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Stay in the Know: Informational Message Is Not a Source Identifier

Addressing whether the mark EVERYBODY VS. RACISM was registrable, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s final refusal to register the mark because it failed to function as a source identifier. In re: GO & Assoc., LLC, Case No. 22-1961 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 13, 2023) (nonprecedential) (Fed. Cir. Jan. 22, 2024) (precedential) (Lourie, Reyna, Hughes, JJ.)

On June 2, 2020, GO & Associates filed a trademark application seeking registration on the principal register of EVERYBODY VS. RACISM, identifying the goods and services as various apparel “promoting public interest and awareness of the need for racial reconciliation and encouraging people to know their neighbor and then affect change in their own sphere of influence.”

In a non-final office action, the examining attorney refused to register the mark, asserting that it “failed to function as a source identifier for GO’s goods and services.” The examiner noted that the mark “merely convey[ed] support of, admiration for, or affiliation with the ideals conveyed by the message.” The examiner presented examples of the mark being used in informational settings, such as by referees in the National Basketball Association; in YouTube videos; on clothing; and in titles of rap songs, podcasts and church sermons. Although GO presented evidence that the mark had hardly been used or searched prior to its use in May 2020, the examining attorney continued to reject the application. The examiner found that “the ornamental uses of the mark only reinforced the fact that consumers would likely view the mark as a sentiment rather than a source.” The examiner also noted that the applicant’s first use of the mark coincided with the “general timeline of the heated anti-racism protests throughout the nation in the wake of the George Floyd killing.”

GO appealed to the Board. The Board found “that the record as a whole show[ed] wide use of the proposed mark in a non-trademark manner to consistently convey an informational, anti-racist message to the public, as opposed to a source identifier of GO’s goods and services,” and affirmed the examiner’s refusal to register the mark. GO appealed to the Federal Circuit.

Affirming the Board’s decision, the Federal Circuit emphasized that the threshold requirement for the issuance of a mark is whether it is source identifying: “what makes a trademark a trademark under the Lanham Act is its source-identifying function.” The mark must identify the source for the public and distinguish that source from others.

The Federal Circuit noted that whether a mark is source identifying depends on “how the mark is used in the marketplace and how consumers perceive it.” In particular, the US Patent & Trademark Office prohibits registering marks that it calls “informational matter” (i.e., “slogans, terms, and phrases used by the public to convey familiar sentiments, because consumers are unlikely to perceive the matter as a trademark or service mark for any goods and services”). Reviewing the Board’s findings for substantial evidence, the Court found that the Board properly weighed the [...]

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Nothing Lost in Translation: Book’s Spanish Version Isn’t Different Creative Work

In a precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board of the US Patent & Trademark Office upheld an examiner’s refusal to register a trademark on the ground that the proposed mark was the title of a single creative work and therefore did not function as a trademark. In re Douglas Wood, Serial No. 88388841 (TTAB, Aug. 15, 2023) (Adlin, Larkin, English, ATJs).

Douglas Wood sought to register the standard-character mark CHURCH BOY TO MILLIONAIRE for goods ultimately identified as “Books in the field of faith-based coaching, personal development, motivational and inspirational topics; books in the nature of memoirs; books about personal development; printed matter in the field of personal development, namely, books, booklets, curricula, newsletters, magazines, printed periodicals.” Since the title of a single book cannot be registered as a trademark, in support of the application Wood stated that the proposed mark was used on two separate books, an English-language book titled Church Boy to Millionaire and a Spanish-language book titled De Chico de Iglesia a Millonario. According to Wood, he published two books of different titles that had been marketed under the same mark as evidenced by use on his website.

The examining attorney refused registration, finding that the mark was the title of a single creative work and thus did not function as a trademark. Wood appealed.

The Board determined that Church Boy to Millionaire was the title of a single work, and that the book’s Spanish translation did not qualify as a separate work that might create a “series” entitled to trademark protection. The Board explained that “[t]he title of a single creative work, such as a book, is not considered to be a trademark, and is therefore unregistrable.” The Board further differentiated trademarks from copyrights, explaining that “[u]nlike a copyright that has a limited term, a trademark can endure for as long as the trademark is used. Therefore, once copyright protection ends, and the work falls in the public domain, others must have the right to call the work by its name.”

Wood argued that Church Boy to Millionaire and its Spanish translation, De Chico de Iglesia a Millonario, were different works since the choice of the translator had a large impact on the version created. The Board explained that the issue was whether the content “has change[d] significantly” in translation. The Board acknowledged that translators can employ their unique skills and cultural understandings to produce different content for a book in another language. However, the examining attorney showed that Wood did not provide any evidence that the Spanish version had content that significantly differed from the English version. On the contrary, the evidence of use contradicted Wood’s position that the Spanish translation featured different content because his website’s links directed customers to “get the book today” and “get the book in Spanish,” which effectively confirmed that [...]

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No Spark Here: TTAB Refuses to Register Similar Mark for Real Estate Services

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s refusal to register a mark due to the “close similarity” between the applied-for mark and a previously registered mark. In Re: Charger Ventures LLC, Case No. 22-1094 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 13, 2023) (Prost, Reyna, Stark, JJ.)

Charger Ventures applied to register SPARK LIVING, identifying its services as rental property management and real estate leasing and listing. Based on an existing mark, SPARK, which identified other real estate services such as rental brokerage, commercial property leasing and management, the Examining Attorney ultimately refused to register Charger’s mark, despite Charger twice amending its application and disclaiming the word LIVING. Charger appealed to the Board, which used the 13 DuPont factors to analyze likelihood of confusion. The Board focused on five of the DuPont factors:

  1. Similarity of the marks: SPARK LIVING fully incorporates SPARK, and LIVING is both descriptive and disclaimed, making it “subordinate to SPARK.”
  2. Similarity of the nature of goods/services: While not identical, commercial and residential real estate services may “emanate from a single source under a single mark.”
  3. Similarity of trade channels: There exists “some overlap” between commercial and residential real estate trade channels.
  4. Class of purchasers: Although real estate purchasers exercise a high level of care, “even . . . sophisticated purchasers are not immune from source confusion.”
  5. Strength of the mark: Although SPARK is somewhat commercially weak, “even weak marks are entitled to protection.”

The Board did not announce the weight it afforded to each factor but found that Charger failed to overcome the high similarity between its mark and SPARK. The Board therefore affirmed the Examining Attorney and refused to register SPARK LIVING. Charger appealed to the Federal Circuit.

As to factor 1, Charger argued that the Board erred in finding similarity of the marks. The Federal Circuit disagreed, noting that Charger disclaimed LIVING from its mark. The Court explained that disclaimer has no legal effect on likelihood of confusion because consumers do not know which words have been disclaimed. The Court found that the Board properly considered the full mark and that the marks were clearly similar.

As to factors 2 and 3, Charger argued that the previous SPARK registration could not be newly extended to include residential real estate services. The Federal Circuit rejected Charger’s argument, finding that many marks bridge the commercial and residential gap and that a registration’s listed services do not limit the trade channels in which the mark actually operates.

Regarding factor 4, Charger argued that SPARK and SPARK LIVING appealed to different classes of purchasers. The Federal Circuit disagreed, finding that Charger had failed to show that residential property owners were distinct from commercial owners.

Charger asserted that the Board improperly analyzed factor 5, since a mark’s weakness is “paramount” to likelihood of confusion. However, the Federal Circuit agreed with the Board that Charger failed to overcome the registered mark’s presumption of validity, despite other “spark” marks in the field. The Court [...]

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“Goods in Trade” in the Age of the Internet

The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board recently redefined what it takes in the age of the internet to meet the “goods in trade” requirement for registrability by holding that the three-factor test is the universal legal standard for that inquiry. In re The New York Times Company, Serial Nos. 90106071, 90112154, 90112577, 90115155, 90115491, 90115337 (TTAB Mar. 30, 2023) (Lykos, J.) (precedential).

The New York Times applied to trademark six column names: “The New Old Age,” “A Good Appetite,” “Hungry City,” “Work Friend,” “Off the Shelf” and “Like a Boss.” The Examining Attorney issued a final refusal, explaining that the specimens did not demonstrate that the marks were used on separate goods in trade. The Times appealed. The question before the Board was whether the printed columns were independent “goods in trade.”

The Board reversed the refusal and held that The Times could register the marks. While past decisions had found that non-syndicated print newspaper columns failed to rise to the level of “goods in trade,” the Board reasoned that those decisions were based on the fact that such columns were only available to consumers as part of an overall purchase of a particular print publication—but in the age of the internet, that is no longer the case. The Board reasoned that determining whether a non-syndicated column is a good in trade should not depend on the format in which it is offered.

The Board held that going forward, the appropriate test to apply to non-syndicated print columns or sections in printed publications or recorded media is the three-part test found in the 2012 Federal Circuit decision. The Federal Circuit test outlines the following factors to consider when evaluating whether an applicant’s goods are “goods in trade”:

  • Are the goods for which registration is sought a conduit or necessary tool useful only in connection with the applicant’s primary goods or services?
  • Are the goods for which registration is sought so inextricably tied to and associated with the primary goods or services as to have no viable existence apart from them?
  • Are the goods for which registration is sought neither sold separately nor do they have any independent value apart from the primary goods or services?

Applying the factors to the print columns, the Board concluded that the columns were “goods in trade” even though they were not syndicated.

As to the first factor, the Board found that the columns were not just a conduit or necessary tool to get to The New York Times newspaper in print. The Board reasoned that the columns were not like an instructional manual or brochure telling the reader how to navigate The New York Times print edition.

Regarding the second factor, the Board found probative that a Google search of the proposed trademarks yielded the columns for which registration was sought. The Board found that this demonstrated that each individual print column was not so “inextricably tied to and associated with The New York Times print edition of the [...]

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