Number 1 Misconception When Searching Trademarks

We talk to a number of naming firms and serial entrepreneurs who conduct their own preliminary trademark searchers each year. And every year we observe the same misconception. Non-lawyers place far too much emphasis on International Class Numbers and ignore the relatedness of the goods. This is also the flaw in every trademark search tool available in the market, with the exception of BOB.

The reason this misconception exists is due to the lack of education on this issue because the legal precedent on this subject is legion. That’s why we focus on the relatedness of goods factor in a significant number of our posts. Our hope is to spread the word and educate non-lawyers about this crucially important factor so that trademark searching becomes more effective. More effective trademark searching should lead to fewer trademark disputes.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board recently issued a decision highlighting again the importance of evaluating the relatedness of goods factor and not International Class Numbers. Ernest Everett James filed a trademark application to register the mark LIQUOR SLINGER DISTILLING (standard characters with LIQUOR and DISTILLING disclaimed) for “liquor” in International Class 33. The Trademark Office refused registration of Mr. James’s mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with the prior registered mark SLINGER for “drinking glasses; shot classes” in International Class 21.

The Board found there is an inherent, complementary relationship between the parties’ goods: liquor is served in and drunk from drinking glasses and shot glasses. Indeed, a shot glass is defined as “[a] small glass used for serving liquor.” The Trademark Office also offered Internet evidence showing it is common for distilleries to sell branded glassware. All of this evidence supported the Trademark Office’s argument, which the Board agreed with, that liquor and glassware are related goods.

A person searching trademarks for a liquor brand that focused too heavily or entirely on International Class 33 where the product is classified is sure to a miss a problematic mark in another International Class because of the relatedness of goods factor.

Louis Vuitton Get’s It Half Right and Loses APOGEE Appeal

Louis Vuitton Malletier appears to employ a common trademark application filing strategy, which is to prepare the trademark application with broad goods descriptions. From there the broad description can be narrowed in an attempt to avoid a registration refusal should the Trademark Office issue an office action. We dare to say that most trademark applicants follow this filing strategy, which is why trademark searches must use broad terms when conducting their trademark searches. But narrowing a goods description alone is no substitute for a proper trademark search and trademark clearance opinion. Louis Vuitton learned this lesson the hard way in a recent case.

Louis Vuitton applied to register the mark APOGEE (in standard characters) for, among other goods, perfumes. The Trademark Office refused registration of this mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with a prior registered mark APHOGEE (in standard characters) for “Hair care lotions; hair conditioners; hair creams; hair mousse; hair oils; hair shampoo; hair sprays; hair styling preparations; non-medicated hair treatment preparations for cosmetic purposes; non-medicated preparations all for the care of skin, hair, and scalp; hair moisturizers.”

Realizing that its description was too broad, Louis Vuitton voluntarily amended its description to narrow the channels of trade and classes of consumers to “non-professional use and sold only within Louis Vuitton Malletier stores, on Louis Vuitton Malletier’s website, and within Louis Vuitton Malletier’s store-within-store partnerships with high-end retail stores within Louis Vuitton Malletier’s exclusive distributor network.” Voluntarily narrowing its description was a must because the evidence of legion that it is common for perfume brands to also offer shampoos and other personal products under the same mark. However, Louis Vuitton’s choice of limitation begs the question of whether pursuing the application as hard as it did was worth it.

The limitation made by Louis Vuitton means that its rights in the APOGEE mark would exist only in the channels where only its products are sold. There is no opportunity for another company’s branded product to appear at the point of sale. Strength is not transferable from one well-known brand to another. And at least according to the Amazon reviews, the APHOGEE brand receives positive reviews. Difficult to see where Louis Vuitton’s hard would emanate from in this case. So while recognizing that an amendment is necessary, it is equally important to ensure that the proposed amendment does not render the resulting registration borderline worthless.

Despite the detailed description volunteered by Louis Vuitton, the company did not seek a corresponding amendment in the APHOGEE registration. Accordingly, the APHOGEE registration remained broad enough to include stores and channels where only Louis Vuitton goods are sold. Moreover, Louis Vuitton did not offer any evidence that APHOGEE was weak in its entirety or partially. Accordingly, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the registration refusal.

Video Conferencing is a Related Service to E-mail

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board relied on evidence in the real world marketplace to conclude that video conferencing is a related service to the electronic transition of messages like e-mail. This decision is a good reminder that intuition about whether certain goods or services are related can lead to wrong decisions.

InFocus Corporation filed a service mark application to register the mark INFOCUS (Stylized) for “video conferencing services, namely, providing cloud-based telecommunications connections between video conferencing systems for video calling” in International Class 38. The Trademark Office refused registration of the mark on the ground that it was likely to cause confusion with a prior registered mark for INFOCUS MARKETING (in standard characters with MARKETING disclaimed) for direct mail and e-mail marketing services.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found the marks at issue were similar to both contained the dominant word INFOCUS and the rights in the cited mark extended to all forms of stylization of the word INFOCUS. The similarity of marks factor favored a finding of confusion.

As for the relatedness of the services, the Trademark Office offered 15 third-party websites that promoted video conferencing and some type of electronic messaging such as e-mail, text, or instant messaging. In a majority of these websites, the messaging feature is ancillary to the primary services, which is video conferencing. Nevertheless, because InFocus Corporation made the mistake of not petitioning to partially cancel the INFOCUS MARKETING registration to narrow the identification of services description to e-mail as part of a marketing campaign, the Board considered all forms of electronic messaging whether ancillary to a primary service or not.

When the marks at issue are identical, trademark searchers need to take a closer look at goods or services their intuition is telling them may not be related. We know that when marks are identical, less relatedness between the goods or services at issue is required in order to create a likelihood of confusion. Looking at prior decisions and paying attention to what any competitors are offering should be considered.

Pharma Case Provides Lesson for Searching A Fanciful Mark

A recent TTAB decision is instructive on how to break up a fanciful mark when conducting a trademark search. When faced with a fanciful mark, it may be tempting to search only for the entire coined term. But it is important to break up the fanciful mark and search the parts even if the parts themselves are not known words.

AbbVie Biotechnology Ltd. applied to register the mark SKYRIZI (in standard character form) for pharmaceutical preparations and substances. The Trademark Office found no issue with AbbVie’s application and published it for opposition. However, Novartis AG had an issue with AbbVie’s SKYRIZI application and filed a Notice of Opposition against the registration of AbbVie’s mark. Novartis claimed rights in a prior registration for IZIRIZE (in standard character form) also for pharmaceutical preparations.

The parties agreed to use the Board’s Accelerated Case Resolution procedure through with the parties stipulated that the goods were related, the channels of trade were overlapping, and the parties targeted the same class of consumer. The two factors that remained in dispute were: (1) similarity of the marks; and (2) strength of the IZIRIZE mark.

AbbVie argued that RIZ was a conceptually weak term when used in connection with pharmaceutical goods. Regardless of the industry, the 10 third-party registration minimum trend we saw emerge in 2018 applies. To support its argument AbbVie offered 19 third-party registrations for marks that contained the letter string RIZ for pharmaceutical products. For example, ACARIZAX; BACTRIZOLE; RIZIMO; and ORIZON. Despite the evidentiary issues with the admission of the third-party registrations, the TTAB found that the 19 third-party registrations established the RIZ word string was conceptually weak for pharmaceutical products.

The weakness finding is instructive of the importance to break up even fanciful marks into any logical components and include those parts in any preliminary trademark search. In this case, the Board did not find that RIZ was a known word, acronym, or abbreviation. Nevertheless, the Board focused on it to determine whether it was a weak term, and the strength of a mark has a direct impact on the similarity of the marks analysis. Having found that RIZ was weak, the Board found that the use of SKY as opposed to IZI was sufficient to distinguish the marks at issue. And these two factors where enough to outweigh the stipulated factors that favored a finding of confusion. Therefore, the Board dismissed the opposition proceeding.

Not breaking up a fanciful mark and searching any logical components could result in a missed record that could be a knockout.

The Diageo Marketing Effectiveness Tool: TM Lawyers take Notice

In our data driven world, it is not surprising to read that some brands are creating a culture of marketing effectiveness. The days of making an educated guess about what marketing efforts could be successful are slowly being replaced by data driven models that quickly show which marketing efforts are successful and those efforts that are failing.

One tool created by Diageo – the owner of such well-known brands as Guinness beer, Johnnie Walker whiskey, Smirnoff vodka, and Captain Morgan rum among others – developed a tool called Catalyst. Catalyst not only uses data to determine the right budget for each Diageo brand, but also allows the user to assess the likely impact of a planned activity.

The articles about Catalyst do not discuss what variables it considers as part of its planning capability, but if it does not include a legal variable then it should or a law firm should consider building a similar tool. Too often in trademark law the advice given is couched in “should” instead of “will.” The use of “should” is used more often to hedge against an opposite outcome, but it is also used because the attorney cannot honestly say what impact the decision to spend money on a particular trademark application or enforcement action will have on the profit of that business, product, or service.

Take the strength element of the likelihood of confusion analysis. Some TM lawyers will advise clients to sue anyone that adopts a similar name. The theory is that the more similar marks the trademark owner co-exists with, the more difficult it is for consumers to identify a single source, which results in a lower brand value. But does the co-existence result in any lost profit?

The question that should be discussed is whether a particular enforcement action is going to result in actual lost sales or a material loss in brand value. And if Diageo can create a forward-looking planning tool for marketing activities, a similar tool could be created for legal actions as well.