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Long Live the Kingpin: No Abandonment Based on Nonuse During Drug Sanctions Period

In a precedential decision, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) dismissed an opposition, finding that the trademark applicant’s long period of nonuse due to government sanctions was excusable nonuse and not abandonment. ARSA Distributing, Inc. v. Salud Natural Mexicana S.A. de C.V., Opposition No. 91240240, 91243700 (TTAB Sept. 28, 2022) (Taylor, Greenbaum, English, ATJ)

Salud sought a trademark registration of the standard character mark EUCALIN for “pharmaceutical products, namely, vitamin supplements, nutritional supplement made with a syrup with jelly base, honey base, and with a mixture of plants with propolis base, and herbal remedies in the nature of herbal supplements,” and the composite mark set forth below for “herbal supplements; nutritional supplements; vitamin supplements.”

ARSA opposed the registration, alleging prior common law use of the mark EUCALIN for “dietary and nutritional supplements.” ARSA argued that its sales and advertising of its EUCALIN product from 2008 to October 6, 2015, and October 9, 2017, established that ARSA had used its EUCALIN mark long before the constructive use filing dates of Salud’s application. Thus, ARSA had priority of use of the EUCALIN mark on nutritional and dietary supplements.

In response, Salud asserted it had priority in the EUCALIN mark based on use since 1999. Salud argued that between 1999 and October 2008, ARSA was Salud’s US distributor and, therefore, all goodwill for any EUCALIN-labeled product went to Salud as the supplier of the goods and products.

ARSA asserted that there was no distribution agreement between the parties, but even if Salud “could have reasonably claimed rights based on some alleged distribution agreement before 2008,” Salud “has long since abandoned any rights it would have had.” ARSA asserted that Salud was legally banned from conducting business in the United States between October 2, 2008, and May 2015 because it was declared a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker (SDNT). ARSA argued that Salud failed to produce any evidence establishing that it had concrete plans or intent to resume use between 2008 and 2015.

The Board found that there was no clear manufacturing-distribution agreement between the parties, and therefore there was a rebuttable presumption that the manufacturer (Salud) owned the mark. The Board explained that the following six factors are considered in determining which party has superior rights:

  1. Which party created and first affixed the mark to the product
  2. Which party’s name appeared with the trademark on packaging and promotional materials
  3. Which party maintained the quality and uniformity of the product, including technical changes
  4. Which party the consuming public believes stands behind the product (g., the party to which customers direct complaints and contact for correction of defective products)
  5. Which party paid for advertising
  6. What a party represents to others about the source or origin of the product.

The Board concluded that, on the balance, the factors favor Salud. The Board explained that the first, second, third and sixth factors favored Salud because it created the mark and product, maintained quality control [...]

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You Want Some “Metchup” with That?

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found no infringement by a large, well-known company that used the registered mark of an individual whose own use was local and generated only a few sales and minimal profits. The Court vacated and remanded the case to determine whether plaintiff had abandoned the mark. Dennis Perry v. H.J. Heinz Co. Brands, L.L.C., Case No. 20-30418 (5th Cir. Apr. 12, 2021) (Graves, J.)

In 2010, Dennis Perry created a condiment concoction in his home kitchen that he named “Metchup,” constituting a blend of private label mustard and ketchup, and a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup. Perry sold the concoction in the lobby of his small motel in Louisiana. The US Patent & Trademark Office granted registration for his trademark “Metchup” and after five years declared his mark “incontestable.” Perry had slow sales, however, only selling about 60 bottles with $50 total profit over the years. Perry had a Facebook page for his product, but did not advertise or sell the product in stores or online.

Meanwhile, Heinz produced a condiment called “Mayochup,” a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup, that it began selling in the United States in 2018. Heinz held an online naming contest to promote its product, and when one participant suggested the name “Metchup,” Heinz posted a mock-up picture with the “Metchup” name, along with other proposals. Heinz’s counsel saw Perry’s trademark registration, but because Heinz was not actually selling a product named “Metchup” and there were so few indications that Perry’s product was actually being sold, Heinz concluded that Perry’s mark was not in use and could be used in its promotion. When Perry saw Heinz’s posting, he sued for trademark infringement.

The district court found that while Perry may have once had a valid trademark registration for “Metchup,” there was no likelihood of confusion with the Heinz product and the mark had been abandoned as a consequence of de minimis use. Perry appealed.

The Fifth Circuit analyzed the dispute based on the eight-factor likelihood of confusion test. The Court found three factors weighed in Perry’s favor:

  • Product similarity: Both products were mixed condiments.
  • Potential purchaser care: Consumers would exercise less care for a low-priced condiment.
  • Mark similarity: Both products used the same word “Metchup,” although the Court noted that the packaging design looked very different.

The Court also found five factors weighed in Heinz’s favor:

  • The type of mark on the spectrum (i.e., whether the name is related to what the product is): Here, the mark was “suggestive” because it was a mash-up of names related to the sauces used.
  • Outlet and purchaser identity: The parties targeted different markets because Perry had limited sales in one motel, while Heinz targeted online and at almost all grocery stores.
  • Advertising identity: Perry did not advertise besides his one Facebook page without online sales, while Heinz had large-scale advertising and sales.
  • Defendant’s intent: Heinz did not intend to infringe because it assumed Perry’s mark was no longer [...]

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