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Up in Smoke: TTAB Dismisses E-Cigarette Opposition, Provides Guidance for Effective Evidence and Testimony

In a precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) dismissed an opposition filed against an application for registration of a logo mark containing the word “SMOKES,” finding no likelihood of confusion with the opposer’s registered mark SMOK. The Board cited the dissimilarity of the marks and the weakness of the common mark element SMOK, as well as a lack of evidence that the parties’ trade channels overlapped. Shenzhen IVPS Technology Co. Ltd. v. Fancy Pants Products, LLC, Opp. No. 91263919 (Oct. 31, 2022) (precedential) (Goodman, Pologeorgis, English, ATJ). The decision was rendered without a brief, testimony or evidence filed by the trademark applicant.

Fancy Pants Products filed an application to register a logo mark (depicted above) that included the stylized word “SMOKES.” The application record disclaimed “smokes,” meaning that Fancy Pants conceded that the word “smokes” was not inherently distinctive for its applied-for goods: “[c]igarettes containing tobacco substitutes … with a delta-9 THC concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis,” i.e., a description for hemp-derived products eligible for federal registration in accordance with the 2018 Farm Bill. Shenzhen IVPS Technology opposed registration of Fancy Pants’ mark on the ground of likelihood of confusion with Shenzhen’s alleged rights in the trademark SMOK. In support of the opposition, Shenzhen pleaded ownership of 11 registered SMOK and SMOK-variant marks for electronic cigarettes, parts and components (among other goods) and related retail services.

Fancy Pants did not take testimony or introduce any evidence during its testimony period, nor did it file a brief. The Board noted, however, that Fancy Pants was not required to make these submissions because Shenzhen bore the burden of proving its entitlement to a statutory cause of action and its trademark “likelihood of confusion” claim by a preponderance of the evidence.

The Board first looked at what trademark rights Shenzhen could properly rely on in the opposition proceeding in view of the rights pleaded. As a result of Shenzhen’s errors in the presentation of its trademark registrations into the record with respect to verifying the current status and title of the registrations, the Board found that 10 of Shenzhen’s 11 pleaded trademark registrations were not properly made of record. Nevertheless, Shenzhen was allowed to rely on common law rights for these 10 SMOK-variant trademarks since Fancy Pants failed to object to Shenzhen’s evidence of common law use.

Having determined the scope of the trademark rights at issue, the Board turned to the issue of priority in Shenzhen’s alleged trademarks. Priority over Fancy Pants’ mark was not at issue with respect to Shenzhen’s one properly pleaded §2(f) trademark registration for the SMOK mark that was made of record (and the goods and services covered thereby). As to Shenzhen’s common law rights in its alleged family of the other 10 SMOK-variant marks, the Board explained that Shenzhen first had to establish that it even owned a “family” of marks—i.e., marks that share a “recognizable common characteristic” [...]

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A Primer on Practice at the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board

In a precedential decision rendered in an opposition proceeding, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) took the lawyers for each side to task for ignoring Board rules in presentation of their case, but ultimately decided the case on a likelihood of confusion analysis. The Board found that the parties’ marks and goods were “highly similar” and sustained the opposition. Made in Nature, LLC v. Pharmavite LLC, Opposition Nos. 91223352; 91223683; 91227387 (June 15, 2022, TTAB) (Wellington, Heasley and Hudis, ALJs) (precedential).

Pharmavite sought registration of the standard character mark NATURE MADE for various foods and beverages based on allegations of bone fide intent to use in commerce. Made in Nature (MIN) opposed on the ground that Pharmavite’s mark so resembled MIN’s registered and common law “Made In Nature” marks as to cause a likelihood of confusion when used on the goods for which registration was sought.

In its brief to the Board, Pharmavite raised, for the first time, the Morehouse (or prior registration) defense. MIN objected to the Morehouse defense as untimely. The Board agreed, noting that defense is “an equitable defense, to the effect that if the opposer cannot be further injured because there already exists an injurious registration, the opposer cannot object to an additional registration that does not add to the injury.” The party asserting a Morehouse defense must show that it “has an existing registration [or registrations] of the same mark[s] for the same goods” (emphasis in original).

Here, the Board found that this defense was not tried by the parties’ express consent and that implied consent “can be found only where the non-offering party (1) raised no objection to the introduction of evidence on the issue, and (2) was fairly apprised that the evidence was being offered in support of the issue.” In this case, Pharmavite did introduce into the record its prior NATURE MADE registrations but only for the purpose of supporting Pharmavite’s “[r]ight to exclude; use and strength of Applicant’s mark.” The Board found that this inclusion did not provide notice of reliance on the Morehouse or prior registration defense at trial.

In sustaining the opposition, the Board commented extensively on the record and how it was used, “[s]o that the parties, their counsel and perhaps other parties in future proceedings can benefit and possibly reduce their litigation costs.”

Over-Designation of the Record as Confidential

The Board criticized the parties for over-designating as confidential large portions of the record, warning that only the specific “exhibits, declaration passages or deposition transcript pages that truly disclosed confidential information should have been filed under seal under a protective order.” If a party over-designates material as confidential, “the Board will not be bound by the party’s designation.”

Duplicative Evidence

The Board criticized the parties for filing “duplicative evidence by different methods of introduction; for example, once by Notice of Reliance and again by way of an exhibit to a testimony declaration or testimony deposition.” The Board noted that such practice is viewed “with disfavor.”

Overuse of [...]

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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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