Limitations in Goods Descriptions Must be Meaningful to be Effective

"Richard Rawlings' Garage goods descriptions limitation was not meaningful"

You do not have to look far to find a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision that says the Board will not read a limitation into a goods descriptions where an express limitation does not exist. In fact, we have several blog posts this past year that touch on or directly address this principle. By now, readers of this blog know that broad goods descriptions cannot stand in the wake of a dispute with another mark. In order to succeed, the goods descriptions in the marks at issue must conform to the market place reality of the goods being offered.

The Board recently reiterated the importance of making meaningful limitations in goods and services descriptions in order to avoid potential disputes. Richard Rawlings’ Garage, LLC applied to register the mark RICHARD RAWLINGS’ GARAGE (in standard characters) for “headgear, namely, hats, caps, bandanas and beanies; hooded pullovers; hooded sweatshirts; jackets; pullovers; sweatshirts; t-shirts; tank tops; socks; underwear; all of the aforementioned goods bearing ornamental designs that associate the goods with the persona of Richard Rawlings or his business.”

The Trademark Office refused registration of this mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with the prior registered mark RAWLINGS for various sports-related apparel. Richard Rawlings Garage’s primary argument against the refusal was that the limitation included in its application sufficiently distinguished its clothing from the sports-related clothing offered under the cited RAWLINGS mark. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board disagreed.

Nothing in Richard Rawlings Garage’s identification stated that its goods cannot, or will not be sold, or worn as sporting apparel. Further, even though some of the owner of the cited mark’s goods were clearly for athletic purposes, not all of the goods were specifically sports-related. The Board must consider separately each item listed in an identification of goods. The fact that some of the  goods may be sports related by their nature does not limit other goods which are of more general use.

Additionally, the restriction had no bearing on the nature of the goods, classes of consumers, or channels of trade. The restriction simply restated what the applied for RICHARD RAWLINGS’ GARAGE mark was going to do, which was to indicate that Richard Rawlings Garage, LLC is the source of the identified goods. Because the restriction did not add a meaningful limitation to the goods description (not to mention the failure of not having a corresponding limitation in the cited marks), the Board affirm the registration refusal.

How to Win the Relatedness of Goods Argument

"jar of Sonia Soni Life is a Recipe spices which won the relatedness of goods factor against Mexican sauces"

Once again we see a trademark applicant trying to win the relatedness of goods argument without first narrowing the descriptions, and trying to win the conceptual weakness argument by not hitting the 10 third-party registration threshold. If you intend to make a real world marketplace argument, then the identifications of goods and services must reflect the real world. Unfortunately, this was a lesson Productos Verde Valle, S.A. de C.V. learned the hard way.

Productos Verde Valle applied to register the mark SONIA (in standard characters) for “sauces; chili sauce; hot sauce.” The Trademark Office refused registration of this mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with the prior registered mark SONIA SONI LIFE IS A RECIPE (in standard characters) for, in relevant part, “spices, spice blends; spice rubs.”

The Trademark Office offered evidence showing the same mark being used for both sauces and spices. This evidence was sufficient to put the Tradmark Office in the first position to win the relatedness of goods argument. Productos Verde Valle argued the goods are unrelated because its sauces are sold as a Mexican food product whereas the SONIA SONI LIFE IS A RECIPE spices were sold as an Indian food product. However, the identification of goods descriptions were unrestricted as to a type of cuisine and an applicant may not restrict the scope of its goods or the scope of the goods covered in the cited registration by extrinsic argument or evidence.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board also noted that certain spices may be used in both Mexican and Indian cuisine. What this last sentence tells is the level of detail that may be required in order to differentiate the goods. In this case, for example, it would have been sufficient to say “Mexican sauces” and “Indian spices.” To win the relatedness of goods argument, it may be necessary to get very detailed about the real world marketplace. This requires examining the goods and services at issue in detail including not only the nature of the goods, but where they are marketed and who the target consumers are.

When it came to the conceptual weakness factor, Productos Verde Valle did not find any SONIA mark only marks that shared the letters “S”, “O”, “N”, and “A.” Unlike what happened in the CARDITONE case a few days ago where the Board refused to give any weight to the 69 CARDIO third-party registrations because the mark at it issue was CARDI, the Board gave some weight to the third-party registrations offered by Productos Verde Valle. Nevertheless, Productos Verde Valle was only able to find four third-party registrations to support its conceptual weakness argument. Accordingly, the Board did not find that the SONIA mark was weak.

Even if it was found to be a weak term, Productos Verde Valle’s mark was incorporated in its entirety in the SONIA SONI LIFE IS A RECIPE mark. If you are going to make the conceptual weakness argument, you must have something to point to that distinguishes your mark from the other mark that shares the weak term. Therefore, the Board affirmed the registration refusal.

Reinforcement that Trademark Classes are Irrelevant

"woman putting postits on a wall showing that trademark classes are irrelevant"

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has said before that trademark classes are irrelevant to determining likelihood of confusion. A recent decision involving the SWISS certification mark reinforces this point. Pearl 9 Group, LLC filed a trademark application to register the mark I.W. SUISSE for “clocks and watches; parts for watches; watch bands and straps; ***; timepiece dial faces, and parts for timepieces ***” in International Class 14. The Trademark Office refused registration of Pearl 9’s mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with the prior registered certification mark SWISS for “horological and chronometric instruments, namely, watches, clocks and their component parts and fittings thereof” in Class A.

The Board held that the classification as a certification mark has very little effect on our determination as to whether or not there is a likelihood of confusion. Because the certification mark owner does not itself use the mark, the question of whether there is a likelihood of confusion is based on a comparison of the mark as applied to the goods or services of the certification mark users.

Using trademark classes in a trademark search only helps to narrow the universe of marks that trademark searchers need to evaluate. From there, the trademark searcher is left to sift through the results using only intuition to determine whether anyone of those marks is likely to prevent the registration of the proposed mark being searched.

And any software program that includes only the similarity of the marks and irrelevant International Class numbers yet provides a “score” for the search results begs the question of what that score represents. If all the search is telling is that there are similar marks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, that information is largely unhelpful and something you can discover by yourself and for free.

And over reliance on trademark classes will result in overlooked trademarks that may be consequential marks in the likelihood of confusion analysis. That may have been the case in the Pearl 9 case. Focusing solely on International Class 14 where jewelry and watches are classified, would have resulted in missing the SWISS certification mark in Class A.

Perplexing Trademark Office: Clothespins Related to Scissors

"man getting a haircut with scissors that were found to be related to clothespins"

A recent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision where the Board found clothespins related to scissors again demonstrates that relying on International Class numbers in a trademark search rather than prior case decisions involving the relatedness of goods factor will lead to wrong search results. Ing. Monika Norkova filed a request for extension of protection of her International Registration to the United States for the mark ZIPZAP (in standard characters) for “drying racks for laundry; clothes[pins]” in International Class 12. The Trademark Office refused registration of this mark.

The Trademark Office argued that Ms. Norkova’s ZIPZAP mark was likely to cause confusion with a prior registered mark ZIPZAP (also in standard characters) for – are you ready – “scissors, in particular hair cutting scissors, manicure scissors, sheet-metal scissors, poultry shears, cable scissors; tree pruning shears; nippers, nail nippers, cuticle nippers; files; utility knives and pliers” in International Class 8.  While it is true that when the marks at issue are identical, less similarity is necessary in order for a likelihood of confusion to exist, one would like to think that hair cutting scissors or tree pruning shears are sufficiently different from drying racks and clothespins that confusion is unlikely.

Despite citing the rule that the words “in particular” clarify and narrow overly broad goods or services descriptions, none of the used based evidence offered by the Trademark Office involve any of the specific types of goods identified in the cited registration. Nevertheless, the Board found that because some scissors are marketed under the same brand as a laundry drying rack, then all scissors must be related in the minds of consumers to laundry drying racks and clothespins.

And what’s even more important is that it does not matter if you agree with the decision or not. In fact, we guess that most people reading this post disagree with the decision. But it’s a decision that is not going to be overturned and that could produce a negative outcome for a naming decision if you are focused on International Class Numbers and not prior case decisions involving relatedness of goods or services findings. In fact, the USPTO does not identify International Class 12 as a Coordinated Class to International Class 8.

TACOLAND Live Music Concerts Are Related to Restaurants

"TACOLAND sign where live music was found to be related to restaurants"

If you read enough decisions from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board involving restaurant services, you would get the impression that restaurants do everything. A recent decision from the TTAB stayed with this trend. TacoLand Holdings, LLC d/b/a TacoLand (standard characters) filed a service mark application for TACOLAND in connection with “entertainment, namely, live music concerts” in International Class 41 and “bar and cocktail lounge services” in International Class 43.

The Trademark Office refused registration of the TACOLAND mark based on a prior registered mark for TACO TIERRA & Design for “restaurant services ” in International Class 43. TACO TIERRA is a traditional Mexican-American restaurant and does not advertise any live entertainment.

The Trademark Office offered three, third-party websites for establishments that served food and advertised live music, and several use-based third-party registrations for live music entertainment and restaurant services. In all the examples offered by the Trademark Office, the live musical performances are ancillary to the restaurant aspect of the establishments. In the case of TACOLAND, the live musical entertainment is the primary business and any food service is ancillary to this main business. Nevertheless, because the Trademark Office does not consider the marketplace reality, it found that the services at issue were related.

Which raises two important issues. First, if you were focusing only on Class Numbers when doing a trademark search, you would have missed that live musical concerts are related to restaurants. This why focusing on related goods instead of class numbers is so critical when doing a trademark search.

Second, when dealing with goods or services that could be offered at a restaurant, it is critical to focus a trademark search or response to an office action on what the restaurants are known for. If the evidence shows that something is merely offered at the restaurant, that needs to be your focal point because that is where you will have the best chance at overcoming a refusal.

With the services being related and TIERRA being the Spanish word for LAND, TacoLand had to make the conceptual weakness argument. Unfortunately for TacoLand, it was only capable of producing three TACO-formative third-party registrations, which is seven less than the magic number 10 we believe needs to be hit before the Board will conclude a crowded field exists.

Electric Bicycles and Bicycle Apparel Confusable as to Source

"Luna Cycle electric bicycle related to women's bicycle apparel"

Luna Cycle filed a trademark application to register the mark LUNACYCLE in standard character form for electric bicycles and replacement parts for electric bikes. The United States Patent and Trademark Office refused registration of Luna Cycle’s mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with the prior registered mark LUNA & Design for women’s bicycle apparel and accessories.

When it comes to assessing the relatedness of the goods, the issue is not whether purchasers would confuse the goods, but rather whether there is a likelihood of confusion as to the source of these goods. Electric bicycles are human-powered bicycles with integrated electric motors to provide a cyclist with additional power and speed. They are marketed towards recreational cyclists.

The Trademark Office offered evidence from brick-and-morter and online retail bicycle stores offering for sale electric bicycles and women’s bicycle apparel. These retailers are not big box retailers but speciality bicycles stores, which the Board found persuasive evidence to conclude that the goods at issue were complimentary.

With respect to the similarity of the marks, Luna Cycle argued that its mark is a telescoped word LUNACYCLE composed of LUNACY and CYCLE. The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure defines a telescoped word as one that comprises two or more words that share letters (e.g., SUPERINSE or HAMERICAN). And while the Board found that the LUNACYCLE mark is likely to be perceived as a telescoped form it nonetheless found that consumers would treat it like compound word comprising LUNA and CYCLE. The Board hypothesized a scenario where Luna Cycle emphasized the letter “L” in Luna and letter “C” in Cycle because standard character drawing was claimed, and then backed it up with Luna Cycle’s own specimen of use that showed very emphasis the Board assumed could happen. Because the dominant portion of the marks was LUNA, the Board found the marks created overall similar commercial impressions.

Maybe, Luna Cycle would be able to salvage a win by demonstrating the prior registered LUNA & Design mark was weak; thus, entitled to a narrow scope of protection because of the numerous third-party registrations for LUNA. Luna Cycle submitted 100 third-party registrations for marks displaying the LUNA term in International Class 25 for some form of apparel. Several of these third-party registration were for women’s clothing. But because none of these registrations were for women’s bicycle apparel, the Board discounted all of the 100 third-party registrations, which seems like a harsh result.

Handbags and Jewelry Related In The Confusion Analysis

"Mansur Gavriel handbag related to Phillip Gavriel jewelry"

Mansur Gavriel is a luxury handbag brand that sells in store like Neiman Marcus for $395 to $1,295. In 2013, a trademark application was filed for MANSUR GAVRIEL in connection with “handbags; tote bags; purses; wallets.” Except for some minor issues, the MANSUR GAVRIEL application sailed through the examination phase of the registration process and was published for opposition.

Royal Chain, Inc. filed a Notice of Opposition against the registration of the MANSUR GAVRIEL mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with its prior registered mark PHILLIP GAVRIEL for “diamonds; jewelry; precious and semi-precious stones; precious metals and their alloys; precious metals, namely, gold, silver, platinum; real and imitation jewelry; synthetic diamonds; synthetic precious stones.” Phillip Gavriel pieces sell for  about $100 to under $10,000, but not in high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus.

During the pendency of the dispute, Royal Chain neglected to maintain the PHILLIP GAVRIEL registration by filing the required Section 8 Declaration of Continuous Use. The PHILLIP GAVRIEL registration was canceled and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board gave consideration only to PHILLIP GAVRIEL’s common law rights. Royal Chain failed to produce competent evidence of its date of first use; therefore, its opposition was dismissed because it did not satisfy its burden to prove priority. But for completeness, the Board addressed the likelihood of confusion factors.

The Board found that jewelry and handbags are “accessories to a woman’s fashion ensemble;” thus, the goods are complimentary. The evidence of record also demonstrated that the same brand is used to sell both jewelry and handbags. This evidence reinforced the Board’s finding that jewelry and handbags are related goods.

Although the retail channels for the MANSUR GAVRIEL handbags and PHILLIP GAVRIEL jewelry are different, those differences were not reflected in the identification of goods descriptions. Therefore, the Board was forced to find that the channels of trade and classes of consumers overlap.

Nevertheless, the Board found that because it is common for fashion brands to use surnames, prospective purchasers would be able to distinguish MANSUR GAVRIEL from PHILLIP GAVRIEL.

Wine Spectator Sues Weed Spectator Claiming Confusion

"woman drinking wine dispute between wine spectator and weed spectator"

Cannabis is undoubtedly a polarizing subject. Some people like Anheuser Busch heir Adolphus Busch V are jumping in head first starting cannabis companies. Other companies want nothing to do with plant and will fight to ensure prospective purchasers do not mistakenly associate it with any type of cannabis company.  M. Shanken Communications Inc., the publisher of Wine Spectator magazine, is on the later side of the cannabis spectrum, and sued Modern Wellness Inc. for using the mark WEED SPECTATOR for a website that provides information about cannabis and cannabis-based products.

Wine Spectator alleged in the lawsuit that Weed Spectator not only adopted a confusingly similar trademark, but that it also copied its 100-point rating system. In fact, Wine Spectator alleged that this was a “classic case of passing off.” In addition, Wine Spectator filed a letter of protest against Modern Wellness’ pending applications for WEED SPECTATOR in connection with “providing on-line digital publications in the nature of education in the field of cannabis via the Internet.”

A letter of protest is a way to object to a pending application before the application is published for opposition. The party submitting the letter of protest is not allowed to make any arguments about the registrability of the pending mark. You are only allowed to submit evidence the party believes supports a refusal to register the pending mark. If accepted, that evidence will be used as a basis to refuse registration of the applied for mark. Letters of protest are not always accepted though.

This case raises an interesting point for trademark searchers. We have talked a lot about the importance of the relatedness of goods factor and that prior case law is the best indicator for assessing whether certain goods or services are related. But what do you do when there is not a lot of case law to turn to? Cannabis is still a banned substance federally, but has recently been legalized in some states. There has not been an opportunity for a court to decide the issue of whether wine and weed are related goods.

In these situations, trademark searchers need to look to other context to see what other type of products have been found to be related. The context of the Weed Spectator website is to inform individuals about something they could use in a social setting much like alcoholic beverages are used in a social setting. Therefore, it would be reasonable to compare how the Trademark Office has treated alcoholic beverages and cigars, for example, to assess how the relatedness of goods factor will shake out. However, overtime, a body of case law will develop around cannabis and cannabis-based products.

No Entitlement to Use Your Name for Your Business

Phil Davis – founder of Tungsten Branding – recently wrote an article for Forbes about why your last name may not be the best choice for the name of your business. The article identifies many problems with adopting your last name as your company name, but the one problem that recently was addressed by the Tradmeark Trial Appeal Board is that your name may be one of many similar last names. There is no right to use your name as a trademark if it is likely to cause confusion with another mark.

Doofood filed an application to register the mark DOOFOOD & Design for made-to-order meal kits. Doo is part of the Applicant’s name DooJin Kim. The Trademark Office refused registration of this mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with a prior registered mark DO FOOD & Design for a prepared meal kit. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found that goods and services at issue were related and the design components of the marks at issue would likely be perceived as background to the literal elements of the marks. The use of pot design in the DOOFOOD & Design mark only reinforced the preparation of food.

Doofood did not offer any evidence of the conceptual weakness of the DO FOOD mark. Instead, it attempted to argue that the meanings of the marks were sufficiently different to avoid a likelihood of confusion. Dissimilarity of sound has trumped similarity in the appearance of the marks at issue. And dissimilarity of appearance has trumped similarity in sound before. But rarely if ever has dissimilarity in meaning trumped similarity as to sound and appearance.

Compounding Doofood’s problem was its lack of evidence on the difference in meanings. It appears that Doofood relied only on argument, which the Board held will never make up for a lack of evidence.

This case highlights that even your name needs to be searched before making the decision to adopt it as the name of your business.

ASKBOT Unlikely To Be Confused With ASK

"ASKBOT home page unlikely to cause confusion with ASK search engine"

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board for the second time this year considered what was happening in the real world marketplace to determine if consumers were likely to confuse the ASKBOT and ASK trademarks. ASKBOT, Spa filed a trademark application to register the mark ASKBOT in connection with software for creating online forms that allow the posting of questions and answers. The ASKBOT software is sold B2B with the users never seeing the registered trademark.

IAC Search & Media, Inc. petitioned to cancel the ASKBOT on the ground that the mark was likely to confusion with its ASK mark for a search engine service. As we have reported time and time again, the Board generally constrains its analysis of the relatedness of goods or services to the descriptions contained in the registration and application at issue. However, when the identification of goods or services descriptions are technical or vague and require clarification, it is appropriate for the Board to consider extrinsic evidence of use to determine the meaning of the identification of goods or services descriptions.

In this case, the Board did not describe what was technical or vague about the descriptions in the registrations at issue. And although it concluded that the consideration of extrinsic evidence was appropriate, it found that the goods at issue were related.

What the Board used the extrinsic evidence for was to identify differences in the channels of trade and classes of consumers. And what the Board found was that IAC Search & Media’s customers and prospective customers were unlikely to encounter the ASKBOT mark because they target consumers whereas ASKBOT, Spa targets businesses.

The nail in the coffin for IAC Search & Media was when ASKBOT, Spa was able to cross the 10 third-party registration threshold by producing 11 third-party registrations for marks containing ASK in connection with services related to online searching. These registrations coupled with the dictionary definition of “ask” were enough for the Board to conclude that the ASK mark was inherently weak and that would be something that IAC Search & Media would be unable to overcome.