Why Every Trademark Owner Should Care About B&B Hardware

Does a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) decision that there is a likelihood of confusion between two trademarks prevent federal district court trademark litigation?

The purpose of a trademark is two-fold: to identify the owner or “source” of goods and services, and to prevent consumer confusion in the marketplace. Therefore, the test for trademark infringement under the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), is whether use of a trademark is “likely to cause confusion” with an existing, registered mark. A person generally may neither use nor register a mark that would be “likely to cause confusion” with an existing trademark. If a person uses a mark that one believes is likely to cause confusion, the owner of the registered mark may sue in federal court for trademark infringement. 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1). If a person seeks to register a mark that is likely to cause confusion with an existing registered mark, the owner of the existing registered mark may oppose the registration of the new mark before the TTAB. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(d); see id. §§ 1063, 1067(a).

In B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2899 (US 2014), the United States Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the TTAB’s determination of a likelihood of confusion precludes a trademark litigant from re-litigating that issue in a federal court infringement action involving a likelihood of confusion element.

Plaintiff B&B Hardware Inc. (“B&B”) produced industrial fasteners for the aerospace industry under the mark SEALTIGHT since 1990. B&B’s SEALTIGHT mark was registered with the PTO in 1993. Subsequently, Hargis Industries, Inc. (“Hargis”) adopted the mark SEALTITE for its self-drilling, self-taping screws for use in the metal-building industry. Hargis applied to register SEALTITE with in 1996, but its application was initially refused due to the existence of B&B’s registration. Hargis then sought to cancel the B&B registration alleging that the B&B mark had been abandoned. However, prior to a final decision by the Board, B&B sued Hargis in U.S. District Court alleging infringement of its registered SEALTIGHT trademark.

A jury in the District Court found in favor of Hargis that there was no likelihood of confusion between the marks. The parties appealed to the Eighth Circuit which affirmed the District Court decision and the issue was ultimately taken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reversing the Circuit Court, the Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that a likelihood of confusion determination by the TTAB should have preclusive effect as long as the ordinary elements of issue preclusion are met and the usages of the marks are materially the same.

“Issue preclusion” or “res judicata” is an important concept for both fairness and judicial economy. Essentially, litigants should not get two bites at the same apple. In the past, the TTAB would suspend its proceedings if a case was simultaneously pending in District Court.

The key take away for trademark practitioners is strategic since trademark oppositions and cancellations do not result in a damages award or determination of infringement. Yet, its decisions can now be used as the basis for finding infringement in District Court where an adverse decision may have far-reaching effects.

Zombie Cinderella ‘Survives’ Walt Disney’s Cinderella Trademark- No Likelihood of Confusion

United Trademark Holdings, Inc. (“Applicant”) appealed a decision by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office refusing registration of its “ZOMBIE CINDERELLA” trademark for dolls when the USPTO held that it was confusingly similar to the registered “WALT DISNEY’S CINDERELLA” trademark.

In any likelihood of confusion analysis, two key considerations are the similarities between the marks and the similarities between the goods at issue. Applicant demonstrated that the story of “Cinderella,” is a “well-known narrative … involving a beautiful young lady, her antagonistic stepsisters, a fairy godmother, a ball, a prince, and a pair of glass slippers, existing since at least as early as 1697.”

The USPTO cited to nine other doll lines that use the name “Cinderella” holding that: 1) the mark is weak, and 2) CINDERELLA is not the dominant component of the cited, registered mark. The court found that while the dominant part of the mark -the term CINDERELLA – was similar, use of the terms “Walt Disney” and “Zombie” differentiated the two. The USPTO also found that “the design element of “WALT DISNEY’S CINDERELLA” may function, for juvenile customers, as a stronger source indicator than the term CINDERELLA, because it depicts a specific version of Cinderella that is associated with the Walt Disney animated film” of the same name.

Lastly, although the word “zombie” has little significance or distinctiveness as a source indicator in the marketplace for toys, the combination of ZOMBIE with CINDERELLA creates a unitary mark with an incongruous impression.

Identifying Intellectual Property Issues in Start-Ups – Live Webcast!

Do you work with start-up companies and need a basic understanding of the various intellectual property issues that can arise?

I will be co-presenting in this online seminar that will help you:

  • understand the trademark and copyright problems your client may encounter with branding;
  • learn how to protect your client’s branding once established;
  • familiarize your practice with patents, including what they protect, timing, and strategies to prevent inadvertent loss of patent rights before filing the application;
  • understand trade secrets and the importance of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements;
  • recognize intellectual property issues relating to technology, including open source code and the cloud;
  • establish a proactive approach toward intellectual property ownership between cofounders, employees, and vendors; understand business names, domain names, promotional issues, and website content concerns.

The program qualifies for 1.5 hours MCLE credit.

I would like to personally invite you to attend the upcoming Law Ed program titled, “Identifying Intellectual Property Issues in Start-Ups,” which I will be co-presenting via live webcast on Tuesday, May 27th.

Presented by the ISBA Business Advice and Financial Planning Section

Co-Sponsored by the ISBA Intellectual Property Section

Owning Design: Protecting Original Design in an Age of Knock-Offs

A presentation on what goes into creating original designs and how these differ from copycats.

WHERE: Decoration & Design Building, J. Robert Scott Showroom, Suite 220

WHEN: Wednesday, October 2,2013 !2 p.m.

WHAT: From film to fashion, creative industries are taking steps to protect and promote original work. Designers and manufacturers need to know what steps they can take to protect their designs, their businesses, and their profits. The discussion will address issues related to how to protect original design (copyright & design patent) and the manufacturers (trademark, unfair competition).

WHO:

INTERIORS Magazine Editorial Director Michael Wollaeger

J. Robert Scott Founder Sally Sirkin Lewis

Designer Laura Kirar [Web Site]

Intellectual Property lawyer David Adler

Showroom reception to follow.

 

Download the full Fall Decoration & Design Building Market Brochure Here.

Copycat Conundrum: Tips For Protecting Original Furniture & Textile Designs

On October 2, 2013, I will be attending the Decoration & Design Building Fall Market where I am giving a presentatIon on protecting original furniture & textile designs. Those in attendance share a belief that style and design matter.

As designers and purveyors of good taste, you may spend months developing a concept, selecting materials, agonizing over the exact curve of the arm of a chair. Manufacturers may refine the design, invest in tooling to build it, promote it, and get it to market. Merchandise buyers may spend months reading, researching, attending events such as this to obtain and fill your showrooms and catalogue with ineffable elements of style. This is original, authentic design. Authentic designs—pieces produced by designers or their authorized manufacturers—are investments.

Therein lies the problem for today’s furniture designers and retailers. It takes intellectual and financial capital to conceive, create and produce good design. Yet, today’s consumer driven, price-focused economy is making it more and more difficult for a designer to protect and profit from the investment of this intellectual capital.

This presentation will focus on why certain designs are protectable, how to protect them, and how to defend against knock-offs.

Entertainment & Fashion Law News Update

Entertainment Law News & Events

Entertainment Law Initiative Luncheon Set For Feb. 8 | GRAMMY.com
The GRAMMY Foundation announced today that the keynote discussion at the 15th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative Luncheon & Scholarship Presentation

Colorado IP and entertainment lawyer David Ratner forms ‘Creative …
‘Creative Law Network,’ a Denver-based law firm, will focus on small to mid-size businesses and artists.

Florida Bar Hosts Entertainment Law Event | Billboard
NEW YORK–The Florida Bar Assn.’s Entertainment Arts and Sports Law Section will host its sixth annual legal symposium on music, film and TV on March 26.

UNH Law to debut sports and entertainment law institute
Concord Monitor
The University of New Hampshire’s School of Law will open a Sports and Entertainment Law Institute next fall, giving students the opportunity to focus their studies for a law career in either field.

Entertainment lawyer Mike Novak dies
The Macomb Daily
For nearly three decades, Mike Novak’s name was synonymous with entertainment in the Detroit area. During his career the Troy-based attorney, a resident of Grosse Pointe Shores, represented the likes of artists such as Bob Seger and Kid Rock.

Use a Law Degree to Enter Environmental or Entertainment Fields
U.S. News & World Report (blog)
If you have a question about law school, E-mail me for a chance to be featured next month. This week, I will address questions from readers about pursuing environmental and entertainment law.

Fashion Law News

Minnetonka’s Trademark Suit Against Target Tip-Toes Away http://t.co/sF6vtszP via @FemmeLegale

VIDEO: First Ever Northern California Fashion Law Panel Produced …
First Ever Northern California Fashion Law Panel

Following the Dress Code: Fundamentals of Fashion Law with BK
February 13th – 6:00-8:00pm 2 MCLE Credits (Professional Practice) 123 Remsen Street, BrooklyModerator: Allegra Selvaggio, Esq.

About The Author

David M. Adler, Esq. is a 2012 Illinois SuperLawyer, author, educator, entrepreneur and partner with Leavens, Strand, Glover & Adler, LLC, a boutique law firm in Chicago, Illinois created with a specific mission: provide businesses with a competitive advantage by enabling them to leverage their intangible assets and creative content in order to drive innovation and increase overall business value.

Trademark Services & Searches

When Should I Conduct a Trademark Search & How Are They Done?

The original version of General Electric's cir...

The original version of General Electric’s circular logo and trademark. The trademark application was filed on July 24, 1899, and registered on September 18, 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are There Limits to What is Discovered In a Trademark Search?

Is Registration Required For Trademark Rights?

Can Misspelled And Slang Words & Phrases Be Trademarks?

Does Use of a Trademark Confer Common Law Rights?

A Trademark Application Has Been Abandoned, Does That Mean I Can Use The Trademark?

When To Conduct A Trademark Search.

Sometimes the firm of Leavens, Strand, Glover & Adler, LLC (“Firm”) is called upon to perform trademark searches or trademark application filings. However, it is vital to understand the limits inherent in the process and the ability to determine the availability of any given trademark. The Firm NEVER conducts a search to determine, or opine on, the availability of any given trademark unless specifically engaged to do so.

A Trademark Search should always be conducted well before one begins using a trademark. For example, if  you are planning a marketing campaign around a name or phrase, you should make sure that the proposed mark is “clear”, i.e., no one else is using anything “confusingly similar” for the same or similar goods and services. Failure to clear a mark for use can lead to claims for damages for infringement and/or dilution, loss of goodwill and loss of the goods themselves, not to mention loss of the time and expense creating, developing and marketing the product or service.

Trademark Searches Have Limits.

Although the search process is intended to reduce the potential for infringement and dilution claims, the risk of challenge to an application, registration or mere use of a mark is never completely eliminated. Even an especially thorough search may not uncover every potentially conflicting mark.

Registration Is Not Required For Trademark Rights.

Registration with the Trademark Office is not a prerequisite to obtaining trademark rights in the U.S. Many valid trademarks exist at common law without ever appearing on the federal trademark register. Some appear in state trademark registrations (although these registrations do not always reflect actual use); others are not registered at all.

Misspelled And Slang Words & Phrases May Be Trademarks.

Trademarks are source identifiers. therefore, to the extent that a trademark is distinctive, identifiable and memorable it is more protectable. Brand names often incorporate deliberate misspellings, puns, slang, and other variations on otherwise common words. Although a search would attempt to retrieve corrupted spellings, word plays and colloquialisms, there is no guarantee that all such variations will be found. As an additional precaution one should consider a search for foreign language equivalents and other variants on a proposed mark.

Mere Use of a Trademark Confers Common Law Rights?

Although some effort should be made to conduct a “common law” search using Internet search engines and news databases, this is not always conclusive of common law use. Since these databases were not expressly designed for trademark searching, there is no guarantee that all common law uses, corrupted spellings, irregular spacing or punctuation, or other variations will be identified.

The Existence of a Live or Abandoned Application Is Not a Legal Opinion About The Right to Use a Trademark Registerability, Strength or Weakness.

Please note that filing an application to register a federal trademark is not a legal opinion about the registerability of any particular trademark, the right or absence of the right to use a trademark, the strength or weakness of any trademark registration or application, or the likelihood that any third party may, or may not, seek to register a similar mark, seek to oppose any application, or seek to cancel any registration.

We welcome your comments and feedback!