abandonment
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Long Live the Kingpin: No Abandonment Based on Nonuse During Drug Sanctions Period

In a precedential decision, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) dismissed an opposition, finding that the trademark applicant’s long period of nonuse due to government sanctions was excusable nonuse and not abandonment. ARSA Distributing, Inc. v. Salud Natural Mexicana S.A. de C.V., Opposition No. 91240240, 91243700 (TTAB Sept. 28, 2022) (Taylor, Greenbaum, English, ATJ)

Salud sought a trademark registration of the standard character mark EUCALIN for “pharmaceutical products, namely, vitamin supplements, nutritional supplement made with a syrup with jelly base, honey base, and with a mixture of plants with propolis base, and herbal remedies in the nature of herbal supplements,” and the composite mark set forth below for “herbal supplements; nutritional supplements; vitamin supplements.”

ARSA opposed the registration, alleging prior common law use of the mark EUCALIN for “dietary and nutritional supplements.” ARSA argued that its sales and advertising of its EUCALIN product from 2008 to October 6, 2015, and October 9, 2017, established that ARSA had used its EUCALIN mark long before the constructive use filing dates of Salud’s application. Thus, ARSA had priority of use of the EUCALIN mark on nutritional and dietary supplements.

In response, Salud asserted it had priority in the EUCALIN mark based on use since 1999. Salud argued that between 1999 and October 2008, ARSA was Salud’s US distributor and, therefore, all goodwill for any EUCALIN-labeled product went to Salud as the supplier of the goods and products.

ARSA asserted that there was no distribution agreement between the parties, but even if Salud “could have reasonably claimed rights based on some alleged distribution agreement before 2008,” Salud “has long since abandoned any rights it would have had.” ARSA asserted that Salud was legally banned from conducting business in the United States between October 2, 2008, and May 2015 because it was declared a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker (SDNT). ARSA argued that Salud failed to produce any evidence establishing that it had concrete plans or intent to resume use between 2008 and 2015.

The Board found that there was no clear manufacturing-distribution agreement between the parties, and therefore there was a rebuttable presumption that the manufacturer (Salud) owned the mark. The Board explained that the following six factors are considered in determining which party has superior rights:

  1. Which party created and first affixed the mark to the product
  2. Which party’s name appeared with the trademark on packaging and promotional materials
  3. Which party maintained the quality and uniformity of the product, including technical changes
  4. Which party the consuming public believes stands behind the product (g., the party to which customers direct complaints and contact for correction of defective products)
  5. Which party paid for advertising
  6. What a party represents to others about the source or origin of the product.

The Board concluded that, on the balance, the factors favor Salud. The Board explained that the first, second, third and sixth factors favored Salud because it created the mark and product, maintained quality control over [...]

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Drink Up, but Not with Lehman Brand

In the context of an opposition proceeding, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) refusal to register a trademark based on likelihood of confusion with a famous but expired mark, notwithstanding the applicant’s assertion of abandonment of the mark by the original registrant. Tiger Lily Ventures Ltd. v. Barclays Capital Inc., Case Nos. 21-1107;- 1228 (Fed. Cir. June 1, 2022) (Lourie, Bryson, Prost, JJ.)

Tiger Lily sought to register the word mark LEHMAN BROTHERS for beer and spirits and for bar services and restaurant services. Barclays, whose Lehman Brothers marks had expired, opposed the applications based on likelihood of confusion. Tiger Lily argued that Barclays had abandoned the mark and filed an opposition to Barclays’ application to register the work mark LEHMAN BROTHERS. The Board sustained Barclays’ oppositions on the grounds of likelihood of confusion and dismissed Tiger Lily’s opposition. Tiger Lily appealed.

Tiger Lily challenged the Board’s decision, arguing that the Board erred in its determination that Barclays did not abandon its rights in the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark and, relatedly, that Barclays established priority with respect to the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark in its own application. Tiger Lily also argued that the Board erred in finding that its proposed mark for beer and spirits and its proposed mark for bar services and restaurant services would cause a likelihood of confusion with Barclays’ LEHMAN BROTHERS mark.

Addressing the issue of abandonment, the Federal Circuit explained that “there are two elements to a claim for abandonment: (1) nonuse; and (2) intent not to resume use,” and “even limited use can be sufficient to avoid a finding that use of a mark has been ‘discontinued.’” The Court noted that Tiger Lily acknowledged that Barclays had used the mark “continuously in the course of winding up the affairs of at least one Lehman Brothers affiliated company” and thus failed to prove nonuse. Whether Lehman Brothers would exist after bankruptcy proceedings ended was immaterial.

On the issue of likelihood of confusion and the DuPont factors, the Federal Circuit found that “because the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark has achieved a high degree of fame, it is afforded a broad scope of protection.” Tiger Lily attempted to draw a distinction between “consumer recognition” as compared with “goodwill” as a factor and argued that it was actually trying to trade on the “bad will” associated with the mark. The Court found “no legal support for [this] subtle distinction.” The Court concluded that “Tiger Lily’s attempts to capitalize on the fame of the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark weighs in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion,” and that the Board’s findings on the remaining factors were supported by substantial evidence.




You Want Some “Metchup” with That?

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found no infringement by a large, well-known company that used the registered mark of an individual whose own use was local and generated only a few sales and minimal profits. The Court vacated and remanded the case to determine whether plaintiff had abandoned the mark. Dennis Perry v. H.J. Heinz Co. Brands, L.L.C., Case No. 20-30418 (5th Cir. Apr. 12, 2021) (Graves, J.)

In 2010, Dennis Perry created a condiment concoction in his home kitchen that he named “Metchup,” constituting a blend of private label mustard and ketchup, and a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup. Perry sold the concoction in the lobby of his small motel in Louisiana. The US Patent & Trademark Office granted registration for his trademark “Metchup” and after five years declared his mark “incontestable.” Perry had slow sales, however, only selling about 60 bottles with $50 total profit over the years. Perry had a Facebook page for his product, but did not advertise or sell the product in stores or online.

Meanwhile, Heinz produced a condiment called “Mayochup,” a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup, that it began selling in the United States in 2018. Heinz held an online naming contest to promote its product, and when one participant suggested the name “Metchup,” Heinz posted a mock-up picture with the “Metchup” name, along with other proposals. Heinz’s counsel saw Perry’s trademark registration, but because Heinz was not actually selling a product named “Metchup” and there were so few indications that Perry’s product was actually being sold, Heinz concluded that Perry’s mark was not in use and could be used in its promotion. When Perry saw Heinz’s posting, he sued for trademark infringement.

The district court found that while Perry may have once had a valid trademark registration for “Metchup,” there was no likelihood of confusion with the Heinz product and the mark had been abandoned as a consequence of de minimis use. Perry appealed.

The Fifth Circuit analyzed the dispute based on the eight-factor likelihood of confusion test. The Court found three factors weighed in Perry’s favor:

  • Product similarity: Both products were mixed condiments.
  • Potential purchaser care: Consumers would exercise less care for a low-priced condiment.
  • Mark similarity: Both products used the same word “Metchup,” although the Court noted that the packaging design looked very different.

The Court also found five factors weighed in Heinz’s favor:

  • The type of mark on the spectrum (i.e., whether the name is related to what the product is): Here, the mark was “suggestive” because it was a mash-up of names related to the sauces used.
  • Outlet and purchaser identity: The parties targeted different markets because Perry had limited sales in one motel, while Heinz targeted online and at almost all grocery stores.
  • Advertising identity: Perry did not advertise besides his one Facebook page without online sales, while Heinz had large-scale advertising and sales.
  • Defendant’s intent: Heinz did not intend to infringe because it assumed Perry’s mark was no longer [...]

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