Petition Started Over Disney’s HAKUNA MATATA Trademark

"Disney Hakuna Matata t-shirt"

Using a foreign word in the United States as a trademark is a common naming practice. Sometimes, the foreign word possesses a cache that its English counterpart does not. Depending on the word, this practice can have some negative consequences.

In August of 2018, we saw the outrage from Hawaii when a Chicago-based restaurant chain tried to tell a single location Hawaiian restaurant it could not use the word ALOHA as part of its business name. And as 2018 was drawing to a close, we saw the same outrage against Disney manifested in a petition posted on the website. The petition was started by Shelton Mpala and has 178,813 supporters.

The problem, as Shelton Mpala sees it, is that “Hakuna Matata” is a Swahili phrase that translates to “no trouble” in English. It is a word that has been used by most Kiswahili-speaking countries and Disney’s trademarking the word is stealing a portion of African culture.

Disney has trademarked the phrase HAKUNA MATATA for t-shirts. But Healthy Pride Supplements has trademarked the same phrase for “multi-vitamin preparations; vitamin supplements; dietary and nutritional supplements” and another company has trademarked the phrase for wedding planning.

Trademarking a foreign word does not mean the word cannot be used in any context or any purpose. What it means is that in a commercial context on certain goods and services, prospective purchasers have the right not to be confused between the goods or services being offered in the marketplace. After all, trademark law is a consumer protection law.

In the case of Disney, that does not even mean that HAKUNA MATATA can never be used on a t-shirt by anyone. A purely ornamental as opposed to a trademark use of the phrase HAKUNA MATATA is allowed despite Disney’s trademark rights.

Nevertheless, while the Chicago-based restaurant may have had a better argument regarding the use of ALOHA by another restaurant, companies choosing to adopt foreign words as their trademark in the United States need to consider the non-trademark backlash that may result because of the general misunderstanding of trademark rights.

KFC’s Unique Brand Extension: a Fire Log

"KFC brand extension into a fire log"

Kentucky Fried Chicken a/k/a KFC took its brand to a whole new level with the KFC fire log. Now, you can have the smell of KFC’s fried chicken not just at dinner time, but all day long. At least you could have had that smell if you were lucky enough to get your hands on one. Apparently, the KFC fire log sold out in hours.

KFC’s decision to launch a fire log under its well-known KFC brand is a bold, but helpful brand extension. It is helpful because brand extensions increase the strength of the mark. The more opportunities consumers have to encounter a mark, the more likely they are to associate the mark with a single source.

It is also a common misconception that a trademark must be used at all times otherwise the trademark rights are abandoned. A trademark must be continuously used, but that use needs to be consistent with the nature of the goods or services being offered for sale. In this case, KFC is offering the logs for a limited time. So long as KFC repeats this activity in 2019, it will be able to maintain its trademarks rights for KFC in a fire log.

Another good example of this are businesses at county or state fairs. There are several businesses that exist solely to sell their goods for a limited time during a state or county fair. But they do this every year and don’t lose their trademark rights when the fair closes for the year.

What is also interesting about the article is KFC’s statement that “[t]he smell of the Colonel’s Original Recipe fried chicken is unmistakable.” This statement suggests a non-traditional trademark in the form of a smell. The definition of a trademark in the Trademark Act is extremely. It says that anything can function as a trademark provided it is capable of distinguishing and indicating the source of goods or services. If the smell of the Colonel’s fried chicken is unmistakable, then pursuing non-traditional trademark protection may be worth considering. These types of trademarks generally require more effort to protect, but they are a great addition to any trademark portfolio.

Study Shows Correlation Between A Trademark Filing And Growth

"working paper title about the benefits of a trademark filing"

When dealing with intangible property, it is often hard for a business owner to understand why money should be spent on, for example, a trademark filing. Obtaining a trademark registration can be expensive depending on the path the business owner chooses when starting the trademark registration journey. And the effects of that decision to make a trademark filing may go unnoticed or the positive effects of that decision may be misattributed to something else in the business.

A working paper titled An Anatomy of U.S. Firms Seeking Trademark Registration was recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, and it may provide the clarity and understanding business owners need to see that a trademark filing makes a business money. The working paper was also released in perfect timing with the U.S. Senate’s Resolution to Increase Trademark Protection Awareness.

The study created a new dataset by combining the USPTO trademark filing data with firm characteristics, performance, and dynamics in the United States as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. The paper then provided a first look at the connection between a trademark filing and the broader measures of firm outcomes.

The study found that a trademark filing is highly correlated with the ultimate success of an early entrepreneurship activity including employment and revenue growth. Firms that do not apply for a trademark registration in their initial years are unlikely to do so unless they experience employment growth. However, difference-in-differences analysis suggests sizable treatment effects, with firms making a trademark filing having substantially higher employment and greater revenue in the period following the first trademark filing.

Hopefully, this paper will be peer-reviewed and ultimately validated because, if accurate, it provides businesses with the most valuable justification for protecting a trademark: namely, that it likely will make you money.  More businesses need to recognize the importance of filing trademark applications and the data suggests that too few businesses understand this. According to the Kauffman Startup Index in 2017 there were about 540,000 new business owners each month during the year. That means for the entire year there were about 6.5 million new business owners in 2017. However, through the third quarter of 2018, there are only 480,111 new trademark applications that have been filed in 2018.

Every business, whether a startup or established enterprise, should pursue trademark protection for not only its business name, but also the names of its goods or services. But if you are going to spend the money to protect your brand, you might as well do it wisely. Engage a naming firm to help with the design of a new name and conduct a trademark search to make sure the name is available.

Trademark Licenses In Bankruptcy May Be Changing

"Bankruptcy petition may be changing for a trademark license"

When a trademark owner licenses its rights to another then subsequently files for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee has the option to reject the trademark license. To reject, rather than assume, the trademark license means to terminate the license agreement. In this situation, the trademark licensee has no option to continue using the trademark. The trademark license is simply terminated. Generally, trademark licenses are rejected by a bankruptcy trustee when the agreement stands in the way of a restructuring.

This treatment of trademarks in the Bankruptcy Code is different from the other forms of intellectual property. When copyrights, patents, and trade secrets are involved, while the bankruptcy trustee can reject the license agreement, the licensee can elect to continue to use the intellectual property provide the royalty payments and other obligations under the license are followed.

For some Courts, this different treatment of intellectual property rights was wrong, so they treated trademarks like the other forms of intellectual property under the Bankruptcy Code. For other Courts, the language in the Bankruptcy Code was clear and Congress by its words decided to treat trademarks differently from the other forms of intellectual property. Mission Product Holdings, Inc. recently filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States to resolve the split among the Courts.

The International Trademark Association filed an Amicus Curiae (i.e., Friend of the Court) brief in favor of the U.S. Supreme Court taking the case. According to INTA, allowing trademark licenses to survive bankruptcy will result in a stronger trademark system that will increase the royalties trademark licensees are willing to pay.

There is no question that it is the trademark licensor’s obligation to ensure a certain level of quality in the licensed goods or services is maintained. In some cases, a trademark licensor can satisfy this obligation by relying on its relationship with the licensee. But the types of relationships that allows for this quality control delegation are few in number. If a trademark licensor fails to engage in actual quality control, the result can be an abandonment of all trademark rights.

The difficult question is whether a debtor trademark licensor should be obligated to incur the expense of engaging in quality control if the trademark licensee wants to continue using the trademark. If the Supreme Court takes the case and decides that trademarks should be treated like other intellectual property, then it may make sense to negotiate in any trademark licenses that the licensee must pay the costs for the debtor trademark licensor to exercise it quality control obligations in addition to any royalties owed.

Multiple Colors Not An Inherently Distinctive Trademark

"Forney Mig Wire multiple color product packaging not an inherently distinctive trademark"

Oberlo blogged about the Color Psychology, which is the important role color plays in how consumers perceive a brand. According the post, color affects our day-to-day decisions including what items to buy. The Drum also wrote about blue being the dominant color used by global industries. Because of its importance in the purchasing decision, more companies should consider protecting colors as trademarks. However, not as many as you think attempt to do this because obtaining a trademark registration for a color – as a non-traditional trademark – can require some effort.

Recently, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board addressed, for the first time, whether multiple colors applied to product packaging can be an inherently distinctive trademark or if the colors must acquire distinctiveness. Forney Industries, Inc. – manufacturer of welding and abrasives tools, equipment, and accessories – applied to register the colors black, yellow, and red applied to packaging for a variety of welding and abrasives goods. The Trademark Office refused registration of Forney’s mark on the ground that the multiple colors is not an inherently distinctive trademark.

Color applied to product packaging is treated the same as color applied to a product and because color applied to a product can never be an inherently distinctive trademark, color applied to product packaging can never be an inherently distinctive trademark. This does not mean that color can never function as a trademark for a product or its packaging, but that color must acquire distinctiveness. It is not immediately protectable as a trademark. And there is no meaningful distinction between a single color or multiple colors when applying this principle.

This case involved color in the abstract. If Forney had applied the multiple colors applied to well-defined shape, pattern, other distinctive design, then the color applies to that extra matter could be inherently distinctive. But since Forney did not argue in the alternative that its multiple color mark had acquired distinctiveness, the Board affirmed the refusal to register Forney’s multiple color mark.

Trademark Office Continues Fight Over FUCT Mark

"FUCT logo on a hat is scandalous according to the Trademark Office"

The United States Trademark Office is fighting for its decision to refuse registration of the mark FUCT for “Athletic apparel, namely, shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hats and caps; Children’s and infant’s apparel, namely, jumpers, overall sleepwear, pajamas, rompers and one-piece garments” on the ground that the mark is vulgar; thus, scandalous. Recently, the USPTO filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court asking that it review the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that held registration refusals on the ground of scandalousness violates the free speech right of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

We previously discussed the timing of the recent decisions involving Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act and the impact Federal Circuit’s decision would have on trademark searching if the decision stands. And the reason we discussed in that prior post is the argument the Trademark Office is making in its Petition to the Supreme Court. Section 2(a) will not prevent trademark owners from using immoral or scandalous terms as trademarks, it will simply prevent the trademark owner from receiving certain benefits from the Trademark Office that are afforded to registered trademarks.

When the In re Tam decision resulted in disparaging words no longer being off-limits for trademark registrations, we did not see a rash of new applications for disparaging marks. Similarly, it seems like the only person who took advantage of the Federal Circuit’s decision on immoral and scandalous terms was Erik Brunetti himself who filed five new trademark applications for or containing FUCT.

It is hard to imagine that the Supreme Court is going to make a meaningful distinction between disparaging terms and immoral or scandalous terms. Nevertheless, if the Trademark Office is successful, the concern about having to consider scandalous or immoral terms in a trademark search will remain.

Trademark Fair Use Protects Use of LOL, WTF, FML, and NBD

"Procter & Gamble products fair use to register WTF, NBD, and FML for these products"

Trademark fair use is an important concept that trademark owners should be aware of when selecting a new name. It is a lesson that can be learned form the Procter & Gamble’s attempt to register some common acronyms. Procter & Gamble made a lot news recently about trademarking popular millennial messages like LOL, WTF, FML, and NBD. Procter & Gamble filed trademark applications for these acronyms in connection with soap and other household cleaners. The majority reaction at the attempt at trademarking these acronyms has been negative with a hint of criticizing P&G for being self-righteous. How can a big company like Procter & Gamble think that they can own a trademark for common phrases like LOL, WTF, FML, and NBD? These comments stem from a misunderstanding of what is required to establish trademark rights in the first place.

We have discussed before that there is no such thing as a trademark right in gross. In other words, trademark rights must be in some thing either a physical good or service. In this case, Procter & Gamble will use the LOL, WTF, FML, and NBD acronyms in connection physical goods soap and other household cleaners. These goods are the starting point for its rights in these acronyms. Where the rights go from there is anybody’s guess, but given the proliferation of the use of these acronyms, the smart money is on Procter & Gable’s rights remaining limited to soap and other household goods.

Another misconception about Protecter & Gamble’s attempt at trademarking LOL, WTF, FML, and NBD is that no one else will be able to use these acronyms in connection with soap and other household goods. While Procter & Gamble may obtain trademark registrations, these acronyms clearly have a descriptive aspect. Individuals and companies are free to exploit the descriptive aspect of these acronyms even if the context of this use is in connection with soap or household cleaners. This principle is called is classic fair use, and is an issue trademark owners need to understand exists when they adopt words or phrases with known meanings as their trademark.


"New York Mayor Bill de Blasio Promises Made Promises Kept similar to President Trump's campaign slogan, which is not copyright protected"

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a speech at the site of what will be a new school in Brooklyn. His podium was placed in front of a sign with the campaign slogan PROMISES MADE PROMISES KEPT, which also appeared on a nameplate directly below the microphone. President Trump Tweeted his reaction to the speech by accusing Mayor de Blasio of stealing his campaign slogan and saying he has no “imagination.”

Unfortunately for President Trump, there is no such thing as campaign slogan misappropriation, and he has not sought to protect the PROMISES MADE PROMISES KEPT slogan has his trademark. The dispute between President Trump and May de Blasio is like the Seinfeld episode involving George Costanza and the name Seven. But this is an important principle for others to be aware of when having brainstorming sessions or casual conversations with others about potential names.

A slogan like PROMISES MADE PROMISES KEPT can be protected as a trademark if:  (1) it is attached to a good or service; (2) is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of others; and (3) is used in interstate commerce. Once these elements are satisfied, then the slogan owner has some legal recourse against another party that may use a confusingly similar slogan to deceive consumers. But if these elements are not met, then there is no actionable claim for trademark infringement or unfair competition.

In the case of copyrights, copyright protection does not extend to titles, names, slogans, or short phrases. Copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, software, and architecture. There is no copyright protection available for the PROMISES MADE PROMISES KEPT slogan.

What you need to do to protect your naming ideas is to treat them as a trade secret or other proprietary information. If you are in the business of naming, this means having Non-Disclosure Agreements with clients or including confidentiality terms in service contracts that requires the other party to acknowledge your exclusive ownership of the name and to refrain from using the names not chosen from the short list.

If you are an entrepreneur kicking around names over a couple beers or cups of coffee with friends, advisors, or anyone that will listen to you, having a signed agreement first is not going to happen. What you need to do is exercise some discipline about what information you disclose. Or at least make sure you can trust the people you are sharing the names with will not try to usurp the name for their own venture.

Did Pepsi Pay $3.2B to Bury the SODASTREAM Brand?

"SodaStream Logo purchased by Pepsi"

Pepsi announced that it was paying $3.2B cash to buy SodaStream, which sells machines that carbonate water as well as syrups that can be added to create different beverages. Some commentators have lauded the move as another way for Pepsi to diversify its holdings away from soda, which now account for less than 25% of its sales. Or was this a strategic play in response to Dr. Pepper Snapple Group’s merger with Keurig Green Mountain in July 2018? With Nestle and Starbucks entering their multi-billion dollar trademark license deal in May 2018, Coca Cola may be scrambling to find an entrance to the at home beverage market.

In 2017, SodaStream International earned $543.37m in revenue. While a large number, it is largely insignificant to Pepsi that had $63.53 billion in revenue in 2017. Under the circumstances, it is entirely possible that Pepsi’s purchase of the company was to prevent someone else (i.e., Coca Cola) from purchasing it first.

If Pepsi decides to bury the SodaStream brand, it is worth looking at exactly what it is giving up. According to its trademark filings, SODASTREAM (Stylized) in the form consumers recognize it has been around since 2009. But the mark was actually first registered by Sodastream Limited, a British company, on September 23, 1969. The identification of goods description reads “apparatus used in the manufacture of soft drinks and carbonated waters, namely, mixing, carbonating, and bottling machinery, and parts therefor” and “soft drinks and concentrates therefor.” Impressively, the registration claims a date of first use as early at 1904 (i.e., over 114 years). In 1999, SodaStream International’s predecessor in interest acquired the registration from Sodastream Limited.

It goes without saying that 114 years is a very long time and generally time is the friend of strong trademark rights. Given that the SODASTREAM mark has been around for over a century, Pepsi likely will not bury the brand as some commentators have speculated.

What Trademark Searchers Need to Know About Use in Commerce

"woman spooning samples of guacamole showing use in commerce of the Wholely Guacamole trademark"

In the United States, trademark rights are created through use in commerce not registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This is why all new businesses or current businesses launching a new product are advised to pay for comprehensive searches. But even an expensive, comprehensive search is incapable of finding every possible threat to a proposed trademark. And here is why, the amount of use in commerce required to establish trademark rights in the United States, assuming the mark is inherently distinctive, is not as much as the average trademark searcher would think. In fact, the required amount of use in commerce is much lower.

This was an issue the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board addressed recently in Dexas International, Ltd. v. Ideavillage Products Corp. Ideavillage Products applied to register the mark SNACKEEZ DUO for beverageware and food containers. Dexas International opposed the registration of Ideavillage Products’ mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with its common law mark SNACK-DUO for food and drink containers.

Ideavillage Products filed its SNACKEEZ DUO application on December 5, 2014 on an intent-to-use basis. Dexas International made the first sale of its SNACK-DUO food and drink container in January 2015, but claimed its trademark rights began in July 2014 based on the interstate shipment of two samples bearing the SNACK-DUO mark to a retailer.

It is well settled that use of a mark in a manner analogous to technical trademark use may furnish a valid basis for claiming priority and maintaining an opposition. Thus, even before proper trademark use in commerce commences, advertising or similar pre-sale activities may establish priority if they create the necessary association in the mind of the consumer. There is specific percentage or number of consumers required to associate the mark with the goods based on the pre-sale activity. Rather, the United States Court of Appeals has simply said that it must be:

more than insubstantial and more than negligible.

As you can imagine, what this means has been decided on a case-by-case basis, and often times requires a very fact intensive inquiry because priority is critical to bringing and maintaining an infringement lawsuit in District Court or proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

In the Ideavillage case, the Board found that the two samples served a commercial purpose because the retailer eventually placed several more orders for the product. Therefore, the Board found that the priority date for the SNACKEEZ DUO mark was July 2014.

As a trademark searcher, if you were searching a mark similar to the SNACKEEZ DUO mark in 2014, there is no way you would have found Ideavillage’s mark. While the decision talks about other pre-sales activity Ideavillage engaged in, it does not say when these activities occurred. It is precisely because the level of use in commerce necessary to establish trademark rights is so low, that no trademark search, irrespective of its price, is capable of finding every possible conflict with a proposed mark. But the place a trademark searcher must absolutely search is the United States Patent and Trademark Office.