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Greek God or Continent? Defining “Confusing Similarity” under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act

Examining whether a registered mark and a domain name were confusingly similar under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the trademark owner because the mark and domains are nearly identical in sight, sound and meaning. Boigris v. EWC P&T, LLC, Case No. 20-11929 (11th Cir. Aug. 6, 2021) (Marcus, J.) (Newsom, J. dissenting). The registered trademark is “European Wax Center” and the domain names in issue are “europawaxcenter.com” and “euwaxcenter.com.”

EWC runs a nationwide beauty brand titled European Wax Center that offers hair removal services and beauty products and also holds a trademark under the same name. Since 2015, EWC sold cosmetics under the marks “reveal me,” “renew me” and “smooth me.” Bryan Boigris has no direct background related to the production of beauty products, but in April 2016, he claimed an intent to begin selling such products and attempted to register trademarks at the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) for “reveal me,” “renew me” and “smooth me,” none of which had been used in commerce before by Boigris. Boigris also registered 11 domain names including, “euwaxcenter.com” and “europawaxcenter.com.” Upon discovery of Boigris’s pending applications, EWC filed for its own trademark applications for “reveal me,” “renew me” and “smooth me” and filed an opposition to Boigris’s pending applications at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). The TTAB sustained the oppositions.

Boigris elected to contest the TTAB’s decision in district court. Specifically, Boigris sought reversal of the TTAB’s decision and an affirmative declaration that he was entitled to register the disputed marks. EWC counterclaimed for an affirmation of the TTAB’s decision as well as declaratory judgment that it had priority rights in the disputed marks, that Boigris’s use constituted infringement under the Lanham Act, damages and an injunction under the ACPA against Boigris’s use of the two domains, “europawaxcenter.com” and “euwaxcenter.com.” EWC moved for summary judgment on all of its claims, which the district court granted. Boigris appealed the ACPA decision only.

Under the ACPA, a trademark holder must prove that: (1) its trademark was distinctive when the defendant registered the challenged domain name; (2) the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the plaintiff’s trademark and (3) the defendant registered the domain name with a bad faith intent to profit. Boigris challenged the second element only and did not contest that EWC’s trademarks were distinctive or that he registered the domains in bad faith. Specifically, Boigris argued that the issue of whether or not the “European Wax Center” mark and the “europawaxcenter.com” and “euwaxcenter.com” domains are confusingly similar should have been a question for the jury.

The 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, determining that no reasonable jury could conclude that Boigris’s domain names are not confusingly similar to EWC’s mark. The Court acknowledged the difference between the Lanham Act’s traditional multi-factor likelihood of confusion test for trademark infringement and the test for confusing similarity, noting [...]

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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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