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Smart Choice: Survey Design Didn’t Render Survey Unreliable

Underscoring its faith in a jury’s competency to use its “common sense and experience” in evaluating evidence, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s judgment in favor of the defendants in a trademark infringement action following a trial, as well as its order partially denying the defendants’ motion for attorneys’ fees. BillFloat, Inc. v. Collins Cash, Inc., Case Nos. 23-15405; -15470 (9th Cir. July 1, 2024) (Thomas, McKeown, Christen, JJ.)

BillFloat and Collins Cash both provide financing to small businesses. In 2013, BillFloat began using SMARTBIZ as a trademark and registered the mark in 2014. That same year (2014), Collins Cash began using the mark SMART BUSINESS FUNDING, although it did not file an application to register the mark until 2020. Meanwhile, in 2018, BillFloat and Collins Cash entered into a partnership agreement under which Collins Cash would refer current and prospective customers to BillFloat in exchange for a referral fee. The parties’ agreement stated that “[i]f either Party employs attorneys to enforce any right arising out of or relating to this Agreement, the prevailing Party shall be entitled to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees.”

In 2020, upon learning of Collins Cash’s use of the SMART BUSINESS FUNDING mark, BillFloat brought claims for federal and state trademark infringement, breach of contract, unfair competition and unlawful business practices. The district court granted summary judgment to Collins Cash on the breach of contract claim and proceeded to trial on the trademark infringement claim.

Collins Cash engaged an expert to conduct a likelihood of confusion survey using the so-called “Squirt” methodology, which is used for lesser-known marks. BillFloat filed a motion to exclude the expert and his survey from trial, arguing that various errors made the survey unreliable and therefore inadmissible. The district court denied the motion and admitted the expert’s testimony and his survey. The district court also admitted testimony from BillFloat’s expert that challenged the survey. Both experts were cross-examined on their qualifications and on the merits of the survey.

The jury found that BillFloat had not established trademark infringement by a preponderance of the evidence. Post-trial, BillFloat moved for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial, and Collins Cash moved for attorneys’ fees and non-taxable costs. The district court denied BillFloat’s motion and awarded Collins Cash attorneys’ fees under the partnership agreement for the breach of contract claim but declined to award Collins Cash attorneys’ fees for the trademark infringement claim or non-taxable costs for either claim. Both parties appealed.

BillFloat argued that the district court abused its discretion in admitting Collins Cash’s expert testimony and survey evidence. It also argued that the district court erred in declining to give BillFloat’s proposed jury instruction not to draw any inferences about the fact that BillFloat did not offer its own survey evidence.

The Ninth Circuit found no abuse of discretion on these issues. The Court pointed to the distinction between the admissibility of survey evidence as opposed to the relative weight a [...]

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Robbing Peter to Pay Paul? Supreme Court to Consider Scope of Lanham Act “Defendant’s Profit” Award

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider the breadth of a damages award in a long-running trademark dispute between two real estate companies. Dewberry Group, Inc. v. Dewberry Engineers, Inc., Docket No. 23-900 (Supr. Ct. June 24, 2024).

Dewberry Group and Dewberry Engineers both offer commercial real estate services in the same geographic area. The two companies dispute the use of the name “Dewberry” for use in real estate: Dewberry Group has acquired common law rights, and Dewberry Engineers owns registered trademarks. Dewberry Engineers sued Dewberry Group, but the initial litigation ended in settlement in 2007. As part of the settlement, Dewberry Group agreed to various terms, including that it would use a specific logo and an abbreviated name in certain overlapping markets.

Ten years later, Dewberry Group rebranded and attempted to register new marks containing the word “Dewberry” and abandoned the logo and name specified by the settlement agreement. In 2020, Dewberry Engineers again sued Dewberry Group, this time for violating the terms of the confidential settlement agreement and for infringing Dewberry Engineers’ trademarks. The lower court granted Dewberry Engineers summary judgment, a permanent injunction and monetary damages. The damages award included profit disgorgement pursuant to the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a), under which the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered Dewberry Group’s affiliates to disgorge almost $43 million in profits. Dewberry Group appealed, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed in a 2 – 1 decision.

Dewberry Group petitioned for certiorari on the issue of damages, arguing that the Fourth Circuit’s decision to allow Dewberry Engineers to collect damages based on Dewberry Group’s affiliates’ profits “silently invites courts to ignore corporate separateness in trademark disputes without regard to veil-piercing principles.” Dewberry Group argued that the Fourth Circuit decision was substantively incorrect and contradictory to Ninth and Eleventh Circuit decisions as well as the Lanham Act. According to Dewberry Group, the $43 million “never passed through [Dewberry Group’s] hands,” and in fact the company “had zero net profits.” Because the Lanham Act allows only for disgorgement of a defendant’s profits – not defendant’s affiliates’ profits or a penalty against the defendant – Dewberry Group contended that the damages award was improper.

The issue presented is: Whether an award of the “defendant’s profits” under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a), can include an order for the defendant to disgorge the distinct profits of legally separate non-party corporate affiliates.




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Rum Wars: Lanham Act Doesn’t Preclude Judicial Review of PTO Renewal Decisions

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s ruling, holding that the Lanham Act does not foreclose an Administrative Procedure Act (APA) action for judicial review of the US Patent & Trademark Office’s (PTO) compliance with statutes and regulations governing trademark registration renewal. Bacardi & Co. Ltd. v. USPTO, Case No. 22-1659 (4th Cir. June 13, 2024) (Rushing, Richardson, Motz, JJ.)

The Arechabala family exported rum to the United States using the registered HAVANA CLUB trademark until the Cuban government expropriated Arechabala’s assets without compensation and let the HAVANA CLUB trademark expire. Empresa Cubana Exportadora de Alimentos y Productos Varios (Cubaexport) then registered HAVANA CLUB as a trademark in the US for itself. Bacardi & Company Limited and Bacardi USA, Inc. (collectively, Bacardi) obtained an interest in the HAVANA CLUB mark from the Arechabala family, filed a US trademark application for HAVANA CLUB and petitioned the PTO to cancel Cubaexport’s registration. Upon the PTO’s denial of Bacardi’s trademark application and cancellation petition, Bacardi filed a civil action challenging these administrative rulings.

Two years later, Cubaexport was required to renew its HAVANA CLUB trademark registration under Section 8 of the Lanham Act. Because of a trade embargo, Cubaexport sought a specific license from the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to pay the renewal fee, but OFAC denied the request. OFAC’s denial resulted in the PTO denying renewal of Cubaexport’s HAVANA CLUB registration. Cubaexport petitioned OFAC and the PTO to reverse their decisions. Ten years later, once OFAC issued a special license to Cubaexport, the PTO permitted Cubaexport to renew its HAVANA CLUB trademark registration.

Bacardi sued the PTO under the APA, claiming that the PTO Director violated Section 9 of the Lanham Act and the PTO’s own regulations by purporting to renew a trademark registration 10 years after it expired. The district court ruled that the Lanham Act precluded judicial review under the APA and thereby dismissed Bacardi’s lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Bacardi appealed.

The Fourth Circuit reversed, finding that “[n]othing in the Lanham Act expressly precludes judicial review of the PTO’s trademark registration renewal decisions.” In fact, Section 21 of the Lanham Act specifically authorizes, rather than forecloses, parties dissatisfied with certain decisions of the Director or the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board to appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit or institute a civil action in federal district court. Section 21 of the Lanham Act also does not limit proceedings under sections or statutes such as the APA, and the Lanham Act is silent as to whether a third party may seek judicial review of the PTO’s decision to grant a renewal application.

Having found nothing in the Lanham Act that expressly precludes judicial review of PTO registration renewal decisions or fairly implies congressional intent to do so, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the APA’s mechanism for judicial review remains available.




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Sour Grapes: Winery Minority Ownership Insufficient for Statutory Standing at Trademark Board

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a petition seeking to cancel the registered marks of two wineries, finding the petitioner (a trust owning an interest in a competitor winery) lacked statutory standing under 15 U.S.C. § 1064. Luca McDermott Catena Gift Trust v. Fructuoso-Hobbs SL, Case No. 23-1383 (Fed. Cir. May 23, 2024) (Lourie, Reyna, Chen, JJ.) (en banc). The Court found that while the cancellation petitioner, Luca McDermott, had Article III standing to seek judicial review of the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s decision, it did not have statutory standing under the Lanham Act to petition for cancellation of the registrations at issue.

Paul Hobbs is a winemaker and partial owner of California-based Paul Hobbs Winery. The Paul Hobbs Winery owns the registration for the PAUL HOBBS mark in International Class 33 for “Wines.” Luca McDermott and two other related family trusts are each limited partners of the winery, collectively owning more than 21% of the business. Paul Hobbs is also affiliated with two other wineries: Fructuoso-Hobbs, a Spanish winery and owner of the registered mark ALVAREDOS-HOBBS, and New York winery Hillick & Hobbs Estate, owner of the registered mark HILLICK AND HOBBS. Both marks are registered in International Class 33 for “Alcoholic beverages except beers; wines.”

Luca McDermott and the other two family trusts petitioned to cancel both of the registered marks on the grounds of likelihood of confusion, alleging that the use of the ALVAREDOS-HOBBS and HILLICK AND HOBBS marks in connection with wine was likely to cause confusion with the Paul Hobbs Winery’s use of the PAUL HOBBS mark for wine. The trusts also alleged that Fructuoso-Hobbs committed fraud because it caused its lawyer, the same lawyer of record who managed the registration of the Paul Hobbs Winery’s PAUL HOBBS mark, to declare that the marks would not be likely to cause confusion with another mark.

Fructuoso-Hobbs moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that the family trusts were not entitled by statute to bring the cancellation action because they were not the owners of the PAUL HOBBS mark. Fructuoso-Hobbs also argued that the trusts could not show they had the necessary “proprietary interest” to bring the likelihood of confusion claim. The Board granted the motion to dismiss. Luca McDermott, one of the three trusts in the original action, appealed.

Before it could review de novo the Board’s decision regarding the trust’s lack of standing under the Lanham Act, the Federal Circuit addressed whether the trust had Article III standing to seek judicial review of the Board’s decision. The Court had little trouble concluding that the alleged injury (i.e., the diminished value of the trust’s investment in the winery) constituted an individual injury-in-fact, even for a minority partner. Furthermore, the Court found that the causation requirement was satisfied because the constitutional standard did not require proximate causation but only that the injury be “fairly traceable” to the allegedly unlawful registration of the challenged marks. Finally, the Federal Circuit found it [...]

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Foreign Sales to Foreign Customers Are Not Actionable Under the Lanham Act

Issuing a revised opinion following the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision in Abitron Austria GmbH v. Hetronic Int’l, Inc., the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit determined that none of the defendant’s purely foreign sales to foreign customers can premise liability for the plaintiff’s Lanham Act claims and that any permanent injunction issued against the defendant cannot extend beyond qualifying domestic conduct. Hetronic International, Inc. v. Hetronic Germany GmbH; Hydronic-Steuersysteme GmbH; ABI Holding GmbH; Abitron Germany GmbH; Abitron Austria GmbH; Albert Fuchs, Case Nos. 20-6057; -6100 (10th Cir. Apr. 23, 2024) (Murphy, McHugh, Phillips, JJ.)

Hetronic is a US company that manufactures radio remote controls for heavy-duty construction equipment. Hetronic sued its foreign distributors and licensees (collectively, Abitron) in the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma for trademark infringement when, following termination of the Hetronic distribution and license agreements, Abitron reverse-engineered Hetronic’s products and began manufacturing and selling their own copycat products bearing Hetronic’s trade dress (a “distinctive black-and-yellow color scheme”). Abitron’s sales of the copycat products took place primarily in Europe. In the first rounds of this dispute, the district court rejected Abitron’s argument that Hetronic sought an impermissible extraterritorial application of the Lanham Act, and a jury awarded Hetronic $96 million in damages related to Abitron’s global use of Hetronic’s marks. Abitron was also permanently enjoined from using the marks anywhere in the world. Abitron appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

As a matter of first impression, the Tenth Circuit fashioned its own test to determine the extraterritoriality of the Lanham Act, upholding the district court’s ruling but narrowing the injunction to only the countries where Hetronic marketed or sold its products. Abitron appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a circuit split over the Lanham Act’s extraterritorial reach. Specifically, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the Lanham Act applies to “purely foreign sales that never reached the United States or confused U.S. customers” and considered its long-standing presumption against extraterritoriality, with the first step of its analysis consisting of asking whether Congress has “affirmatively and unmistakably instructed” that a particular statute “should apply to foreign conduct.” As the second step, the Supreme Court determined whether a claim seeks a permissible domestic or impermissible foreign application of a statute.

The Supreme Court held that Sections 32(1)(a) and 43(a)(1)(A) of the Lanham Act are not extraterritorial and that the infringing conduct – being “use in commerce” of a trademark – determines the dividing line between foreign and domestic application of the Lanham Act. The Supreme Court vacated the Tenth Circuit’s findings and remanded for further proceedings, instructing the Tenth Circuit to reevaluate which of Abitron’s allegedly infringing activities count as use in commerce under the Supreme Court’s exterritoriality frameworks and to determine on which side of the dividing line Abitron’s conduct falls.

With the Supreme Court having already determined step one, on remand, the Tenth Circuit started with step two of the extraterritoriality analysis and found [...]

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A Lesson in Laches: You Waited Too Long to Start Your Kar

After the district court, on remand, held that laches did not bar relief, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit again determined that the district court abused its discretion by not properly applying the presumption in favor of laches and issued an order to vacate and remand with instructions to dismiss a charity’s trademark infringement claims with prejudice. Kars 4 Kids Inc. v. America Can!, Case Nos. 23-1273; -1281 (3rd Cir. Apr. 17, 2024) (Bibas, Porter, Fisher, JJ.)

Kars 4 Kids and America Can! Cars for Kids are charities that sell donated vehicles to fund children’s education programs and have been engaged in a trademark dispute since 2003. Both parties have alleged federal and state trademark infringement, unfair competition and trademark dilution over their respective KARS 4 KIDS and CARS FOR KIDS trademarks. The parties were last before the Third Circuit in 2021, when the Court held that America Can was first to use its CARS FOR KIDS trademark in Texas, and Kars 4 Kids waived any challenge to the validity of America Can’s marks. In that 2021 decision, the Third Circuit also vacated the district court judgment in part and remanded the case for the district court to reexamine its laches and disgorgement conclusions, which had been decided in favor of America Can.

The Lanham Act does not contain a statute of limitations. Instead, it subjects all claims to the principles of equity. To determine whether laches bars a claim, a court considers two elements: whether the plaintiff inexcusably delayed in bringing suit, and whether the defendant was prejudiced as a result of the delay. With respect to the burden of proof for the laches claim at issue, America Can and Kars 4 Kids agreed that their Lanham Act claims were properly analogous to New Jersey’s six-year fraud statute. Therefore, because America Can first discovered the Kars 4 Kids trademark in Texas in 2003 and did not bring counterclaims until 2015, America Can was subject to a presumption that its claims were barred by laches unless it was able to prove both that its delay in filing suit was excusable and that it did not prejudice Kars 4 Kids.

On the issue of delay, the Third Circuit found that the district court erred because it did not find that America Can met its burden of establishing that its delay in bringing suit was excusable and that a reasonable person in its shoes would have waited to file suit. Instead, the district court improperly placed the burden on Kars 4 Kids to establish whether its advertisements in Texas were viewed by a sufficient number of Texans so as to put America Can on notice. As the Third Circuit explained, this was error. The district court should have held America Can to the burden of persuasion to show that it was not sufficiently aware of Kars 4 Kids’s use of its mark in Texas and to show what it did to identify and stop any potentially [...]

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Hot Mess? Second Circuit Douses Injunction Based on Weak Mark

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a district court’s grant of preliminary injunction for abuse of discretion based on an erroneous evaluation of the strength of the “inherently descriptive” marks at issue. City of New York v. Henriquez, Case No. 23-325 (2d Cir. Apr. 16, 2024) (Livingston, CJ; Walker, Carney, JJ.)

Juan Henriquez is a first responder with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Henriquez began organizing what he called “medical special operations conferences” (MSOCs) around the United States. In New York, he partnered with the FDNY. Six years into organizing with the FDNY, the relationship soured. Henriquez then applied to register “Medical Special Operations Conference” as a trademark. The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) rejected his application on the basis that the mark was merely descriptive. Henriquez amended his application under § 2(f) of the Lanham Act, which allows registration of descriptive marks that have been used on a “substantially exclusive and continuous basis” for at least five years. The PTO agreed to register his mark.

The FDNY and the City of New York brought suit, seeking to cancel Henriquez’s trademark. Henriquez counterclaimed for trademark infringement of his registered “Medical Special Operations Conference” mark and the related unregistered mark “MSOC”. The district court granted Henriquez a preliminary injunction and barred the FDNY from using “medical,” “special” and “operations” in its branding. The FDNY appealed.

The FDNY raised two issues on appeal: did the district court abuse its discretion by enjoining the FDNY’s use of the marks, and alternatively, did the district court grant an “overbroad” injunction?

The Second Circuit agreed with the FDNY on the first injunction issue and therefore did not reach the second.

The Second Circuit requires analysis of the eight “likelihood of confusion” factors under Polaroid when considering a preliminary injunction. While no one factor is dispositive, the strength of a mark “is especially important,” and therefore the Court is “reluctant to affirm any preliminary injunction founded upon an erroneous strength analysis.”

The Second Circuit found three “missteps” that led the district court to commit legal error by improperly categorizing Henriquez’s two marks as “at least strongly suggestive,” when in fact the marks were inherently descriptive.

First, the Second Circuit explained that the district court did not properly consider Henriquez’s past concessions about his marks. Henriquez registered his mark under § 2(f) of the Lanham Act – conceding descriptiveness. Henriquez also argued to the district court that both of his marks were valid based on secondary meaning, which is only necessary for descriptive marks. Because “[w]hat parties say about their marks matters,” the district court was wrong to ignore admissions of descriptiveness.

Second, the Second Circuit found that the district court did not properly consider the PTO’s characterization of the marks as descriptive. Courts should “accord great weight to the PTO’s conclusions” and only decline to follow those conclusions “for compelling reasons.” The Court noted that the PTO initially rejected Henriquez’s application and only granted registration under § 2(f), which [...]

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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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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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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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