nation in the wake of the George Floyd killing.”

GO appealed to the Board. The Board found “that the record as a whole show[ed] wide use of the proposed mark in a non-trademark manner to consistently convey an informational, anti-racist message to the public, as opposed to a source identifier of GO’s goods and services,” and affirmed the examiner’s refusal to register the mark. GO appealed to the Federal Circuit.

Affirming the Board’s decision, the Federal Circuit emphasized that the threshold requirement for the issuance of a mark is whether it is source identifying: “what makes a trademark a trademark under the Lanham Act is its source-identifying function.” The mark must identify the source for the public and distinguish that source from others.

The Federal Circuit noted that whether a mark is source identifying depends on “how the mark is used in the marketplace and how consumers perceive it.” In particular, the US Patent & Trademark Office prohibits registering marks that it calls “informational matter” (i.e., “slogans, terms, and phrases used by the public to convey familiar sentiments, because consumers are unlikely to perceive the matter as a trademark or service mark for any goods and services”). Reviewing the Board’s findings for substantial evidence, the Court found that the Board properly weighed the [...]

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First Amendment Bowled Over by Lanham Act – Again

In response to the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling in Jack Daniel’s, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reconsidered its 2022 decision in Punchbowl v. AJ Press and determined that Jack Daniel’s reset prior Ninth Circuit precedents regarding the interaction of First Amendment rights and the Lanham Act. The Ninth Circuit reversed its original decision and remanded the case to the district court to conduct a likelihood of confusion analysis under Lanham Act precedent. Punchbowl, Inc. v. AJ Press, LLC, Case No. 21-55881 (9th Cir. Jan. 12, 2024) (Owens, Bress, Fitzwater, JJ.)

The Ninth Circuit had previously held that despite use of the PUNCHBOWL trademark for a news service covering politics, AJ Press was not subject to liability under the Lanham Act. The PUNCHBOWL mark was registered by Punchbowl, Inc., a website specializing in online communications “with a focus on celebrations, holidays, events and memory making.” The Ninth Circuit’s original decision was based on the Court’s understanding of the Rogers test, which protected creative use of trademarks if the defendant could “make a threshold legal showing that its allegedly infringing use is part of an expressive work protected by the First Amendment.” This test was easily met if the artistic relevance of the trademark’s use was “above zero.” Shortly after the Ninth Circuit issued its initial decision, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Jack Daniel’s Properties v. VIP Products, a case that addressed the same basic underlying precedent.

In its Jack Daniel’s decision, the Supreme Court held that the Rogers test exception to the Lanham Act did not apply when the expressive mark was used as a mark. The Supreme Court therefore drew a line between VIP’s use of “Bad Spaniels,” a direct play on “Jack Daniel’s” that was an expressive use of a mark as a mark, and use of a mark that was expressive but not used as a trademark. The Supreme Court’s ruling prompted the Ninth Circuit to reconsider its original decision in Punchbowl.

In its new decision, the Ninth Circuit, applying the rule of Jack Daniel’s, held that the Rogers test did not apply and that AJ Press’s use of the mark “Punchbowl” was not excepted from the Lanham Act as protected First Amendment expression. Rather, AJ Press’s use of “Punchbowl” was as a mark identifying its news service.

The Ninth Circuit stressed that this was not an automatic victory for Punchbowl, however. The Ninth Circuit instructed the district court on remand to proceed with a likelihood-of-confusion analysis test under the Lanham Act – an analysis that would consider many of the factors (such as the expressive nature of the trademark’s use) that had been relevant to the application of the Rogers test.




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