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is an associate in Debevoise & Plimpton’s Intellectual Property Litigation Group and Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice. Ms. Saba joined Debevoise in 2017. She received her J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she was a James Kent Scholar, a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and articles editor of the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. She received a B.S. with distinction from Duke University in 2011. Prior to joining Debevoise, she worked for the Major League Baseball Players Association in its Licensing and Business Affairs department.
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Trademarks consisting solely of a color applied to products or their packaging have been protectable under U.S. law for decades—if they meet a heightened standard for protection. Since the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co. and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Brothers, Inc., an applicant for a color mark has been required to prove that the color actually serves as an indicator of source in the minds of consumers by showing that the mark has acquired distinctiveness (otherwise known as secondary meaning). Yet that longstanding requirement no longer applies to all color marks, after a new decision by the Federal Circuit in In re Forney, which opens the door for the first time to certain color marks gaining protection as inherently distinctive.
A case now pending before the Ninth Circuit, LTTB LLC v. Redbubble, Inc., Docket No. 19-16464, has the potential to clarify the controversial doctrine of aesthetic functionality. Aesthetic functionality has puzzled courts for decades. Particularly before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its modern guidance on functionality in Inwood Labs., Inc. v. Ives Labs., Inc., 456 U.S. 844 (1982); TrafFix Devices v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 26 (2001), and Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159 (2d Cir. 2009), courts struggled with how to apply the aesthetic functionality doctrine and issued opinions that, in some instances, muddied the already murky aesthetic functionality waters. Perhaps the most notorious aesthetic functionality case is International Order of Job’s Daughters v. Lindeburg & Co., 633 F.2d 912 (9th Cir. 1980), a case that many observers believed to be abrogated by subsequent Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit opinions but that has recently continued to wreak havoc on trademark law.