The case I am blogging about today, illustrates why federal registration is so important and how failing to register a mark can have devastating effects for your business. See Jean Leon, S.L. v. La Scala Restaurants, Corp., Opposition No. 91241804 (July 22, 2020) [not precedential], where an opposition was sustained despite the Applicant having senior common law rights. The Applicant was seeking to register the mark JEAN LEON’S LA SCALA for restaurant and cafe services and the registrant filed a Notice of Opposition. The Registrant/Opposer owned the mark JEAN LEON for wines. The Applicant opened a restaurant under the name JEAN LEON’S LA SCALA in Beverly Hills and started using the mark in 1962 but did not register the mark.
Clearly Applicant is the prior user of the mark at common law for restaurant services. However, that fact does not help Applicant with regard to the issue of priority in the opposition. Section 2(d) of the Trademark Act prohibits registration of a trademark if a mark resembles another mark as to cause confusion. See 15 U.S.C. §1052(d). One must remember that the policy behind Trademark law is not only to prevent consumer confusion, but it is also to encourage registration of marks.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit declared in part: “the board’s requirement that the registrant-opposer also be a prior user impermissively negates the statutory distinction (“or”) in Section 2(d) between a registered mark and a previously-used-but-unregistered mark, would permit simultaneous registration of the same mark for the same goods to different parties, and disregards–in effect conflicts with–Patent Office Rule 2.106(b), which forbids any attack (other than a request for cancellation) on the validity of a registration in an opposition;”, see King Candy Co., v. Eunice King’s Kitchen, 496 F.2d 1400, 182 USPQ 108, 110-11 (CCPA 1974). Therefore, Applicant’s prior use at common law is irrelevant to the question of whether Applicant can register its mark with the USPTO.
This highlights an important lesson that a senior first user must either oppose a confusingly similar mark when it publishes, or initiate a cancellation proceeding within five years from the registration date, or else the first user can lose the opportunity to effect cancellation. The first user of the mark is then penalized by the law and is unable to register its mark. However, the right to exclusive use may be determined in district court. If an opposition is sustained, then the Applicant-senior user is forced to undertake the financial burden to initiate a court action.