Showing posts with label TTAB. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TTAB. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Confusion and Conflict Over "Candy Crush" Trademark Status

Over the last several weeks, news reports began to circulate that Limited, the software developer that designed the hugely popular "Candy Crush Saga" game, had trademarked the term "CANDY" in the United States, and had begun to send cease and desist demands to developers who were using the term "candy" in connection with other, unauthorized applications.

The developer is also the creator of PetRescue Saga and the FarmHeroes Saga.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported on the more accurate status of the matter.

Namely, the game maker had applied for a federally registered trademark for the word "CANDY" nearly a year ago, and on January 15, 2014, the application was "approved for publication" in the Official Gazette.

This status means that the public has thirty (30) days within which to file any formal oppositions to the pending trademark application.

If, after that period, no one objects (or any formally litigated opposition is unsuccessful), the application will proceed to receive a federal registration.

To protest King's trademark application, several game developers have reportedly created a "Candy Jam" protest website that encourages others to create unauthorized games themed around "candy."  Extra credit may be offered to those who also use the words "scroll", "memory", "saga", "apple", or "edge".

One of the creators of the protest website reportedly told the Los Angeles Times: "Reaching a point where a company is allowed to trademark a common word is complete nonsense.  You don't need to have a great understanding of the laws to understand that this is ridiculous and totally unethical."

But these protesters are legally incorrect.  During the prosecution of the application, the U.S. Trademark Examiner conducted an exhaustive search and found that the word "CANDY" is not commonly nor descriptively used in connection with any other mobile digital applications.

The Examiner did find an existing trademark for "KANDY" in one of the classes of services at issue, but that conflict seems to have been resolved.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Can "ObamaCare" Be Legally Trademarked?

President Obama Signs "ObamaCare" Into Law in 2010
In the last several months, numerous formal trademark applications have been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark to attempt to own the term "ObamaCare."

Some were applications filed by insurers or HR professionals, whereas others were filed by opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which has been dubbed "ObamaCare" ever since its passage in 2010.

For example, the "ObamaCare Calculator" trademark application was filed in August 2013 by Trendsetter, a Texas-based human resources firm.  Meanwhile, "ObamaCare.  Run for your Life," a proposed trademark for sports clothing was also filed, but quickly abandoned.

As reported today by the Wall Street Journal, one of the more controversial applications was filed in July of this year for "Destroy ObamaCare" t-shirts, being sold by a New Orleans-based attorney.  In an interview, the lawyer said that he doesn't "really have a particular desire to see ObamaCare destroyed or saved."  In fact, he has been busy applying for a trademark for "Save ObamaCare" for t-shirts.

The legal problem with all of these trademarks is that they use a living person's name (namely, the sitting President's) without his express written consent.  In recent years, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has blocked a number of registrations featuring the President's name, including "Obama Pajama", on this basis.

Therefore, it appears highly unlikely that anyone will be able to legally trademark "ObamaCare," at least in the United States.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Despite Legal Threat, Rights to MUMBO Sauce Trademark Stay in Chicago

Argia B. Collins' Chicago Area Restaurant

"Mumbo sauce" is sometimes used as the colloquial name for a tangy sauce served in Washington, D.C. restaurants and local eateries. However, a legal challenge to the validity of the name as a unique trademark appears to have been resolved in favor of the Windy City as the owner's locale.

The Washington Post describes the D.C. sauce's flavor as somewhere between barbecue and sweet-and-sour sauce.  The sauce is also sometimes called "Mambo sauce."  It is a versatile condiment that can be used for anything from fried rice to ribs or wings.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 2007 that Argia B. Collins, who died in 2005, and who had been one of Chicago's premier African American restauranteurs, first coined the term in the 1950's.  Collins' heirs ultimately transferred the rights to the name to Select Brands, LLC.

According to the Select Brands' website:  "A perfectionist when it came to his restaurants, Argia B. was not satisfied with the bland, watered-downed sauces served in other establishments or the tart, over-powering national brands sold by restaurant supply houses....Drawing on his southern roots, he wanted to create a sauce with the savory flavors reminiscent of the homemade Sunday dinners that he had enjoyed on his family's farm."

An image displayed on the Select Brands' website documents Collins' use of "Mumbo Bar-B-Q Sauce" in 3 flavors.

Capital City's Mumbo Sauce
In the 1990's, Select Brands LLC filed for a federal trademark on "MUMBO" for barbecue sauce in International Class 36, and it was granted.

Subsequently, a petition to cancel this trademark on the basis that it had become the "generic" name for a type of sauce was filed by Capital City, LLC, the makers of Capital City Mumbo Sauce, a D.C.-based company.

The petition cited printed materials taken from several different websites that showed a variety of sauces described as unauthorized "Mumbo sauces."

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board was not persuaded, however, finding that while this evidence showed "some generic use of the term 'Mumbo' in connection with sauces," that evidence consisted of printouts from only a few websites, and was not an overwhelming evidence of widespread generic usage.

Further, the Board seemed persuaded that Collins' heirs had undertaken serious efforts to police what they deemed as improper use of the trademark, and did not find the level of widespread and unrestricted usage necessary to deem a registered mark totally unworthy of protection.  The Board refused to cancel Select Brands' trademark.

The federally registered Mumbo trademark will therefore remain owned by Select Brands LLC.

However, in the event that Select sues Capital or the other unauthorized Mumbo sauce users for trademark infringement, the jury and judge would get the final say in the matter, as genericness as well as lack of likely confusion can be used as complete defenses in an infringement case in court.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Stop Islamization" Trademark Refused: Applicants Decry Political Correctness in Appeal

Image on AFDI Website
A U.S. federal trademark application for an anti-sharia law campaign known as "STOP ISLAMIZATION OF AMERICA" was filed by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a pro-Israel group founded by controversial bloggers/commentators Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.

The AFDI had been behind a grassroots movement that sought to stop the building of a mosque in lower Manhattan, near the Ground Zero World Trade Center site, claiming that the act would offend 9/11 victims' families.

Critics such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have accused the AFDI of being an anti-Muslim hate group, alleging that it promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam" and "seeks to rouse public fear by consistently villifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy 'American' values." 

The Trademark Office refused the group's application for a trademark on the basis that it "consists of or includes matter which may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols."

The Trademark Office ruled that it must apply a two factor legal test, asking: (1) What is the likely meaning of the matter in question; and (2) is that meaning referring to identifiable persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, and whether that meaning is disparaging to a substantial composite of the referenced group.

The Trademark Examiner concluded that, applying this test, the likely meaning of ISLAMIZATION refers to the act of converting to Islam, and that the proposed mark effectively disparages Muslims by implying that conformity to Islam is something that needs to be stopped.

The Trademark Office cited several cases supposedly supporting its conclusion.

However, on further examination, the cases that the Examiner cited were not necessarily relevant or helpful to its case, such as when the Trademark Office found THE MEMPHIS MAFIA for entertainment services not to be matter that disparages Italian-Americans or bring them into contempt or disrepute.

The group appealed the Examiner's final refusal to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), which affirmed the rejection.

Now, the group has appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears appeals from final Trademark Office refusals to register trademarks.

In the appeal brief, the AFDI's lawyer argues that:

"Appellants [Geller and Spencer] are sympathetic to the USPTO’s politically correct sensitivities enticing it to protect Muslims and indeed Islam itself from even the slightest hint of disparagement in the form of public criticism, especially in the post-9/11 age with global terrorism conducted daily in the name of Islam and the Arab Spring featuring the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamisation program for Egypt and elsewhere melting into murder and mayhem.

The problem with these sensitivities as applied to the denial of Appellants’ Mark is that the USPTO’s beef is not with Appellants or their Mark, but rather with terrorists who claim to speak in the name of all of Islam and all Muslims.  Appellants’ Mark does not.  

One of the AFDI's NYC MTA Advertisements
'Stop the Islamisation of America' has a specific meaning that Muslims and non-Muslims in America and indeed throughout the West embrace if they treasure liberty and religious freedom for all.  In a zeal to take on the role of parens patriae and to protect Muslims from every insult, the USPTO and the TTAB have both ignored the factual record and have simply assumed meanings and understandings of the terms of the Mark that have no factual or evidentiary basis.  There is no substantial evidence to support the TTAB’s Decision or the USPTO’s denial of the Mark."

The USPTO has yet to file its response.

The AFDI has seen its fair share of federal litigation and previously triumphed. For example, in a federal lawsuit that it filed against the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the group succeeded in forcing the MTA to carry its advertisements on the sides of New York City buses and in the subways.

The MTA had rejected the group's advertisements, purportedly on the basis that they "demeaned" Muslims.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

What if the Redskins Lose Their Trademarks, But Keep Using Them?

The Washington Redskins' logo
On Thursday, March 7, 2013 the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board for U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the "TTAB") heard oral arguments in a case involving a decades-old question: whether the Washington Redskins' federal trademark registrations should be cancelled because they are allegedly offensive to Native Americans.

The case has now been fully briefed and submitted for a decision.  All that remains now is the court's determination: Will the Washington Redskins franchise lose its federal trademark registrations?

Commentators' predictions are mixed. Some argue that, if history is any judge, it would appear that Native Americans are poised to win this most recent battle cancelling the Washington Redskins' famous trademarks. Others aren't so sure, but argue that the poor publicity involved should counsel a branding change.

All commentators agree that what would likely occur if the worst case scenario happens to the Redskins would be years of further appeals to delay the impact of the ruling.  Will the Washington Redskins continue use its brand in the interim?

When confronted with this question, the owner of the team announced that it will "NEVER change its name." (capital letters in original).

But what would happen, long term, if the team loses its federal trademark registrations?  Wouldn't the team still possess at least some rights to prohibit third party uses?

Probably not. Third parties would begin using the name in an unauthorized manner, and take their chances. Without any federal trademark registrations and with a precedential public ruling finding the marks to be offensive and scandalous, the team would face an uphill battle legally protecting and further monetizing its existing brands.

From a practical standpoint, the team would probably face an onslaught of rampant counterfeiting that it could not legally stop. Without any valid or enforceable federal trademark registrations on file, the team would not be able to avail itself of the criminal and other protections that the law authorizes against counterfeiters.  Similarly, there would no longer be any legal bar to importation of unauthorized items bearing the team's name or logos.

Perhaps worse yet, the various lucrative licenses for team-branded products and third party endorsements could be prospectively ignored on the grounds that the team lacks any appreciable intellectual property rights to further license.

It is also worth noting that, even if the team wins this round in the TTAB, some Congressional Democrats have attempted to legislate the issue against the team.
Perhaps the moral of the story is "never say never" when it comes to branding and intellectual property.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MTV Tries to Put a Stop to The Situation

From "" Website
Viacom has filed a formal complaint with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), asserting a legal opposition to Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino's attempt to register federal trademarks for certain catchphrases such as "twinning" and "GTL" ("Gym, Tan, Laundry") that he made popular on MTV's hit show Jersey Shore.

According to Viacom's TTAB filings, on June 22, 2009, Sorrentino signed a detailed written "Participant Agreement" assigning all rights to any "ideas, gags, suggestions ... and other material" he originated on Jersey Shore to the show's producers, and saying he would not use his quotes on T-shirts and other promotional items.  A copy of the agreement was attached as an exhibit to the complaint, but was heavily redacted to remove any extraneous information.

Additionally, to clearly demonstrate priority (seniority) of use, lawyers for Viacom included images of t-shirts, hats, mugs, mousepads and other paraphernalia that have been offered by Viacom's official store on  The printouts show use in commerce well before the date of Sorrentino's.

The only class of goods for which there may still be room for negotiation are GTL laundry bags, which are currently being sold by the Situation, at a discount.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

J.Geils Band Members Torn Apart by Trademark Litigation

The J. Geils Band in Happier Times (1973)
Perhaps taking a page from Live's playbook, John Geils Jr., of the epynomous J.GeilsBand ("Centerfold"), yesterday filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit against his former bandmates in Boston.

The lawsuit names a variety of defendants, including Peter Wolf, Seth Justman, Richard "Magic Dick" Salwitz and Danny Klein, and alleges that they are "seeking to misappropriate and steal" the name "J.Geils Band." 

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office records show a trademark was first sought in June 2008 by Francesca Records LLC and the Registration issued in 2009.  Francesca Records LLC is affiliated with John Geils, Jr.

In April 2012, Geils Unlimited LLC, made up of Wolf, Salwitz & Klein, sought to cancel the existing registration on a variety of legal grounds including fraud and likelihood of confusion.

The administrative proceeding will now be suspended (or put in a "freeze frame,") pending the outcome of the Boston litigation.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Partially Functional Product Designs Can Become a Trademark

Do you recognize this shape?

According to a recent decision issued by the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the "TTAB"), this rectangular shape is a valid trademark belonging to Hershey's for its iconic chocolate bars.
By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One key issue in such product configuration trademark cases is whether the design features sought to be protected as a trademark are primarily “functional."  If the overall design is functional, trademark protection is barred.  Primarily functional products can be protected by patents, but trademark law ends where functionality begins.

The TTAB held that while the individual rectangular shapes scored within the chocolate bar are functional (because they make it more convenient to easily divide the bar into equal pieces), the candy bar's overall design, when considered in its entirety, was not primarily functional.

Instead, the TTAB determined, based on the evidence presented that reflected a wide variety of shapes and designs used for chocolate bars, that the combination of rectangles with a raised border in Hershey's design is not primarily functional and, therefore, may be protected as a trademark.

The second issue that the TTAB considered was whether Hershey's product design had “acquired distinctiveness” in the marketplace for candy.

Product designs and configurations are not considered “inherently distinctive” as are many other types of trademarks. Therefore, in order to be protected as a trademark and registered on the Principal Register, Hershey's must demonstrate that relevant consumers considered the product design to be a source identifier. 

Evidence of distinctiveness can consist of consumer surveys, evidence as to the length of time a mark has been in continuous and substantially exclusive use, revenue of products bearing the trademark, advertising expenditures to promote goods bearing the mark, unsolicited media coverage, and evidence that the product configuration has been promoted in advertisements as a source indicator. 

Hershey's submitted all of these types of evidence to exceed its burden of proof. In addition, Hershey's also provided evidence that Williams-Sonoma attempted to copy the design of the candy bar to use as the shape of a brownie baking pan:

The TTAB ultimately found that the evidence demonstrated that the candy bar design had acquired distinctiveness and could be registered on the Principal Register as a trademark.

Do you recognize these other trademarked product designs?