On November 14, 2016, the Federal Circuit clarified confusion regarding what is necessary to satisfy the registration requirement that a mark be used “in commerce.”

Christian Faith Fellowship Church v. adidas AG involved the Church’s appeal from a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) decision cancelling its mark “ADD A ZERO.”  The Church, located in Illinois, began selling apparel bearing the phrase “ADD A ZERO” in January 2005 and later applied for and obtained a federal registration for the mark based on actual use in commerce.  In 2009, Adidas sought to register “ADIZERO” but had its application denied by the Trademark Office based on likely confusion with the Church’s “ADD A ZERO” mark.  Adidas then brought an action to cancel the Church’s mark arguing that the Church had failed to use the marks in commerce before registration. Continue Reading Federal Circuit Clarifies What Constitutes Use “In Commerce” Under the Lanham Act

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.

 

Further to our post last Friday on the SLANTS trademark case, the U.S. Supreme Court today, without comment, refused the Redskins’ Petition to join the SLANTS case challenging the U.S. Trademark Office’s ban on “offensive” trademarks. Since both cases involved a provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, the football team hoped to have both cases considered concurrently by the high Court. However, this now means that the outcome of the SLANTS case will have a huge impact on the Redskins’ appeal still pending before the Fourth Circuit. Although the team’s case will not be heard with the SLANTS case, it will have the opportunity to file amicus briefs in the proceeding.

 

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.

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