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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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SHAZAM! CAPTAIN CANNABIS Registration Defeated by Prior Analogous Trademark Use

Addressing the issue of analogous trademark use, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board designated precedential a September 6, 2022, decision in which the Board cancelled a registration for CAPTAIN CANNABIS based on the petitioner’s evidence of prior use that was “analogous to trademark use.” Laverne John Andrusiek v. Cosmic Crusaders LLC and Lewis J. Davidson, Cancellation No. 92064830 (TTAB Jan. 3, 2024) (Wolfson, Lynch, Larkin, ATJs).

Laverne John Andrusiek claimed to have first created a comic book featuring the title character, Captain Cannabis, during the 1970s. Although Laverne’s sales of comic books under the CAPTAIN CANNABIS mark did not begin until 2017, he promoted his Captain Cannabis character much earlier. For example, Laverne stated that he attended a trade show in New Orleans in 1999 where he distributed flyers describing an adult animated series “in development” featuring the character Captain Cannabis. That same year, Laverne registered the captaincannabis.com domain name, where he alleges he operated a website promoting and selling Captain Cannabis products. In 2006, Laverne claims to have printed 5,000 copies of a comic book that included a Captain Cannabis character and to have first sold those comic books via an online retailer, where sales continued through 2017.

Cosmic Crusaders registered CAPTAIN CANNABIS for “comic books” in Class 16. The subject application was filed on April 2, 2014, and issued on July 28, 2015. Laverne petitioned to cancel this registration in 2016 under Section 2(d) of the Trademark Act, claiming that use of this mark was likely to cause confusion with his prior common-law use of the identical mark in connection with identical goods. Cosmic Crusaders did not contest that contemporaneous use of both marks would be likely to cause confusion, and there was no dispute that the marks were not distinctive. Therefore, the only issue for the Board to determine was priority.

To establish priority, Laverne had to show (by a preponderance of the evidence) that he owns a trademark previously used in the United States that has not been abandoned. Because priority was based on common-law use in this case, Laverne was also required to establish prior actual trademark use or prior use analogous to trademark use, “such as use in advertising brochures, trade publications, catalogues, newspaper advertisements and Internet websites that created a public awareness of the designation as a trademark identifying Petitioner as the source of the relevant goods.”

Analogous use does not require “survey evidence or other direct evidence of the consuming public’s identification of the CAPTAIN CANNABIS mark with [Andrusiek] as the source of comic books or related goods such as DVDs and animated videos.” Rather, Laverne had to show that he had used the CAPTAIN CANNABIS mark in the US in a way that was “sufficient to create an association in the mind of the relevant consumers between the mark and the goods, followed by actual trademark use of the mark within a ‘commercially reasonable time.’”

The Board found that Laverne’s CAPTAIN CANNABIS mark was reasonably well known within the niche [...]

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Here’s a Great Concept: Fraud After Registration Is Not a Basis for Cancellation

In a split panel decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board and ruled that a fraudulent declaration under Section 15 of the Lanham Act is not a basis for cancellation of an otherwise incontestable registered mark. Great Concepts, LLC v. Chutter, Inc., Case No. 22-1212 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 18, 2023) (Dyk, Stark, JJ) (Renya, J., dissenting).

Great Concepts applied to register “DANTANNA’S” as a mark for a “steak and seafood restaurant” in 2003, which resulted in a registration in 2005.

In 2006, Chutter’s predecessor-in-interest, Dan Tana, petitioned the Board to cancel the registration based on an alleged likelihood of confusion with Tana’s common law “DAN TANA” mark for restaurant services. That cancellation proceeding was suspended during a pending civil action in which Tana successfully sued Great Concepts for trademark infringement.

Afterward, the Board dismissed Tana’s cancellation proceeding “based on petitioner’s apparent loss of interest” after he failed to respond to the Board’s order to show cause.

Meanwhile, prior to the finality of the infringement action, Great Concepts’ former attorney, Frederick Taylor, filed a combined declaration of use (pursuant to Section 8 of the Lanham Act) and a declaration of incontestability (pursuant to Section 15). In the Section 15 portion of the declaration, in relation to Great Concepts’ effort to obtain incontestable status for its already registered mark, Taylor falsely declared “there is no proceeding involving said rights pending and not disposed of either in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office [PTO] or in the courts.”

Chutter then petitioned the PTO for cancellation of the registration based on Taylor’s false Section 15 affidavit. The Board found that Taylor’s Section 15 declaration was fraudulent and cancelled the registration under Section 14 of the Lanham Act. Great Concepts appealed.

The Federal Circuit was confronted with the issue of whether Section 14, which allows a third party to seek cancellation of a registration when the “registration was obtained fraudulently,” permits the Board to cancel a trademark’s registration based on a fraudulent Section 15 declaration, filed for the purpose of acquiring incontestability status for its already registered mark. Reversing the Board’s decision, the Court held that Section 14 does not permit the Board to cancel a registration in these circumstances.

Focusing on the statutory language, the Federal Circuit noted that Section 14 permits a third party to file “[a] petition to cancel a registration of a mark” … “[a]t any time if” the registered mark’s “registration was obtained fraudulently.” Explaining that the word “‘obtaining’ has a plain and ordinary meaning,” i.e., “[t]o get hold of by effort; to gain possession of; to procure…,” the Court then noted that, by contrast, Taylor’s fraudulent Section 15 declaration only sought incontestable status for its already registered trademark—a different right from registration.

Since “fraud committed in connection with obtaining incontestable status is distinctly not fraud committed in connection with obtaining the registration itself” and since fraud committed in connection with an incontestability declaration is not found among the “numerous bases [...]

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Common Sense: Nonparties Not Precluded by Ex Parte Reexamination Termination

In a precedential decision, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Trademark Trial & Appeal Board denied a motion for judgment based on either claim or issue preclusion, and in the alternative for a show cause order, in a challenger’s petition. Common Sense Press Inc. d/b/a Pocket Jacks Comics v. Ethan Van Sciver and Antonio J. Malpica, Cancellation No. 92075375, 2023 BL 171365 (TTAB May 19, 2023) (Wellington, Pologeorgis, English, ATJs).

Common Sense Press filed a petition to cancel the registration for the mark “Comics Gate” for comics. In its petition, Common Sense asserted claims of nonuse, abandonment and fraud. The Respondents denied the allegations in the petition and also raised unclean hands by petitioner as a defense.

Common Sense also requested reexamination of the “Comics Gate” mark, which the PTO Director instituted on May 9, 2022. The cancellation proceeding was suspended pending the outcome of the reexamination. The Respondents were instructed to submit evidence to establish use of their mark for comics as of the August 13, 2020, deadline for filing a statement of use, as required under Section 1(d) of the Lanham Act.

The Respondents’ Section 1(d) statement showed that the “Comics Gate” mark was used in connection with comics sales in interest commerce and that such comics were provided via interest trade channels during the relevant period. In view of the Respondents’ evidence, the PTO Director determined that use had been demonstrated for comics and terminated the reexamination.

With the Notice of Termination in hand, the Respondents requested that the Board enter judgment in their favor in the cancelation proceeding as to nonuse and abandonment based on issue preclusion or, in the alternative, issue a show cause order to Common Sense as to why judgment should not be entered against them.

The Board denied the Respondents’ request, reasoning that termination of a reexamination proceeding does not preclude future nonuse challenges. Nor does such a reexamination termination decision have preclusive effect on a petitioner seeking cancellation, even if the petitioner requested the terminated reexamination. Citing due process concerns, the Board explained that the termination of an ex parte reexamination proceeding in which the petitioner necessarily does not participate may not serve as a basis for preventing the petitioner from raising even identical challenges in another action. The Board further noted that while the applicable statute “contains explicit estoppel provisions that bar the filing of future expungement or reexamination proceedings as to the identical goods or services once a proceeding of the same kind has been instituted . . . neither the statute nor regulations set forth a limitation on any party’s ability to petition to cancel a registration just because it is or has been the subject of a reexamination or expungement proceeding.” Thus, the Board concluded there is no basis to issue a show-cause order to a litigant who never appeared in a prior action.

Practice Note: This case serves as a reminder of the metes and bounds of an ex parte reexamination or expungement proceeding. Although [...]

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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.




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TTAB Judicial Appointments are Determined Constitutionally Sound

Addressing for the first time whether the Supreme Court of the United States’ recent decision in United States v. Arthrex, Inc. also applied to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that it did not, upholding the constitutionality of TTAB judicial appointments and affirming the TTAB’s cancellation of the SCHIEDMAYER trademark. Piano Factory Group, Inc. v Schiedmayer Celesta GMBH, Case No. 20-1196 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 1, 2021) (Bryson, J.)

Schiedmayer Celesta is the remaining corporate entity from a centuries-old line of German keyboard instrument manufacturers that uses the SCHIEDMAYER trademark in connection with the sale of its products. Sweet 16 Musical Properties and Piano Factory Group (collectively, Piano Factory) operated Hollywood Piano retail outlets where it sold “no-name” pianos purchased from China that were affixed with “Schiedmayer” labels. The owner of Piano Factory, believing the SCHIEDMAYER mark had been abandoned, applied to register the SCHIEDMAYER mark, and the registration issued in 2007.

In 2015, Schiedmayer filed a petition to cancel Piano Factory’s registration, alleging that it falsely suggested a connection with Schiedmayer and, thus, violated Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. After the TTAB granted the petition to cancel, Piano Factory appealed.

Between the time that the parties filed their appeal briefs and the Federal Circuit issued its decision, the Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Arthrex, holding that the appointment of Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) administrative judges violated the Appointments Clause of Article II of the Constitution. On appeal, Piano Factory argued that the appointment of TTAB administrative judges (specifically, the administrative judges who issued the decision Piano Factory was appealing) was likewise unconstitutional. However, the Court disagreed, citing language from the Arthrex decision that “effectively confirmed that . . . the statutory scheme governing TTAB decision-making is not subject to the Appointments Clause problem the Court identified with regard to the PTAB.”

Additionally, Piano Factory cited the Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 (TMA)—which explicitly addressed this issue—for support. Piano Factory argued that since the TMA was not enacted until after the TTAB’s decision to cancel the SCHIEDMAYER registration, its enactment indicated that the TTAB was previously flawed. Again, the Federal Circuit disagreed, stating “the 2020 legislation itself makes clear that it merely confirmed, and did not alter” the framework that was in place prior to the TMA.

Piano Factory also challenged the merits of the TTAB’s decision, including its application of the four-factor test for false association, which considers:

  1. Whether the challenged mark is identical or nearly identical to a name previously used by another person;
  2. Whether the mark would be understood as a unique and unmistakable reference to that person;
  3. Whether the person referenced by the challenged mark was connected with the applicant’s activities and
  4. Whether the earlier user’s name has sufficient fame such that a connection with applicant would be presumed when the contested mark was used to identify the applicant’s goods.

Piano Factory disputed the [...]

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