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The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the “CAFC”) affirmed the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s (the “Board”) decision refusing to register the marks CORN THINS and RICE THINS for snack foods, and vacated the Board’s decision dismissing a claim that these same marks were generic. See Real Foods Pty Ltd. v. Frito-Lay North Am., Inc., Case Nos. 17-1959-2009 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 4, 2018). The Board not only held that the marks CORN THINS and RICE THINS were merely descriptive, but that the marks also failed to acquire distinctiveness.  See also the matter finding PRETZEL CRISPS to be generic for pretzel crackers. It is time for the snack industry to pay attention to the past, and consider adopting inherently distinctive marks.

The evidence showed the sales figures were not high, and a relatively small amount of funds were spent on advertising and marketing. Frito-Lay opposed the marks CORN THINS and RICE THINS, arguing that the marks should either be held generic or merely descriptive without a finding of secondary meaning (acquired distinctiveness). As part of the evidence submitted into the record, Frito-Lay produced a survey showing only ten percent of consumers associated the marks with a particular source. The CAFC determined that CORN THINS and RICE THINS were not only merely descriptive of snack foods, but in fact the marks were highly descriptive. In certain cases, five years of substantial and continuous use can allow a mark to acquire distinctiveness when the mark is not inherently distinctive, but this is not the case where the mark is found to be highly descriptive of the goods. The Court stated that an applicant’s burden increases when the mark is highly descriptive. In other words, a more descriptive mark requires more evidence of secondary meaning.

Real Foods argued that the marks were suggestive. Suggestive marks are inherently distinctive trademarks requiring imagination, thought and perception to determine the nature of the goods. Real Foods was hoping for a reversal of the descriptiveness finding, as was made in In re Panasonic Avionics Corp., Serial No. 86499954 (January 5, 2017) [not precedential]. The snack company attempted to convince the CAFC that there was a double entendre associated with the marks. Real Foods argued that the marks CORN THINS and RICE THINS not only conveyed that the snack food was of a physically thin nature, but it was a diet friendly and low calorie snack. The evidence below explains why this argument failed.

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In a recent case decided by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board” or the “TTAB”), the applicant argued that its proposed mark, ATHLETE INTELLIGENCE was suggestive of the goods requiring the consumer to use a multistep reasoning process. See In re i1 Sensortech, Inc., Serial No. 87249539 (November 9, 2018), where the Board determined that the mark ATHLETE INTELLIGENCE in standard characters for a monitoring device worn by a person to measure the effects of physical impacts, biometric data, physiological data etc., was merely descriptive of the identified goods, and not suggestive. The refusal to register was thus affirmed on appeal. Descriptiveness is a ground often cited for refusal by Examining Attorneys, to view other common grounds asserted by the USPTO for refusing registration see the firm’s web page entitled, Common Grounds For Refusal Of A Trademark.

There were a couple of interesting evidentiary issues to address in this appeal. In its reply brief, the applicant requested that the Board take judicial notice of its registration that was issued by the European Union Intellectual Property Office for the same mark and the identical goods. The Board pointed out that it has a practice of not taking judicial notice of third party registrations. This is done to encourage applicants to raise these matters during prosecution where it can be more readily resolved, and to avoid unnecessary appeals. The Board referred to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Manual of Procedure §1208.04, and denied the request for judicial notice.

The Examining Attorney also objected to the applicant submitting hyperlinks to news articles in its reply brief. The Examiner stated that this evidence should have been submitted in the prosecution’s record, and applicant could not at this late date bolster and expand the record with hyperlinks to additional evidence. The Board agreed, and did not consider the news articles. Also, merely providing hyperlinks is not an acceptable method for making the information or “linked material” part of the record.

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Typically, trademark applications and registrations can be assigned in whole or in part. For general information on trademark assignments, see the web page entitled, Trademark Assignments, where important concepts such as the chain of title and recording an assignment are discussed. However, there are special rules for intent-to-use applications under §10 of the Trademark Act. The statute is referred to as the anti-trafficking provision of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1060(a)(1). It specifically states:

[N]o application to register a mark under section 1051(b) of this title shall be assignable prior to the filing of an amendment under section 1051(c) of this title to bring the application into conformity with section 1051(a) of this title or the filing of the verified statement of use under section 1051(d) of this title, except for an assignment to a successor to the business of the applicant, or portion thereof, to which the mark pertains, if that business is ongoing and existing.

The policy behind the statute is to ban assignments of intent-to-use applications (prior to the filing of an Allegation of Use or Statement of Use), unless the application is assigned with the business associated with the mark. Assuming there is an ongoing and existing business, the assignee of the intent-to-use trademark application, must purchase the whole business (assets, business location if one exists, employees etc.) affiliated with the mark. If the assignment is held to be invalid, it will void the underlying application or registration under §10 of the Trademark Act. See Clorox Co. v. Chem. Bank, 40 USPQ2d 1098 (TTAB 1996).

The following factors will be considered when determining if the assignee is a successor to the business of the applicant, was there a transfer of the business and the good will of the trademark, is there continuity of management, is the assignee producing products or rendering services similar to the applicant, has there been a transfer of assets, and are there documents supporting these facts. The fact finder will look to determine if the assignment was part of a larger transaction between the applicant and the assignee. In the matter of Central Garden & Pet Company v. Doskocil Manufacturing Company, Inc., 108 USPQ2d 1134 (TTAB 2013) [precedential], this was part of the problem. An assignment was recorded with the Assignment Division of the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”), but the assignment constituted the entire agreement between the parties, and was not part of a more significant transaction. In this case, the assignee was not the successor to the business of the applicant. In fact, the Assignor continued in the same business after the transfer, including producing and selling the same products branded with the mark that was the subject of the assignment.

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In a recently issued Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB” or the “Board”) decision, we are reminded that using a geographically descriptive term in a trademark may risk a refusal by the Examining Attorney and the Board could affirm the refusal. See In re National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, Inc.Serial No. 87228944 (September 14, 2018) [not precedential], where the applicant in an effort to reverse the Examining Attorney’s refusal put forth several losing arguments to the Board. A mark is merely descriptive under Section 2(e)(2) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(2) when it immediately conveys information concerning a feature, purpose, function, characteristic, quality or ingredient of the goods or services. In re Engineering Systems Corp., 2 USPQ2d 1075 (TTAB 1986). The test is once a consumer knows what the product or service is, will the trademark convey information about the goods or services. A mark will also be considered merely descriptive if it describes the types of consumers or the uses of the goods or services.

The Examining Attorney must establish the following elements:

(1) the primary significance of the term in the mark is the name of a place generally known to the public;

(2) the source of the goods and/or services is the place named in the mark; and

(3) the public would make an association between the goods or services and the place named in the mark by believing that the goods or services originate in that place.

A public association will be presumed if there is no dispute about the geographic significance being the primary significance and the goods or services originate from the geographic place named in the mark, and if the geographic location is neither obscure nor remote. To learn more about descriptive marks, see our web page entitled, Trademark Application Refusal Based On Descriptiveness or Deceptiveness. The test for geographically misdescriptive marks is similar to the test above. The primary significance of the mark must be a known geographic location, the goods or services do not originate from the place named in the mark, but purchasers are likely to believe they would, and this fact is a material consideration when deciding to buy the goods or services. See the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure Section 1210.01(b).

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The applicant in this matter, American Cruise Lines, Inc. is seeking registration of the mark, AMERICAN CONSTELLATION (standard characters) for cruise ship services, transportation of passengers by ship and conducting cruises for others. The Examining Attorney refused the application based on a likelihood of confusion with the registrant’s marks, CONSTELLATION and CELEBRITY CONSTELLATION, both in standard characters for the same cruise ship services. The Examining Attorney requested that the word “American” be disclaimed, but applicant submitted evidence that it had acquired distinctiveness. The claim of distinctiveness was based on use in commerce with four U.S. registrations using the term “American” for cruise ship services. The Examiner accepted the evidence. The applicant voluntarily disclaimed the right to use the term “Constellation”. After refusing the application, the Examining Attorney denied applicant’s request for reconsideration, and the applicant appealed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board” or the “TTAB”). See In re American Cruise LInes, Inc., 128 USPQ2d 1157 (TTAB 2018) [precedential].

The Examining Attorney as part of its review considered two consent agreements (agreeing to use and registration of the mark AMERICAN CONSTELLATION) submitted by the applicant. Consent agreements are relevant under the du Pont factors. It bears on the market interface between an applicant and a registrant. See our webpage entitled, Resolving Trademark Disputes Without Litigation, for general information on consent agreements, and other means used to resolve these types of disputes.

Typically, the Board addresses the other relevant du Pont factors first, then determines the importance of the consent agreement. Regarding services, those are identical in this matter so there is a presumption that trade channels and classes of consumers are the same, weighing in favor of confusion. Regarding conditions of purchase, applicant submitted affidavit evidence that purchasers of its services exercised a heightened degree of care when purchasing cruise ship services. Affidavit evidence is to be considered probative in nature in an ex parte proceeding, if the affidavit refers to matters known or observed by the affiant.

Regarding similarities between the marks, the marks share the common term, Constellation. This is an arbitrary word used in conjunction with cruise ship services, and will be given broad protection. There is no per se rule that calls for a finding of confusion when a junior user’s mark incorporates the entire mark of the senior user, but certainly this increases the likelihood of confusion. The Board determined the marks were very similar in sound, connotation, appearance and commercial impression.

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A recent decision issued by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB” or the “Board”) finds women’s athletic clothing and bicycle clothing related to electric bicycles for purposes of likelihood of confusion. The Applicant filed a trademark application for the mark LUNACYCLE in standard characters on the Principal Register for electric bicycles and related parts (frames and motors) in international class 12. The Examining Attorney refused the application citing the registration for the mark LUNA in a stylized format, view the stylization here,  for women’s bicycle clothing and clothing accessories in international class 25. Applicant appealed to the Board. See In re Cycles, Serial No. 87132160 (September 18, 2018).

The marks at issue must be considered as a whole and not dissected. More or less weight may be given to a particular aspect of the mark or a particular feature. Therefore, the visual appearance may be enough to conclude the marks are similar, the sounds of the marks when pronounced may be sufficient, the meanings of the marks in and of itself may be adequate to determine that this du Pont factor favors finding a likelihood of confusion. In re Nat’l Data Corp., 753 F.2d 1056, 224 USPQ 749 (Fed. Cir. 1985). Applicant argued that his mark incorporated the word lunacy, but there was no reason to believe consumers purchasing bicycles would perceive the term LUNACYCLE  as “lunacy cle”. The Board pointed out that there is no correct pronunciation for a trademark, and that it is more likely that consumers of bicycles would understand that the mark represented two words Luna and Cycle. Moreover it is likely that the consumer would focus on the arbitrary word Luna and less significance would be given to the generic word cycle.

In regard to the registrant’s mark, even though it contains a word LUNA and design features, the word is considered the dominant element of the mark, since consumers will use the word element to request the goods. Therefore, the term LUNA is the dominant feature of both marks. The rectangular feature of the mark is quite common and thus, not given much weight in the commercial impression, similar to a descriptive word that is disclaimed in a trademark. The Board concluded that the design features in registrant’s mark did not lessen the similarities between the marks, and that the similarities weigh in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion.

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It is significant that the Board designated the opinion, In re FabFitFun Inc., Serial No. 86847381 (August 23, 2018), a precedent of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB” or the “Board”). The applicant was seeking to register the mark, I’M SMOKING HOT in standard characters for various cosmetics, make-up, fragrances, nail preparations and toiletries. The Examining Attorney refused the registration based on the registered mark for SMOKIN’ HOT SHOW TIME in standard characters for cosmetics and mascara. Applicant appealed the likelihood of confusion refusal to the Board.

In likelihood of confusion refusals not all du Pont factors are relevant in every case, only certain factors will be considered based on the factual circumstances. The relatedness of the goods will be considered based on how the goods and/or services are identified in the application or registration. See In re Dixie Rests. Inc., 105 F.3d 1405, 41 USPQ2d 1531, 1534 (Fed. Cir. 1997). See also, Stone Lion Capital Partners, LP v. Lion Capital LLP, 746 F.3d 1317, 110 USPQ2d 1157, 1161 (Fed. Cir. 2014). In the case at bar, the applicant’s and registrant’s goods include cosmetics. A single good from among a list can sustain a finding of likelihood of confusion. Tuxedo Monopoly, Inc. v. Gen. Mills Fun Grp., 648 F.2d 1335, 209 USPQ 986, 988 (CCPA 1981). Because the goods are in part identical, the trade channels are presumed to be the same, as well as the classes of purchasers. This du Pont factor weighs in favor of confusion.

Regarding the similarities of the marks, this factor is analyzed while keeping in mind that consumers only remember a general and not a specific impression. Also, another important rule to consider is if two marks share a common term, and the common term is  generic, descriptive or highly suggestive of the named goods or services, then it is less likely consumers will be confused unless the other elements of the mark share additional commonalities. Therefore, analysis of the shared term will play a critical role. Is the shared term, “Smoking Hot” strong or weak?

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Applicant sought to register a standard character mark, SQUEEZE JUICE COMPANY for fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, juice bar services, smoothie bar services, and cafe services. Applicant received a refusal as to both classes due to a likelihood of confusion with the cited registration, SQUEEZE in stylized lettering with a design of a goblet and a lemon being squeezed above the goblet, compare the marks. The cited registration identified juice bar services and bar services. The applicant appealed the refusal and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board” or the “TTAB”) reversed the refusal. See In re Boston Juicery, LLC, Serial No. 86877537 (August 21, 2018) [not precedential].

Both applications cited “juice bar services” therefore the services are identical in part. In addition, the Examining Attorney produced third-party website evidence that demonstrated that juice is commercially related to juice bar services. Since the services are identical, there is a presumption that the consumers and the trade channels are the same. Therefore, the two du Pont factors, of relatedness of the goods and services, and the similarity of the trade channels favor a finding of likelihood of confusion.

Next the Board evaluated the marks. It held that the design element only emphasized the literal meaning of the term “Squeeze.” The large lettering of the literal term “Squeeze” in Registrant’s mark causes the trademarks to be similar in sound, appearance, meaning and commercial impression. Both marks communicate the message that the goods and/or services will include freshly squeezed juice. This factor also weighs in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion. This case is unusual because once a determination is made that the marks are very similar, the goods and/or services are related, and the trade channels are the same, it is unlikely that the Board will reverse a 2(d) refusal based on the other du Pont factors. Here a single du Pont factor is dispositive, outweighing the other factors.

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A few weeks ago the Board issued a decision in In re Vox Media Inc., Serial No. 87099703 (July 18, 2018) [not presidential]. This case is instructive on multiple general rules that are commonly applied by the Board when determining if there is likelihood of confusion between the sources of two marks. In this case, the Examining Attorney refused the applicant’s mark on the grounds of likelihood of confusion. The decision sets forth rules that practitioners and applicants must keep in mind when clearing trademarks, filing for trademarks, responding to office actions, and lastly when determining if an appeal or an opposition or cancellation should be filed. The marks in the instant case are CODE2040 (the cited registrant’s mark) and CODE (the applicant’s mark).

The services for CODE2040 are: “Educational services, namely, providing internships and apprenticeships in the fields of engineering and technology; educational services, namely, providing workshops, classes, and retreats in the fields of leadership, business, entrepreneurship, technology, engineering, design, job searching, job interviewing skills, and professional networking”.

The services for CODE are: “Educational services, namely, arranging, organizing, and conducting educational events, conferences, seminars, and symposia in the fields of media, technology, business, commerce, consumer products, entrepreneurship, startup businesses, enterprise technology, digital technology, and mobile platforms.”

Goods and services are compared by the identifications set forth in the applications and registrations. See Stone Lion Capital Partners, LP v. Lion Capital LLP, 746 F.3d 1317, 110 USPQ2d 1157, 1161 (Fed. Cir. 2014). Extrinsic evidence will not be viewed, only the language used to identify the goods and services in the application or registration is relevant. See In re I-Coat Co., LLC, 126 USPQ2d 1730 (TTAB 2018). As long as there is overlap in any one good or service the other goods or services need not be examined, because likelihood of confusion will be found in connection with the class of goods or services with any overlap at all. See In re Wacker Neuson SE, 97 USPQ2d 1408, 1409 (TTAB 2010).

Since the services were identical in part and overlapping, special rules apply. the Board presumes the distribution channels and the classes of consumers are the same. See Citigroup Inc. v. Capital City Bank Group, Inc., 637 F.3d 1344, 98 USPQ2d 1253, 1261 (Fed. Cir. 2011). In addition, the Board will also require a lesser degree of similarities between the marks. See Coach Servs., Inc. v. Triumph Learning LLC, 668 F.3d 1356, 101 USPQ2d 1713, 1721 (Fed. Cir. 2012). Thus, in the case at bar, the second and third du Pont factors weigh in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion.

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I have written several blog posts on this top, and it is important to continue to discuss what documentation is required if an applicant must prove they possessed a bona fide intent to use a mark in commerce. See my blog posts entitled, Federal Circuit’s View Of Lack Of Bona Fide Intent To Use, and Should An Entire Application Be Voided If A Bona Fide Intent To Use Is Lacking, for more on this topic. An applicant filing a trademark application based on the 1(b) basis (intent to use a trademark in commerce) must submit a verified statement to this effect. The United States Patent & Trademark Office (the “USPTO”) will typically accept this statement without question. However, a third party may raise this issue in a challenge to the validity of the trademark application. If a party cannot overcome the challenge, an applicant or registrant may lose its trademark rights.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “TTAB” or the “Board”) has not issued a plethora of decisions on this issue, but there are some decisions that provide guidance. Initially, the burden is on the opposer to demonstrate that the applicant does not have documentary evidence to support the claim of a bona fide intent to use. If the applicant cannot prove through objective evidence (most often documentation) that it’s intent existed, then the Board may sustain the opposition or cancel the registration. If there is no objective evidence, the Board may even grant summary judgment to a movant. A party may rely on documentary evidence used after the filing of the trademark application. However, having documents substantiating this position dated before the filing of the application will be strong evidence of a party’s intent.

A trademark application in the name of the mark identifying the goods or services or the trademark clearance search for the same, without more will not be sufficient evidence of an applicant’s bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce. See Swiss Grill Ltd., John Hartwig, Christopher Hartwig and Mathhew Hartwih v. Wolf Steel Ltd., 115 USPQ2d 2001 (TTAB 2015) [precedential]. However, in the cited case of Swiss Grill Ltd. et al, there was no documentary evidence of record to support the bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce.

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