- Posts by Patrick J. ConcannonPartner
Patrick J. Concannon is a partner in Nutter's Intellectual Property and Corporate and Transactions Departments, with over 20 years experience devoted to helping businesses establish and protect their brands, including more than ...
You don’t need to register a trademark to establish and assert trademark rights in the U.S. Merely using a mark commercially so that consumers come to view the mark as identifying a source is enough to qualify for protection. So, given the prospect of enforceable unregistered rights (known as “common law” rights), why bother with federal trademark registration expense and effort? There are number of good reasons beyond the most obvious one – use of the ® symbol alongside your mark.
The word “brand” has come to be used broadly as a business buzzword, and with good reason. A brand often is comprised of a company name or a product name - but it is much more than that. It is a projection and reflection of goodwill. It is a promise, a feeling, an ethos, a lifestyle statement. It acts as a reassuring signpost for consumers in a busy marketplace, signaling a trusted source and a consistent level of quality.
Successful brands are not attention-grabbing gimmicks. A product or service name, however clever, merely is a shell, and hopefully that shell is filled with and overflows with positive consumer sentiment that results from a consistently good user experience – whether that experience is eating a taco, using a travel booking website or interacting with an accounting professional.
This blog post is an introduction to a series of posts that address legal brand protection. Legal measures cannot provide the most fundamental underpinnings for a successful brand, such as quality, consistency, authenticity and good timing in terms of meeting a market demand. Legal measures can, however, position businesses to stake out, defend and protect their brands. Legal brand protection measures include pre-filing and pre-use diligence, registration and policing, and each of these categories involves an array of nuanced considerations that this blog series will address.
Website or information “service providers” who in the past have made hard-copy filings to designate agents to take advantage of the “safe harbor” liability shield provision under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) must re-register electronically by December 31, 2017 to maintain their status.
There are occasions where displaying another company’s trademark is desirable. Whether that type of trademark use is lawful generally is a subjective, fact-specific determination under both United States and European Union law. A recent United Kingdom appeals court decision is instructive.
U.K. Court Ruling
The decision stemmed from a trademark infringement lawsuit brought by BMW against a London auto repair shop. The U.K. appeals court, applying E.U. law, handed BMW a victory. The appeals court, overruling a High Court of Justice decision, held that the shop’s use of the phrase “Technosport - BMW” infringed BMW’s European word mark “BMW.” Not at issue on appeal was the lower court’s finding that Technosport’s use of BMW’s famous “Roundel” logo “would lead the average consumer to believe that [Technosport] was an authorized dealer.” The appeal instead focused on Technosport’s use of the BMW acronym in plain text immediately after its trade name, in particular on the top portion of the back of its service trucks, as shown in the image below.
Technosport had successfully argued before the lower court that its use of “BMW” was merely descriptive of the fact that it had experience servicing BMW cars, and thus non-infringing.
The appeals court, however, found that “putting BMW immediately after the shop’s name isn’t merely a description of the business’s services.” The appeals court expounded on the distinction between permissible descriptive use and impermissible infringing use under E.U. law through examples: Suggesting or implying “my business provides a service which repairs BMWs” is permissible. In contrast, suggesting or implying “my repairing service is commercially connected with BMW” is not. Once a use crosses the line to suggest a connection with the trademark holder, the use is no longer a non-infringing descriptive use.
The U.K. appeals court ultimately found that Technosport’s use of BMW infringed because it would likely lead the average consumer to believe that the shop has a commercial connection with BMW, despite no evidence of actual consumer confusion. Technosport’s use was therefore not merely “informative.” Indeed, one of the reasons the appeals court overturned the lower court’s finding of non-infringement was the lower court’s undue focus in its decision on the lack of actual evidence of consumer confusion.
How Can One Use Another’s TM in the U.S. without “Crossing the Line?”
While the case above was decided in the United Kingdom under E.U. law, the principle applied is similar to that applied in determining the “fairness” of use of another’s mark in the United States. The concept, labeled “informative use” under E.U. law, is known as “referential use” or “nominative fair use” under U.S. law.
A leading case under U.S. law for determining whether a given use of another’s trademark merely refers to another’s mark in a “fair” way or, instead, crosses the line and suggests affiliation or sponsorship is New Kids on the Block. That decision established a three pronged test for determining if a use is fair, namely:
Nominative fair use is available as a defense to trademark infringement where the defendant uses a trademark to describe the trademark holder’s product or service and (1) the product or service in question is not readily identifiable without use of the trademark, (2) only so much of the mark or marks may be used as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service, and (3) the defendant does nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder.
Introducing the three prong test, the 9th Circuit in New Kids affirmed a lower court’s finding that a publisher’s use of the NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK band trademark was a non-infringing, fair use. The publisher had displayed the mark in conjunction with a phone-in poll (callers were charged a fee to participate) asking readers to chime in with opinions about the group.
It is important to note that use of another’s logo, as opposed to a plain text mark, is more likely to be deemed to suggest sponsorship or affiliation with the trademark holder under the test.
* * * * *
It can be entirely lawful to use another’s mark within marketing materials, for example, in the comparative advertising context, etc. At the end of the day, however, the three prong legal inquiry into whether a use qualifies as fair requires a subjective determination that is best assessed from the perspective of an experienced trademark attorney.
 See Bayerische Motoren Weke AG v. Technosport London Ltd.  EWCA Civ 779, No. A3 2016 1801.
 Id. at 308.
The author would like to thank legal intern Liza Hadley for her assistance with this blog entry.
The Supreme Court held in Matal v. Tam that the Lanham Act’s provision forbidding the registration of disparaging trademarks is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment. The Court explained that “[s]peech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”
Imagine you’re a fashion designer with a unique clothing design. As with any other business, you wish to protect your intellectual property through the standard combination of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Sounds simple, right?
Wrong! There is no one-stop shop for protecting your intellectual property and, until recently, the law was not completely on your side. Though a single garment may be the result of a single creative process by a designer, multiple mechanisms may be needed to protect the design of that garment. One of those mechanisms—copyright law—historically has presented a significant hurdle to protecting fashion designs. The Supreme Court, however, recently clarified and expanded how copyright law can be leveraged to protect designs, often quickly and relatively inexpensively.
Below is a high-level overview of the various legal forms of protection for the fashion industry and what those legal mechanisms cover.
Last month the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("the Office") announced its cooperation in a Department of Justice investigation into a trademark scam perpetrated by two California men that defrauded about 4,446 people of $1.66 million. Trademark scams have been steadily on the rise over the past few years, which we have previously written about here. The current investigation resulted in the arrest of Artashes Darbinyan and Orbel Hakobyan, both of Glendale, CA, and their guilty pleas to charges of mail fraud and money laundering.
Introducing a new how-to series about how to build a brand. Please check back periodically for the next article in our on-going series.
Nutter’s series on building a brand began with the selection of a trademark and the process of formally protecting a mark via trademark registration. More recent articles in the series have addressed policing a brand, proper trademark usage, and brand considerations in the social media environment. This article, the last in the series, focuses on additional post-registration considerations, namely: (1) exploiting your mark through licensing, including important quality control considerations; (2) applying to register branding elements in addition to the core plain text mark to enable more effective policing of your brand’s entire commercial impression; and (3) assessing the unauthorized use of your brand by third parties (or using another’s mark without authorization) for purposes of determining whether such uses are “fair” or, on the other hand, harmful and actionable.
To read more, click here.
What to Do Once Your Trademark Registers—The Brand & New Media
Eleventh in The Series
Nutter’s series on building a brand began with the selection of a mark and the process of formally protecting it via trademark registration. At this point in the series, the mark is registered and ready for use and investment to elevate it into a brand. One area that can impact your brand is the use of your mark in “new media,” such as the Web and social media services. New media works differently than anything that has come before and there is a great deal to consider, from reserving domains and usernames to monitoring use—both your own and others’—across these mediums.
To read more about building a brand through new media, please click here.
What to Do Once Your Trademark Registers – Avoiding Genericism and Dilution
Tenth in The Series
As discussed in the previous article in Nutter’s IP Branding Series, monitoring competitors’ use of your marks and marks possibly akin to your marks, and enforcing your rights in your marks against those competitors, is an important aspect of protecting and building your brand. Equally important is policing your own use of the mark, the use of your mark by licensed third parties, and the use of the mark by third parties that are neither competitors nor licensees. The graveyard of brands that were arguably too successful because the brand name became genericised is fraught with lessons to be learned in protecting the use of your mark. Dilution is also a concern, although it is becoming increasingly more difficult to successfully show that your mark is being diluted or tarnished.
Click here to read more about guarding against your mark joining the generic graveyard.
Our prior article in the series addressed the basics of what to do once your trademark registers, focusing mainly on your own use of the mark and supplemental submissions required to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in connection with your registration. Of course, your mark does not exist in a vacuum, and another category of activities you should undertake once your trademark registers involves monitoring the USPTO and other trademark offices for other potentially confusing or otherwise problematic marks and, where necessary, taking action to defend your mark. We also begin to address enforcing your mark through litigation, a vast topic that will be explored further in future articles.
To read more about monitoring, defending, and enforcing your mark, click here.
What to Do Once Your Trademark Registers – The Basics
Eighth in The Series
Following the conclusion of trademark prosecution, your certificate of registration has arrived in the mail. Now what? Over the course of the last three articles in our series, we will tackle this one, not so simple question. While a brand is nothing more than a mark (trademark or service mark) that has done well in life, like life, success comes with a little luck, and plenty of planning. Thus, obtaining the registration is truly just the beginning of your path to building a successful national or global brand. The present article will start with the basics—what you need to do to keep and maintain the trademark(s) you obtain.
To read more about keeping and maintaining your registered trademark(s) to help build and sustain your brand, click here.
Considering Your Brand during Trademark Prosecution
Seventh in The Series
The articles in our May and July editions of the IP Bulletin addressed eight of the most commonly asked questions that arise when completing a U.S. trademark application filing. Once the application has been filed with the USPTO, substantive examination by an examining attorney from the USPTO will commence in due course. In stark contrast to the long waits experienced by patent applicants, the average time between application filing and the issuance of a first Office Action is only 2.8 months at the time of this publication. There are many reasons why an examining attorney may initially reject a trademark application. When building a brand, an applicant should give special consideration to the response strategy before replying to any Office Action.
To read more about branding considerations when prosecuting trademarks, click here.
The article in our May edition of the IP Bulletin addressed four of the eight most commonly asked questions that arise when completing a U.S. trademark application filing. More particularly, we considered the trademark application form that should be used, the classes of goods or services to include in the application, the items included in the description of goods and services, and appropriate and acceptable specimen of use to be included as part of the application. The other four most commonly asked questions are tackled in this article, including: (5) should I include color or design features as part of my trademark application; (6) what is my filing basis; (7) what is my date of first use; and (8) what other considerations should I be making when preparing my U.S. trademark application?
To read more about the essentials of a filing U.S. trademark application, click here.
This fifth installment of Nutter’s continuing series on building a brand focuses on the essentials of filing a U.S. Trademark Application. The four commonly asked questions addressed in this article are: (1) what trademark application form should I use; (2) what classes of goods or services should I include in my application; (3) how do I decide what items I should include in my description of goods and services; and (4) what is an appropriate and acceptable specimen of use? Questions pertaining to color and design features, filing basis, dates for first use, and other considerations that should be made when preparing a U.S. trademark application will be included in our July edition.
To read more about the essentials of filing a U.S. Trademark Application, click here.
Where to File a Trademark Application: A Territorial Question
Fourth in The Series
Once you’ve checked off the five “Cs” and decided on the trademark you want to protect as part of building your brand, you next must decide where you want to file for protection. You see, even though Thomas Friedman has been driving the globalization “Lexus” since before the 21st century, and the reaches of the geography-obliterating, all-encompassing Internet and Mother Web connects Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, trademark rights themselves remain territorial. A single trademark application will not provide global property rights. This fourth article of Nutter’s branding series explores a trademark applicant’s various options regarding where to file a trademark application.
To read about three important territorial questions to consider when preparing a trademark application, click here.
Five “Cs” to Check-Off Your List Before You Decide on Trademarks
Third in The Series
This third installment of Nutter’s continuing series on building a brand focuses on considerations you should undertake before finalizing your selection of trademarks to build your brand. Before filing, consider taking the following five preliminary steps: (1) coordinate your efforts; (2) construct your trademark strategy; (3) conceive the overall design; (4) conduct a preliminary search; and (5) consider contacting an intellectual property professional. If you follow the five “Cs,” you can reduce the chances of finding yourself back at the drawing board coming up with a new idea for a trademark.
To read about how the five “Cs” can help make sure your branding strategy is on the up-and-up, click here.
Nutter's IP Bulletin How-To Series on Branding: Trademark Strong (or Weak?)
Second in The Series
This second installment of Nutter’s continuing series on building a brand begins to address issues faced by businesses in selecting a trademark. In particular, the issue of trademark strength is examined, as it can be an important factor in a branding campaign’s success.
To read more about the impact of trademark strength on mark selection, click here.
What is a Brand?
First in The Series
Branding is often an important part of commercial success for a company, product, or line of products. However, there is often confusion surrounding how to go about identifying potential brand names, selecting the best one, protecting that name, and enforcing protective rights to avoid losing the brand’s unique association with the product. In a series of articles in the next several IP Bulletins, Nutter will address these various legal aspects of branding. Today, we start at the beginning with a discussion of what a brand is, and how it relates to the legal world of trade and service marks.
To read more about branding, click here.
The U.S. Commerce Department recently released a comprehensive report, entitled “Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: 2016 Update” (the “Report”). The Report, which was co-authored by the Economics & Statistics Administration and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, builds upon an earlier 2012 report, finding that “IP-intensive industries continue to be a major, integral and growing part of the U.S. economy.” The Report provides a wealth of quantitative information and analysis on the value of trademarks, copyrights, and patents to the U.S. economy. Key findings include:
The public comments have been considered and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rule changes proposed in April 2016 and summarized in this blog post have been confirmed with only minor exceptions. The new rules will be effective on January 14, 2017, and will apply to all opposition and cancellation proceedings active on that date or subsequently filed.
Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.