Although most people will recognize the ubiquitous PIZZA! PIZZA! slogan mark owned by the pizza chain Little Caesar’s, the company’s collection of repeated term marks does not rise to the level of a “family of marks” according to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. In a precedential decision, the Board held that to grant this status to the slogan marks at issue would give Little Caesar’s excessively broad rights not justified by the facts. In re LC Trademarks, Inc. (TTAB December 29, 2016). However, the Board did clarify that proof of the existence of a “family of marks” can be a factor used to prove that otherwise descriptive marks have acquired distinctiveness. Continue Reading Pizza! Pizza!: Little Caesar’s Repeated Term Slogans Are Not a “Family of Marks”
In a non-precedential opinion, the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled two US trademark registrations for the mark PORTON, finding it to be confusingly similar to the mark PATRON. Patron Spirits International AG v. Pisco Porton, LLC, Cancellatio No. 92059527 (January 4, 2017). PORTON is the brand name for a Peruvian brandy sold by Pisco Porton. PATRON is the brand name for a Mexican tequila sold by Patron Spirits International. Continue Reading Trademark Trial and Appeal Board: Non-Spanish Speakers Would Confuse PATRON and PORTON Trademarks
Well, a lot has happened since we last reported on the District Court’s decision in the FLANAX trademark dispute. As you may recall, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board granted Bayer’s Petition and cancelled the FLANAX registration although Bayer, a German company, did not use the mark FLANAX in the US. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed Bayer’s subsequent Complaint and reversed the TTAB, finding that Bayer had no standing to challenge the FLANAX mark under the Lanham Act since it had no rights in the mark in the US. Bayer appealed this to the Fourth Circuit which then reversed the District Court. The Fourth Circuit concluded that Bayer did have the right under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act to assert claims for false association and false advertising and to pursue a cancellation claim under Section 14(3). The Court held that nothing in the Lanham Act or the law mandated that Bayer have used the FLANAX mark in the US “as a condition precedent” to its claims. On October 20, 2016, Belmora, the owner of the US trademark registration for FLANAX, filed with the U.S. Supreme Court a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari seeking resolution of a split among the circuit courts on the application of territorial provisions to certain trademark claims in the US. The specific question presented to the Court by Belmora is as follows:
“Whether Sections 14(3) and 43(a) of the Lanham Act allow a foreign business that has neither used nor registered its trademark in the United States to sue the owner of a U.S. trademark for conduct relating to the owner’s use of its U.S. mark.”
Bayer can file a brief in opposition within 30 days if it decides to do so.
We will keep you posted on all further developments.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will review whether the U.S. Trademark Office can deny registration of offensive trademarks or whether such prohibition violates the First Amendment. The dispute affects the constitutionality of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits registration of such marks. The case originated in 2013 following the Office’s refusal to register THE SLANTS as a mark for an Oregon rock band on grounds that it was a derogatory slang phrase for people of Asian descent Continue Reading The SLANTS Trademark Will Play One More Gig: U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of Ban on Disparaging Trademarks
What do Washington D.C.’s NFL team, the Redskins, and Mr. Tam’s rock band, The Slants, have in common? Both have enjoyed unexpected victories recently and both have been called “disparaging” by the Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”). However, while the Washington Redskins have been winning on the football field, many legal and business news websites have also been counting Mr. Tam’s recent success at the Federal Circuit as a major win for the football team. In reality, that issue is far from settled.
The Federal Circuit first took up the issue of Mr. Tam’s trademark last spring when it affirmed the PTO’s rejection of his application to register the mark “THE SLANTS,” the name of Mr. Tam’s Asian-American dance rock band that is known for its intentional use of Asian stereotypes in its lyrics and imagery in order to weigh in on cultural and political discussions about race and society. Despite the ruling adverse to Mr. Tam, Judge Moore went on to write a lengthy argument addressing the need for a deeper constitutional review of the statutory prohibition against disparaging marks, as codified in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. In re Tam, 785 F.3d 567 (Fed. Cir. 2015). This opinion teed up the en banc review by the Federal Circuit, which issued a pivotal opinion on December 22, 2015 overruling prior precedent, In re McGinley, 660 F.2d 481 (C.C.P.A. 1981), and held that the prohibition against registering disparaging marks at the PTO under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. In re Simon Shiao Tam, No. 2014-1203, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 22300 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 22, 2015).
Based on the Federal Circuit’s ruling, the media immediately decreed victory for the Washington Redskins’ trademark battle, but there are reasons that the recent Federal Circuit ruling is not likely to be the last we hear of this issue:
First, the Federal Circuit is split. While 9 judges agree that the disparaging marks prohibition in Section 2(a) is entirely unconstitutional, the remaining 3 raise some valid concerns in partial or total disagreement. For example, writing for the Majority, Judge Moore places a great deal of importance on the chilling effect such regulation has on expressive speech. However, Judge Reyna and Judge Laurie argue in dissent that the Majority’s analysis is flawed from the very beginning as trademark registration is commercial speech, as was held in precedential opinions, and thus not subject to heightened scrutiny. Meanwhile, Judge Dyk attempts to draw a distinction between “core political speech” and “commercial speech” in trademarks. In the concurrence in part and dissent in part, Judge Dyk argues that the Majority is correct only as to a narrow category of trademarks which contain core political speech, but the statute remains constitutional as to the bulk of trademarks which are merely commercial speech. This fundamental disagreement as to what is or is not commercial speech is exactly the sort of issue that the Supreme Court may take up. In the dissent, Judge Reyna poignantly summarizes the disagreement: “The Majority holds today that Mr. Tam’s speech, which disparages those of Asian descent, is valuable political speech that the government may not regulate except to ban its use in commerce by everyone but Mr. Tam.”
Second, the Redskins’ mark is pending review before a different tribunal. The Redskins are currently appealing to the Fourth Circuit an adverse ruling by a U.S. District Court following the TTAB’s cancellation of the team’s mark recently. In doing so, the TTAB cited the same prohibition against registering disparaging marks under Section 2(a) at issue in the recent Federal Circuit opinion. While the Federal Circuit’s opinion will surely be influential to the Fourth Circuit, it is not precedential and the Fourth Circuit is not required to follow it. Thus, immediate victory for the Redskins is not guaranteed. Furthermore, should the Fourth Circuit rule in any way different than the Federal Circuit on determining constitutionality of Section 2(a), this circuit split would set up a likely Supreme Court review.
Third, the constitutionality of Section 2(a) as to immoral and scandalous marks is now unclear. While the Majority was careful to mention several times that their opinion concerns only the prohibition against registering disparaging marks, Section 2(a) also prohibits registering immoral and scandalous marks. Indeed, the Redskins mark may still be challenged under either of those additional prohibitions at a future date. To some, the logic and reasoning of the recent Federal Circuit ruling may be equally applicable to those prohibitions; both additional prohibitions can be categorized as content based and/or viewpoint based regulation of non-commercial expressive speech that fails the constitutional test of strict scrutiny. To others, there may be reasons to distinguish the Federal Circuit’s ruling as to the other Section 2(a) prohibitions; the prohibition against registering immoral and scandalous marks isn’t as vague or the effect isn’t as chilling on expressive speech. The Supreme Court may be interested in settling this discrepancy before the PTO is flooded with new registrations of offensive marks.
Despite their recent wins on the field, the Redskins’ Super Bowl prospects are still uncertain. The prospects of the team’s trademark registration remains similarly uncertain, despite the recent Federal Circuit holding.
The Federal Circuit has decided to revisit the constitutionality of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act in the case of In re Shiao Tam, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 6840 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 27, 2015). Section 2(a) of the Lanham act allows the USPTO to reject the registration of a trademark that is immoral, scandalous, or disparaging. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a). Just a week earlier, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTO’s rejection of Mr. Tam’s application to register the mark “THE SLANTS,” the name of Mr. Tam’s Asian-American dance rock band that is known for its intentional use of Asian stereotypes in its lyrics and imagery in order to “weigh in on cultural and political discussions about race and society.” In re Tam, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 6430, *2, *19 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 20, 2015). Mr. Tam argued that this rejection was a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
In rejecting Mr. Tam’s arguments that Section 2(a) is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, Judge Moore explained that this argument is “foreclosed by our precedent” in In re McGinley, 660 F.2d 481 (C.C.P.A. 1981). In re McGinley dismissed a First Amendment challenge to Section 2(a) and held that “the PTO’s refusal to register appellant’s mark does not affect his right to use it” and “that no conduct is proscribed, and no tangible form of expression is suppressed” when an applicant’s trademark registration is rejected under Section 2(a). In re McGinley further held that the Section 2(a) standard, “scandalous,” is not too vague as to bar the PTO and the courts to apply the law fairly.
Despite affirming the rejection of Mr. Tam’s registration, Judge Moore went on to write a lengthy “additional views” section that outlines in great detail why “it is time for this Court to revisit McGinley‘s holding on the constitutionality of § 2(a) of the Lanham Act,” and notes from the outset that the McGinley’s holding was “without citation to any legal authority.” Tam, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 6430, at *14. Judge Moore reasons that because the PTO is now entirely funded from application fees, and no longer funded by taxpayers as it was when McGinley was decided, the newer constitutional jurisprudence of the “unconstitutional conditions” doctrine may apply. Judge Moore goes on to argue that trademarks are protected commercial speech, and that a rejection is an abridgement of that speech due to the highly beneficial rights a Lanham Act registration confers on a trademark owner. Ultimately, Judge Moore concludes that Section 2(a) cannot pass constitutional scrutiny unless the Court is presented with a “substantial government interest that would justify the PTO’s refusal to register disparaging marks,” which has yet to occur. Id. at *37-38, 45 (citing Cent. Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n, 447 U.S. 557, 566 (1980)).
Following Judge Moore’s thorough argument that a Section 2(a) rejection is an unconstitutional restriction of commercial speech, it will be interesting to see how the Court will decide this question during its en banc consideration. The parties have 45 days to file briefs on the constitutional issues, with a decision to follow.
The outcome of the Federal Circuit’s en banc consideration will be influential. For example, the Washington Redskins NFL football team has been involved in a well-publicized battle surrounding its controversial name in both the courts of law and of public opinion. In the former, the Federal District Court in Virginia is considering an appeal from the Washington Redskins organization challenging the PTO’s cancellation of the “REDSKINS” trademark registration under Section 2(a) for being disparaging to Native Americans. If the Federal Circuit finds that Section 2(a) is unconstitutional, then, in a somewhat ironic twist, Mr. Tam may end up enjoying the same trademark rights and protections as the Washington Redskins.
On February 6, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia reversed the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s ruling in Bayer Consumer Care AG v. Belmora LLC, 110 USPQ2d 1623 (TTAB 2014) holding that Article 6bis of the Paris Convention does not grant trademark rights that are protectable under Section 14(3) (misrepresentation of source), Section 43(a)(1)(A) (infringement of an unregistered mark) and Section 43(a)(1)(B) (false advertising) of the United States Trademark Statute (the Lanham Act). Belmora LLC v, Bayer Consumer Care AG and Bayer Healthcare LLC, 1:14-cv-00847-GBL (EDVA Feb. 6, 2015).
Bayer Consumer Care AG filed a petition with the TTAB to cancel Belmora LLC’s U.S. trademark registration for FLANAX for a naproxen sodium based analgesic on grounds that it was confusingly similar to Bayer’s FLANAX brand of naproxen sodium analgesic products. Ordinarily, a case involving identical marks used on virtually identical products is a slam dunk for the prior user. However, in this case Bayer owned a Mexican, but not a US, trademark registration for FLANAX, and did not sell any FLANAX branded products in the US. Rather, the Bayer naproxen sodium analgesic product available in the US was sold under the trademark ALEVE. Nevertheless, Bayer claimed that Belmora’s actions in the US were misrepresentative and created confusion among US customers as to the source of the FLANAX products sold in the US. Continue Reading The Court’s Decision in the FLANAX US Trademark Dispute Gives Bayer a Headache
Written by: Susan Neuberger Weller
As we all know, Super Bowl XLIX will be played this Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona between the defending Champion Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. There will be events of all kinds organized all around the country focused on this football game. If you are planning something, just remember: do not use “Super Bowl” by itself or in conjunction with other words or terms in any commercial promotions of any kind including your own events, third-party events, contests, games, product promotions, or sales. You just can’t do it. Continue Reading Don’t Even Think About Advertising a SUPER BOWL Party!
Written by: Susan Neuberger Weller
The Washington Redskins professional football team will soon not only be battling Native Americans over the registrability of the REDSKINS trademark, but will also have to cross swords with the US Government. Last week, the US Department of Justice filed a Notice of Intervention in the appeal of the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision last summer to cancel the REDSKINS trademark registrations. As we reported in our earlier post, the Washington team raised in its appeal constitutional issues that could not be decided by the TTAB. These include the following:
- Trademarks are constitutionally protected commercial speech and Section 2(a)’s provisions prohibiting the registration of “disparaging, “”contempt[uous]”, or “disreput[able]” aspects of a mark are an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on speech that violates the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
- Section 2(a) is facially overbroad and unconstitutionally void for vagueness in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution since, inter alia, the terms “disparage,” “may disparage,” “contempt,” “disrepute,” and “may bring…into contempt or disrepute” are not defined in the Lanham Act or its legislative history.
- The cancellation of the REDSKINS registrations violate the team’s due process rights provided by the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution by unreasonably depriving the team of federally granted property rights that it has relied on for almost half a century.
- The Board’s Order canceling the REDSKINS trademark registrations is an unconstitutional taking of Pro-Football’s property without just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution.
The Notice of Intervention states that the US Government will be defending the constitutionality of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, and is entitled to do so as a matter of right pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and statute.
As of this writing, no responsive pleadings have yet been filed by either the team or the Native Americans. Stay tuned.
Written By: Susan Neuberger Weller
Further to our April 23 post on the Pom Wonderful-Coca-Cola U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court on Thursday June 12 issued an unanimous decision (with Justice Breyer taking no part in the consideration or decision of the case) reversing the Ninth Circuit and holding that competitors may bring Lanham Act claims, like those brought by Pom, challenging food and beverage labels regulated by the FDCA. Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Allows Pom Wonderful to Pursue Lanham Act Claims against Coca-Cola