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It’s Not in the Bag: TTAB Refuses to Register Generic Handbag Design

Ending a hard-fought three-year campaign to secure registration of a popular handbag, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Trademark Trial & Appeal Board designated as precedential its decision refusing registration of the product configuration mark, deeming it a generic configuration not eligible for trademark registration. The Board also concluded that even if the bag design had not been generic, the applicant failed to make a necessary showing that the design of the bag had acquired distinctiveness. In re Jasmin Larian, LLC, Serial No. 87522459 (TTAB, Jan. 19, 2022; redesignated Mar. 29, 2022) (Cataldo, Lynch, Allard, ATJ).

Fashion brand CULT GAIA’s “ARK” handbag is composed of bamboo strips creating a creating a see-through “sunburst design,” and has been carried by celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jessica Alba. The brand’s founder and CEO Jasmin Larian sought registration on the Principal Register of the following mark for a three-dimensional handbag:

After several years of examination, the examining attorney ultimately issued a final refusal on the ground that the proposed configuration was a generic configuration, or alternatively, was a nondistinctive product design that had not acquired distinctiveness. Larian appealed to the Board.

Acknowledging the commercial success of the CULT GAIA ARK bag, the Board explained that the issue before it was whether the proposed mark was generic (i.e., a common handbag design), or, alternatively, whether the bag constituted a nondistinctive product design that had acquired distinctiveness. The Board tackled both questions, since similar evidence was relevant to both inquiries.

A trademark must be distinctive to be eligible for registration. Such distinctiveness is measured on a spectrum, where one side of the spectrum is made up of generic terms or generic designs (i.e., non-distinctive and non-protectable as trademarks) and the other side is made up of registrable trademarks that are arbitrary or fanciful. Suggestive trademarks fall somewhere in the middle. In the context of product designs, genericness may be found where the design is so common in the industry that the design cannot be said to identify a particular source of the product. Generic product designs fail to function as a trademark. Genericness is assessed by determining the genus of the goods or services at issue, then determining whether the consuming public primarily regards the design sought to be registered as a category or type of trade dress for the genus of goods or services. For the ARK bag, the applicant and the examining attorney agreed that “handbags” was the genus of the goods at issue. The relevant consuming public was found to consist of ordinary consumers who purchase handbags.

The Board reviewed the evidence of record to assess the significance of the bag design to ordinary consumers, i.e., whether they viewed the configuration of the bag as a source-identifying trademark or merely as a common handbag design. The Board detailed eight different categories of evidence, which, according to the Board, showed that “in the decades leading up to and the years immediately preceding [...]

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No Appellate Jurisdiction to Review Post-Verdict Appeal of Previously Denied SJ Motion

In a closely watched trademark/counterfeiting case, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a judgment for contributory infringement, award of permanent injunction and monetary damage award against a commercial landlord found to have been willfully blind to trademark infringement and counterfeiting occurring on its leased property. Omega SA v. 375 Canal, LLC, Case No. 19-969 (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2021) (Menashi, J.) (Lohier, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part). The Court also concluded that it could not consider a post-verdict appeal on a legal issue raised in a denied summary judgment motion (i.e., whether the landlord needed to know of a specific vendor involved in the counterfeiting) when the appellant failed to file a timely notice of appeal and did not seek an interlocutory appeal or file a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue.

375 Canal LLC is a commercial landlord with properties in Manhattan, including 375 Canal Street. Omega SA is a watch company. Omega sued Canal for contributory trademark infringement, alleging that Canal had continued to lease space at 375 Canal Street to vendors despite knowing that the vendors were selling counterfeit Omega goods. After discovery, Canal moved for summary judgment, contending that Omega did not identify a specific vendor to which Canal continued to lease property despite knowing or having reason to know that the specific vendor was selling counterfeit goods. Omega argued that its primary theory of willful blindness did not require identification of a specific vendor. The district court denied Canal’s motion, agreeing that Omega was not required to identify a specific vendor.

The jury found that Canal had contributorily and willfully infringed Omega’s trademarks, and awarded $1.1 million in statutory damages. The district court amended the final judgment to include a permanent injunction prohibiting Canal from infringing and taking other actions with respect to Omega’s marks, even outside of 375 Canal Street. Canal appealed, arguing that the district court erred by not requiring Omega to identify a specific vendor that Canal knew or should have known was infringing Omega’s trademarks. Canal raised this argument by appealing the pre-trial order denying Canal’s motion for summary judgment and the jury instructions.

The Second Circuit dismissed Canal’s appeal of the summary judgment denial and affirmed the jury instructions on the merits. On Canal’s challenge to the summary judgment denial, the Court began with the premise that a party generally cannot appeal an order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the merits because of its interlocutory character, which is not within appellate jurisdiction. The denial of Canal’s summary judgment motion did not qualify for an exception allowing review, such as situations where Congress has provided for review of certain interlocutory decisions, or where the Supreme Court has construed certain denials of summary judgment, such as those on the basis of qualified immunity, as final decisions permitting review. But even if it had qualified, Canal would have been required to file a notice of appeal within [...]

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