Bicycles and Snack Bars Related Because Some Retailers Sell Both

"TREK snack bar packaging related to bicycles"

Most bicycle manufacturers do not make bicycles and snack foods. In fact, in a recent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision there was no evidence presented of a bicycle manufacturer also owning a federal trademark registration for the same mark in connection with any type of snack food. Nevertheless, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board held that bicycles and snack bars are related goods.

Natural Balance Foods Limited sought to register the mark TREK for a variety of snack bars. The Trademark Office approved the TREK mark for opposition and Trek Bicycle Corporation (“Trek”) timely opposed the registration of Natural Balance Foods’ mark. Trek alleged that the TREK mark for snack bars was likely to cause confusion with its prior registered marks for TREK in connection with bicycles, online retail store services, and powders used in the preparation of sports drinks and energy drinks.

Based on the goods descriptions alone, snack bars, bicycles, online retail store services, and sport drink powders are different goods. However, when no restrictions are identified in the goods or services descriptions, these different goods are deemed to travel in all normal channels of trade and appeal to all classes of consumers. Natural Balance Foods made it easy for Trek to win its case.

Trek offered several third-party websites that sold bicycles and snack bars. The snack bars sold by the retailers were a different brand owner from both the retailer and bicycle manufacturer. But the fact that these goods were sold by the same retailer was enough for the Board to conclude that the channels of trade overlapped. And because the marks were identical, this overlap was enough for the Board to conclude that a likelihood of confusion was likely.

This decision highlights the challenge for trademark searchers. It is not enough to rely on the good or services descriptions because on their face these descriptions may lead to an incorrect analysis. It is imperative to consider past decisions to determine whether a relatedness finding had been found.

Evidentiary Mistakes Haunt NABOSO Application

"NABOSO product packaging"

Naboso Technology, LLC filed a trademark application to register the mark NABOSO (in standard characters) for “orthotics for feet,” rubber flooring, and “yoga mats.” Naboso Technology identified in its application that the English translation of NABOSO is BAREFOOT. The Trademark Office refused registration of Naboso Technology’s mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with prior registrations for the mark BAREFOOT in connection with orthotics, rubber flooring, and yoga mats.

Naboso Technology did not attempt to narrow its goods descriptions and make a corresponding amendment to the descriptions in the cited registrations. Therefore the goods were deemed to be related, travel in the same channels of trade, and appeal to the same class of consumer. Not a good start for Naboso Technology.

Naboso Technology decided to make the conceptual weakness argument, and was on the right path because it submitted 11 third-registrations for marks containing the term BAREFOOT. However, there was a cloud over what appeared to be sufficient evidence because Naboso Technology did not properly introduce its evidence.

To make third-party registrations of record, that status and title copy of the registration must be introduced. Offering the registration certificate is insufficient. Additionally, lists of third-party registrations are also insufficient. Nevertheless, Naboso Technology made both mistakes. The only reason any of its third-party registration evidence was considered was because the Examining Attorney did not object to it.

When it came to commercial strength, the Board did not give many of the third-party registrations any weight because Naboso Technology did not introduce evidence of use for most of these marks. This was a costly mistake because instead of having 11 third-party registrations to rely on the number dropped to four, which was well below the 10 minimum.

The Board next considered the third-party registrations with respect to the conceptual strength of BAREFOOT mark. The lack of use evidence negatively impacted the conceptual strength argument as well brining the number of third-party registrations below 10. The Board also found that the third-party registrations demonstrated that BAREFOOT was a suggestive. Overall, the Board found that the BAREFOOT mark was not weak.

Finally, the Board turned to the similarity of the marks. Applying the doctrine of foreign equivalents, the Board found the the marks were confusingly similar. The outcome may have been different if the strength factor had come out in favor of Naboso Technology because Czechoslovakian is not a common language in the U.S.

North Carolina Jury not Kind to Walmart in BACKYARD Lawsuit

"Woman counting money as jury orders Walmart to pay $95.5M"

About a month ago we talked about the trademark infringement loss Walmart suffered over its use of the BACKYARD GRILL mark. We reported that in the first case, Walmart was ordered to pay Variety Stores $32.5M. Walmart successfully appealed this decision and the case was retried before a jury. The jury found in favor of Variety Stores and the case entered the second phase where the jury would decide how much Walmart is obligated to pay Variety Stores.

The jury has spoken and has ordered Walmart to pay Variety Stores $95.5M. This is a little less than three times the $32.5M a judge ordered Walmart to pay Variety Stores in 2016. This is one of the larger damage awards involving trademark infringement, but million dollar and multimillion dollar damage awards are not uncommon in trademark infringement cases.

On August 22, 2018, DatabaseUSA.com, L.L.C. was ordered to pay Infogroup, Inc. $4M for the trademark infringement claim and $43.6M for the unfair competition claim. On July 31, 2017, iShow.com was ordered to pay Lennar Corp. $5.5M for its trademark infringement. On October 5, 2016, Costco Wholesale Corporation was ordered to pay Tiffany and Company $15.8M for trademark infringement.

Walmart made the decision to adopt a mark with known words and that shared the dominant term BACKYARD with another trademark owner. From a trademark searching perspective, marks comprised of known words generally exist to a certain degree in a crowded field. If you layer in international markets on top of it, the probability of finding a mark that is 100% in the clear in every jurisdiction is extremely low. When a trademark owner decides to adopt a mark with known words, the owner needs to accept some amount of risk and work to put himself and herself in the best defensible position should an issue arise.

A New Trend for the Relatedness of Goods or Services Factor?

"White Horse Auto dealership related goods or services to car washes"

A recent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision involving car dealerships and car washes may signal a change in how the Board will assess the relatedness of goods or services likelihood of confusion factor. White Horse Auto, LLC filed a service mark application to register the mark WHITE HORSE AUTO (in standard characters) for “automobile dealerships.” White Horse Wash, LLC opposed the registration of White Horse Auto’s application on the ground of priority and likelihood of confusion.

Not surprisingly, the Board found that the marks were virtually identical. And White Horse Auto failed to demonstrate that the WHITE HORSE phrase was diluted for automobile related goods and services. Ultimately, this case came down to whether the services at issue were sufficiently related to likely cause confusion.

The Board held that providing automobile-related services by the parties was not enough by itself to establish the services at issue were related. “A finding that the goods are similar is not based on whether a general term or overarching relationship can be found to encompass them both.” This a departure from cases the TTAB decided as early as last year. For example, in the SONIA SONI LIFE IS A RECIPE, the broad description “spices” was enough for the Board to conclude that the applicant’s goods covered the registrant’s goods. The only time the Board departed from this interpretation was when the goods or services descriptions at issue were vague or involved technical goods.

In the present case, there is nothing vague nor technical about “automobile dealerships” or “car washes,” nor is either description vague. Nevertheless, the Board looked at the real world marketplace to determine what the actual services were. And based on the similarities the Board found in the circumstances surrounding the marketing of the two marks, the Board concluded the services at issue were related. Unfortunately for White Horse Auto, its application was denied registration. But if at first you don’t succeed, it’s okay to try again.

More importantly for trademark searchers, could we be seeing a change in how the Board assesses the relatedness of the goods and services factor? This is definitely an issue to watch in 2019 as the Board decides more cases because the relatedness of goods or services factor is critical to not only conducting trademark searches but also assessing whether a likelihood of confusion exists between two marks.

Visual Similarity Sinks SEXIFIT Trademark Application

"Sexifit logo refused primarily because of visual similarity"

SEXIFIT is the name of a workout program primarily directed at women that focuses on strength and core. The workout was developed by a former NFL and NBA dancer. The name is a composite word comprised of a spelling variation of SEXY (i.e., SEXI) and FIT to form the unitary mark SEXIFIT. Unfortunately, the Board’s primary focus on visual similarity would lead to the downfall of a trademark application that included this term.

Procheer Fitness and Dance filed an application to register the mark THE OFFICIAL SEXIFIT & Design mark in connection with “providing fitness instruction services in the field of dance, and physical fitness.” The United States Patent and Trademark Office examined the application and finding no likelihood of confusion issue, published the mark for opposition.

During the 30 day opposition period, ICON Health & Fitness, Inc. opposed the registration of Procheer’s mark alleging it was likely to cause confusion with its prior registrations for IFIT. ICON Health & Fitness owns several fitness brands: Nordictrack, Freemotion, Proform, and iFit. The iFit brand is a mobile application combined with a virtual personal trainer. Although in the fitness or exercise field, a fitness class is different than personal training and definitely appeal to different classes of consumers.

Nevertheless, none of these limitations appeared in THE OFFICIAL SEXIFIT & Design application nor in any of the IFIT registrations. Accordingly, because the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board was forced to compare fitness and exercise with fitness and exercise, it had to conclude the services at issue were related. However, what was abnormal was the Board conclusion that ICON’s IFIT mark was famous for fitness instruction services when all the evidence presented demonstrated that IFIT may be famous for fitness equipment. Fame is not transferable this way.

When it came to the similarity of the marks, the Board gave no consideration to the difference in meaning between the THE OFFICIAL SEXIFIT & Design mark and IFIT mark. Likewise, it gave no consideration to the phonetic dissimilarity between SEXIFIT and IFIT. For trademark searchers, this is an example that visual similarity between two marks is generally the most important consideration when evaluating two marks.

The Board also ignored the design elements in the SEXIFIT & Design mark stating that the literal element is the most important because consumers use words to order and refer to goods and services. Focusing on the literal portion of the mark, the Board found that ICON’s entire IFIT mark was incorporated into the SEXIFIT portion of Procheer’s mark. This is another example for trademark searchers to pay attention to. If a prior registered mark is subsumed in its entirety in the mark you are searching and you can’t find dilution or have credible argument about the unrelatedness of the goods or services at issue, then the mark likely is unavailable.

Accordingly, primarily focusing on visual similarity, the Board granted ICON’s opposition and denied registration of Procheer’s THE OFFICIAL SEXIFIT & Design mark.

How Wild Card Symbols Can Improve Your Searching

"TEABLEE tea strainer would have been found using wild card"

Spend a little time learning how to use wild card symbols and logical operators in your search equations and you will improve the accuracy of your search results. And they really are not that complicated to use. Using truncation symbols is something that could have benefitted Lawrence Charles before he spent what had to be thousands of dollars on his failed attempt to register the TEABLY mark.

Mr. Charles sought to register the mark TEABLY (in standard characters) for “tea-based beverages” in International Class 30. The Trademark Office refused registration of this mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with the prior registered mark TEABLEE for, among other goods, “tea infusers . . . tea strainers . . . tea balls . . . tea caddies . . . tea canisters . . . tea sets” in International Class 21. Mr. Charles never amended his goods description to reflect the actual nature of his tea-based beverage, and as a result it was an easy refusal for the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to affirm.

Unfortunately for Mr. Charles, this refusal could have been avoided from the beginning with a proper trademark search. It is important to spend time considering the possible variations of a proposed mark. Once you have identified the possible variations, you can bet there is another variation out there that you did not identify. The way we guard against this possibility is through the use of truncation symbols.

Wild card symbols differ by the databases you are using, so it is important to review whatever key is available to explain the wild card symbols for that database. In the case of BOB’s database, the $$ wild card symbol will look for unlimited space and non-space characters. For Mr. Charles’ search, the mark would have looked like TEABL$$. Considering the similarity of the marks only, this search would have retrieved the prior registered TEABLEE mark.

Mr. Charles likely included in his search equation International Class 30 because that is where his tea-based beverage would be classified. This was his second mistake because focusing on International Classes instead of relatedness of goods is wrong. As we saw in his case, goods classified in International Class 21 were found to be related to his tea-based beverage in International Class 30. That’s why BOB focuses on relatedness of the goods not International Classes when it conducts a trademark search.

If the TEABLEE mark was returned as a potential knockout it does not mean that Mr. Charles could not move forward with his TEABLY mark. What it means is that he needs to be prepared for a refusal and start the application on the right foot.

Walmart Loses Lengthy Trademark Infringement Lawsuit

"Walmart's Backyard Grill mark at the center of trademark infringement lawsuit"

Walmart’s recent trademark infringement lawsuit loss demonstrates the importance of trademark owners understanding their branding risk tolerance during the naming stage. In this case, Walmart had a high branding risk tolerance that will likely end up costing it millions of dollars.

In about 2011, Walmart Stores went down the path of launching a new line of barbecue products. The new mark it decided to adopt was BACKYARD GRILL. According to the most recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Walmart instructed its trademark attorneys to conduct a trademark clearance search for this new mark. It’s trademark attorneys warned Walmart of a potential conflict with a prior registered mark THE BACKYARD (in standard characters) for “retail store services in the field of lawn and garden equipment and supplies” owned by Variety Stores, Inc.

Walmart made the decision not to follow its trademark attorney’s advice and filed an intent-to-use trademark application for:

Mark Image

in connection with a variety of goods and services including “barbecues and grills” and “retail store services featuring a wide variety of consumer goods of others.” With such a broad identification of goods and services descriptions, Variety Stores’ THE BACKYARD mark should have been cited against the registration of Walmart’s pending application. Surprisingly, Walmart’s BACKYARD GRILL mark sailed through the examination phase and was published for opposition where Variety Stores promptly opposed its registration.

The dispute did not stop there, nor did it deter Walmart’s plans to use the BACKYARD GRILL mark. A little over three years after the opposition proceeding commenced, it was suspended for a lawsuit filed by Variety Stores against Walmart alleging trademark infringement.

In 2016, Walmart lost the lawsuit and was ordered to pay Variety Stores $32.5 million dollars. This amount was a disgorgement of the profit Walmart had earned on its BACKYARD GRILL products. However, this award was reversed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on the ground that the case should have gone to the jury. The case was retried in front of a jury in October 2018 and the jury found that Walmart willfully infringed Variety Stores’ THE BACKYARD trademark. Now the case moves into further proceedings to determine Variety Stores’ monetary compensation.

Consumers likely to confuse Complimentary Goods Wine and Cigars

"Alec Bradley Star Insignia cigars complimentary goods to wine"

Joseph Phelps Vineyards, LLC won its appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and its case was remanded to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. This time the Board granted Joseph Phelps Vineyards’ petition for cancellation finding that wine and cigars are complimentary goods.

Fairmont Holdings, Inc. sought to register the mark ALEC BRADLEY STAR INSIGNIA (in standard characters) for, among other goods, “cigars.” The Trademark Office approved the registration of the ALEC BRADLEY STAR INSIGNIA mark and party, including Joseph Phelps Vineyards, opposed the registration of the mark. A little over a year after the mark registered, on May 17, 2013, Joseph Phelps Vineyards petitioned to cancel the ALEC BRADLEY STAR INSIGNIA registration. The proceeding lasted almost 6 years – Yikes!

There is a lesson here for trademark owners. Getting the registration does not mean you are safe. A registration remains vulnerable to a likelihood of confusion claim for five years following the registration date.

With respect to the relatedness of the goods factor, Joseph Phelps Vineyards offered several Web pages that advertise or promote cigar bars, cigars, wine bars, wine stores, and events featuring wine and cigars. It also offered evidence of flavored cigars infused with wine. Because the evidence showed that wine and cigars are used together, the Board found they are complimentary goods. This is consistent with the Board’s prior decision finding cigars and different spirits to be complimentary goods.

Joseph Phelps Vineyards mark consists solely of the word INSIGNIA and while Fairmont Holdings mark was the composite phrase ALEC BRADLEY STAR INSIGNIA it was not limited to any particular presentation and could be depicted with the word INSIGNIA larger than the word STAR. Joseph Phelps Vineyards argued that INSIGNIA in fact appears larger than STAR on the cigar labels and Fairmont Holdings’ specimen of use confirmed this.

INSIGNIA was not descriptive, generic, or diluted. Therefore, Fairmont Holdings could not avoid a likelihood of confusion by adopting Joseph Phelps Vineyards’ entire mark and adding subordinate matter. There is another lesson for trademark searchers. Unless your search reveals that the common element among the marks at issue is diluted, it is best to steer clear of the mark.

WeWork is Expanding its Current Family of Marks

"WeWork sign on building that is part of a family of marks"

WeWork announced that a rebrand will follow the latest investment by Soft Bank in the company. Following the investment, WeWork will change its name to THE WE COMPANY. In a blog post, the company said:

“The We Company’s guiding mission will be to elevate the world’s consciousness. Living a conscious life means choosing to live proactively and with purpose. It means being a student of life, for life, where we accept that we are always growing and in a constant state of self-discovery, self-growth, and change.”

This sounds like a great mission statement although it is not entirely clear how THE WE COMPANY conveys this better than WeWork. The more likely reason for the rebrand is the company is growing its divisions and THE WE COMPANY better conveys this change in their business, which is a smart change.

THE WE COMPANY is creating a family of WE marks. WeWork operates individual and enterprise office. WeLive are residential living communities. WeGrow are early education schools. Additionally, WeBank, WeSleep, and WeSail are in the works. “A family of marks is a group of marks having a recognizable common characteristic, wherein the marks are composed and used in such a way that the public associates not only the individual marks, but the common characteristic of the family, with the trademark owner. Simply using a series of similar marks does not of itself establish the existence of a family. There must be a recognition among the purchasing public that the common characteristic is indicative of a common origin of the goods.”

Marketed the right way, a family of marks increases the conceptual strength of a trademark, which is a good thing. As trademark searchers, it is also something we need to be aware of. More often than not, it is a good idea to avoid adopting a mark that may be misconstrued as being part of another party’s family even if the goods or services appear to be unrelated to the family.

J/P HRO Nonprofit’s Rebrand to CORE

"cancer fundraising with lollipops example of a nonprofit rebrand"

Following the disaster in Haiti, Sean Penn started an organization to help the devastated country. He named his organization J/P HRO. Nine years later, J/P HRO is getting a new name: CORE. According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, in addition to continuing to help Haiti, the organization will also focus on helping other communities facing disasters in the Caribbean.

Unlike some of the rebrand examples that made the worst list in 2018, Sean Penn’s organization decided to shed its acronym for a word that better represents the organization’s image. The move was a good one. CORE is a better name than J/P HRO, but is it available?

Protecting the service mark rights of a nonprofit that performs its actual service in a foreign country can be tricky. Because trademark rights are territorial, use of a trademark in foreign country cannot support United States trademark rights. But some activities of this type of organization occur in the United States such as fundraising. Using a service mark in the United States to raise money for the organization can be protected.

Unfortunately, CORE, by itself, may not be available for fundraising services. The Silicon Valley Common Core Initiative has registered its mark for the broad description “charitable fundraising and charitable fundraising services.” This description is broad enough to cover raising money for Haiti and other Caribbean countries and the CORE word is encompassed in its entirety in the prior registered mark.

In situations like this, it would be wise for Sean Penn to make a couple changes. First, consider adding some words to CORE. Preferably, the added words will be inherently distinctive not descriptive or generic. But even descriptive and generic words are considers when assessing the overall commercial impression of a mark.

Second, be more specific about the type of fundraising the organization is doing and the cause it is supporting. This is an important first step in avoiding a potential dispute with the prior registered mark.