Posts Tagged: "Lanham Act"

The ITC: Reviewing 2016 and Looking Ahead

In 2016, the ITC had its busiest year since 2011–which was the peak of the “smartphone wars”–in terms of new investigations instituted. In 2016, 55 complaints were filed, notably, 16 of these complaints were filed by foreign companies. The ITC had an above average settlement rate of 60%; normally the settlement rate is approximately 50%. Last year also had a slight growth in nonpatent investigations which includes antitrust, trade secret, copyright and Lanham Act violations. Despite the increased workload, the average target date was 15.8 months from institution date to final Commission opinion.

A Slanted View of Scandalous and Disparaging Trademarks

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument in Lee v. Tam for January 18… The genesis of the case is a Portland, Oregon all-Asian-American band called The Slants, founded by petitioner Simon Shiao Tam. An application for trademark was made and the USPTO said “NO” on the basis that “The Slants” is a highly disparaging term and therefore must be denied registration under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act… The cultural and societal value of the free flow of speech trumps government regulation. The Supreme Court should uphold the Constitution and confirm the importance of robust political debate, cultural discourse, and the right to use ANY words as part of a personal identity.

Tiffany & Co. Successfully Asserts Trademark Infringement Claims Against Costco

On October 5, 2016, a jury in Tiffany and Co. v. Costco Wholesale Corp. – litigated before Judge Swain of the Southern District Court of New York – awarded Tiffany & Co. (Tiffany) $8.25 million in punitive damages for willful and bad faith infringement of their trademark by defendant Costco Wholesale Corp. (Costco). This award, in combination with an earlier award of $5.5 million in profits and statutory damages, brings the total damages owed by Costco to $13.75 million. The case is particularly notable for several reasons, but specifically because punitive damages were awarded.

CAFC Vacates TTAB, Refuses Bright-Line Rule to Distinguish Software from Services Rendered

The Federal Circuit vacated the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s (“Board”) cancellation of two JobDiva service mark registrations—one in whole and the other in part—and remanded for further consideration. As the Court pointed out in its opinion, JobDiva could have avoided the issues in this case by initially registering “marks to identify both software and services performed by software.” Practitioners should take care to register a mark for all goods and services for which the mark may be used.

CAFC Overturns Trademark Cancellation, Clarifies ‘Use in Commerce’ Requirement

The Federal Circuit reversed the cancellation of two trademarks by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) and remanded for further consideration… “Use in commerce” under the Lanham Act encompasses any activity that falls under Congress’s Commerce Clause power, including in-state sales to an out-of-state resident. Activities that are within such regulatory authority are unlikely to be disqualified as merely “de minimis,” e.g. in economic impact.

Supreme Court to decide if disparagement provision in the Lanham Act is invalid under the First Amendment?

Based on the question presented in Lee v. Tam, the Supreme Court made clear that its grant of review is only as to the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), but the outcome of this case will affect the other types of marks excluded by Section 2(a), such as marks that may be viewed as immoral or scandalous. Indeed, in a footnote in its en banc decision the Federal Circuit “recognized…that other portions of § 2 may likewise constitute government regulation of expression based on message, such as the exclusions of immoral or scandalous marks….”

Supreme Court to Consider “Disparaging” Trademarks

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed yesterday to review a Federal Circuit ruling that held unconstitutional a law prohibiting registration of trademarks that “may disparage” people or groups. In a case involving an Asian-American dance band’s bid to register its name THE SLANTS as a trademark, the court will consider whether the bar on registering disparaging marks in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. In the meantime, the Court is expected to rule soon on the Washington Redskins’ cert petition in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse, No. 15-1874, challenging a decision of the Eastern District of Virginia upholding the PTO’s cancellation of the REDSKINS trademarks under that same provision.

Trader Joe’s and Extraterritorial Application of the Lanham Act

Trader Joe’s sued Hallatt (d/b/a Pirate Joe’s) for trademark infringement in the Western District of Washington, invoking the court’s federal question and supplemental jurisdiction. Trader Joe’s alleged that: (1) Hallatt misled consumers into falsely believing Pirate Joe’s was authorized or approved by Trader Joe’s; (2) utilized a confusingly similar “South Pacific” trade dress for his Pirate Joe’s store; (3) displayed Trader Joe’s trademarks in connection with the sale of products at Pirate Joe’s; and (4) resold Trader Joe’s products without authorization and without adherence to Trader Joe’s’ strict quality control practices. Trader Joe’s claimed Hallatt’s behavior diluted its trademarks, confused consumers, and damaged Trader Joe’s reputation by associating it with high price, lower quality products. Trader Joe’s sought damages and to permanently enjoin Hallatt from reselling its goods or using its trademarks in Canada.

Lord of the Rings: The Olympic Committee’s Trademark Protection

Every year countless stories arise of individuals, churches, and small businesses, receiving cease and desist letters from the NFL or NCAA for unauthorized use and reference to their respective SUPER BOWL, MARCH MADNESS, and other trademarks. The success of these enforcement letters comes from a mixture of the organizations’ trademark rights under the Lanham Act and the fear that these financially well-endowed organizations could sue. The International Olympic Committee (“IOC”), and its national governing bodies, like the USOC (collectively the “Olympic Committee”), also aggressively enforce their rights in their Olympic trademarks, slogans, and symbols (the “Olympic properties”). The Olympic Committee not only employs the traditional methods of other sport organizations, but has several additional weapons that provide a true monopoly on the Olympic properties; thus, significantly increase its success.

Amid Cultural Debate on Political Correctness, Trademarks with Racial Overtones Look Set for Supreme Court

Two cases making their way through the Federal courts may force the Supreme Court to consider the issue of what sorts of trademarks should be considered “disparaging,” and whether the government may lawfully prevent the registration of such trademarks… The Redskins appealed to the Fourth Circuit in August 2015 and the parties’ and amici briefs have been rolling ever since. As of April 25, 2016, the Redskins have petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review their case, skipping over the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.

Statute Barring Registration of Disparaging Trademarks Upended

Tam appealed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board”), but the Board affirmed the Trademark Examiner’s refusal to register the mark. The Board found that although THE SLANTS has several meanings, the record demonstrated that it was “abundantly clear” that the likely meaning of the mark referred to people of Asian descent. Mr. Tam again appealed, this time to the Federal Circuit, arguing that § 2(a) is unconstitutional. The first time around, the Federal Circuit agreed with the Examiner and the Board. In a rare procedure, the Federal Circuit sua sponte ordered a rehearing en banc to review the constitutionality of § 2(a). Upon rehearing en banc, the Federal Circuit overturned McGinley in its 9-3 decision.

Unconstitutional – CAFC Rules PTO Cannot Deny Registration for Disparaging Trademarks

Yesterday the Federal Circuit in an en banc decision held that the portion of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, which bars federal registration for trademarks that are disparaging, is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The government advanced three principal arguments for why §2(a) did not violate the First Amendment: (1) because §2(a) does not “prohibit” or suppress speech at all; (2) because trademark registration is government speech; and (3) because §2(a) merely withholds a government subsidy. The Court rejected all three of the government’s arguments, and in doing so issued holdings on three separate issues that have divided other tribunals.

Only ‘Expenses’ Not ‘Attorney Fees’ Should Be Awarded Under Section 21(b) of the Lanham Act

Section 1071(b)(3) does not expressly or implicitly permit the award of “attorney fees” to the PTO. Specifically, Section 1071(b)(3) states simply that all the expenses of the proceeding shall be paid by the party bringing the case, whether the final decision is in favor of such party or not. By its express terms, the statute merely allows for the award of “expenses,” and not “attorney fees.”

Free Speech or Scandal? The Slants Case and the Future of Disparaging Trademarks

Last week the Federal Circuit scheduled oral argument en banc in THE SLANTS trademark case for the morning of October 2, 2015, taking up the question of whether §2(a) of the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. § 1052(a)) can withstand First Amendment scrutiny. Writing separately after the panel decision, Judge Moore offered 24 pages of “additional views” on the matter, encouraging the Federal Circuit to “revisit McGinley’s holding on the constitutionality of §2(a),” noting that “the protection accorded to commercial speech has evolved significantly since the McGinley decision.”