DuetsBlog

Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

The Minnesota Miracle That Lasted a Moment?

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Fashion, Marketing, Trademarks

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Some incredible moments last longer than others, and when the stars are all lined up, they can even translate into a movement. Yet, the blistering loss in Philly proved that our hope of being more than a host for Super Bowl LII, wasn’t meant to be.

Minnesota was seriously buzzing for the past week, following the incredible final-second touchdown score by Stefon Diggs, to launch the Vikings past the Saints, sending them to Philly to be favored as the likely NFC champion for Super Bowl LII. No more Dilly Dilly, Vikes couldn’t Bring it Home.

Sadly for the Minnesota Vikings and their fans across the country, the meaning of the Minnesota Miracle and Minneapolis Miracle phrases have been relegated to a brief moment in history — memorable no doubt, but memorable and meaningful for much less than most hoped for here.

Trademark filings reveal that the Minnesota Vikings hoped for more too, and likely hoped to cash in more too, within twenty-four hours of the infamous catch, the team sought to turn the meaning of Minnesota Miracle and Minneapolis Miracle into exclusive and proprietary trademark rights.

Team ownership filed a few used-based applications (here and here) and a pair of intent-to-use trademark and service mark applications (here and here) covering virtually every good/service known to men, women, and children, including the proverbial kitchen sink. Are you wondering how many of those items could withstand a challenge on the requisite bona fide intent? Let’s say I am.

It remains to be seen whether the USPTO will issue the increasingly common failure to function and informational refusals against the use-based applications.

It also remains to be seen whether the buzz around the Vikings several trademark applications concerning those phrases will last longer than our week of euphoria.

Perhaps even most interestingly, no one seems to be reporting about the apparent lack of alignment on who owns what surrounding the Minnesota Miracle and Minneapolis Miracle phrases, with quarterback Casey Keenum (a little slow on the draw) filing for both phrases as trademarks (two days after the Vikings did), and with Stefon Diggs apparently selling his own shirts, here:

Twitter Flying Too Close to TWIT Mark With Video Content

Posted in Agreements, Famous Marks, Infringement, Law Suits, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Social Media, Social Networking, Technology, Trademarks

Twitter, the social media giant, is being sued by its internet cousin, TWiT.  TWiT, which initially stood for This Week in Tech, is a netcast network providing audio and video tech-related content.  TWiT owns the registered service mark TWIT for visual and audio entertainment performances.

According to the Complaint, TWiT founder Leo Laporte and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams had some discussions about the similar brand names in the mid-2000s.  The Complaint is available on Scribd, courtesy of TechCrunch.  In 2007, Laporte invited Williams on TWiT’s net@night show to promote Wiliams’s new company, Twitter.  Laporte alleges that although the two founders recognized their companies’ similar sounding names, at the time, they provided entirely different platforms—Twitter was text-based microblogging, and TWiT was video and audio streaming and downloading. The two founders apparently agreed informally that their companies would continue to coexist on their respective platforms.

Now, after ten years and still no formal agreement, Twitter is planning to launch original video streaming content.

Last year, TWiT sent a letter demanding that Twitter abandon its planned expansion into video content.  The parties’ subsequent attempts to resolve the dispute without legal action apparently have not been successful.

TWiT alleges twelve causes of action in total, including infringement of the TWIT mark.

Perhaps the moral of this story is: put it in writing (preferably more than 140 characters).  Presumably in Twitter’s early days, no one could have foreseen the future success of the social media platform and an eventual expansion into video content.  But maybe TWiT should have sought something more than a handshake coexistence agreement.  What do you think?

Army v. NHL – Another Challenge for Vegas Golden Knights

Posted in Mixed Bag of Nuts, Trademarks, TTAB, USPTO

Another update on my series of posts following the trademark troubles of the NHL’s newest expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Most recently, I posted about the USPTO’s decision to maintain a refusal to register the team’s marks in connection with clothing, LAS VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS and VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS (Applicant Nos. 87147236, 87147265), based on likelihood of confusion with another registered mark, GOLDEN KNIGHTS THE COLLEGE OF SAINT ROSE & Design.  Those two applications are now suspended.

Now the team is facing another challenge, this time from the U.S. Army. Last week, the Army filed two Notices of Opposition (see here and here) against the team, opposing registration of both of the team’s marks in connection with its entertainment services, namely, professional ice hockey exhibitions (Application Nos. 87147269, 87147239).  (Technically, the applicant and defendant is the team’s business entity Black Knight Sports and Entertainment LLC, but I’ll just refer to “the team”). The Army alleges grounds of likelihood of confusion, dilution by blurring, and false suggestion of a connection, based primarily on the Army’s prior use of the GOLDEN KNIGHTS mark in connection with the Army’s parachute demonstration team.

Notably, the team’s owner, Bill Foley, was quite vocal about the Army inspiring the team name, since he had graduated from West Point. During the process of selecting his hockey team’s name, Mr. Foley had initially considered “Black Knights,” which is also the name of the hockey team at West Point. However, the team eventually landed on “Golden Knights,” and Mr. Foley implied on a radio show that the name was based on the “Golden Knights for the parachute team” at West Point. Mr. Foley also noted in a newspaper article that he had tried to have the Golden Knights parachute team make an appearance at the team’s name-announcement ceremony, but they “couldn’t make it work.” No wonder why, at this point.

Regarding the likelihood of confusion ground, the Army may have a difficult time establishing the necessary “relatedness” factor. Although both parties technically are offering types of “entertainment” services, it may be difficult to show that professional ice hockey exhibitions, and parachute demonstrations, are sufficiently related to cause likely confusion, despite the nearly identical mark. However, the Army’s ground of dilution and false suggestion of a connection do not require relatedness, although those grounds may also be difficult to establish, for other reasons. For one reason, regarding the dilution ground, the Army would need to establish that its mark is nationally famous, which is a high bar. Nevertheless, regardless of how this proceeding turns out, it will be another significant cost and delay in the team’s quest to register its name.

On the bright side, the hockey team itself is having a record-breaking inaugural season, currently with 29 wins and 11 losses, which puts the team in first place in the NHL’s Western Conference. The team also is the first in NHL history to have won eight of its fist nine games ever. I’m sure the team hopes that its success on the rink will follow through to these trademark proceedings, but that remains to be seen. Stay tuned for updates.

More Fair Use of the Super Bowl Trademark?

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Fair Use, Marketing, Trademarks

Downtown Minneapolis is starting to come alive for upcoming Super Bowl LII, you can feel the energy building and commerce flowing, new ads and signage being erected almost daily:

What do you think, is the Super Bowl reference in the above temporary sign, a fair use? More particularly, nominative fair use? I do. But, will the NFL agree? Stay tuned.

Dilly Dilly, Minnesota Vikings Going to Philly

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Food, Marketing, Television, Trademarks, USPTO

Wow, words don’t and could never describe the emotions behind the last ten second fourth-quarter TD and Vikings win over the New Orleans Saints — Who Dat Nation — last night in Minneapolis:

Hat tip on the title, to a lubricated fan leaving U.S. Bank Stadium after the game — the whole Dilly Dilly thing seems kind of silly, but it’s fun to say, thanks Anheuser-Busch and Wieden+Kennedy:

The Dilly Dilly marketing phrase has gone viral and taken on meme status, so beyond the intent-to-use filing by Anheuser-Busch, many third party trademark filings are piling on, stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are one step closer to Super Bowl LII . . . .

Court Protects Louis Vuitton from Inability to Understand Obvious Joke

Posted in Dilution, Fair Use, Famous Marks, Fashion, Infringement, Law Suits, Loss of Rights, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Sight, Trademarks

For the past several years, DuetsBlog has covered fashion house Louis Vuitton’s outlandish trademark “bullying” against law schools, dog toys, photographers, and movie studios. Most recently, we discussed the brand’s latest high-profile lawsuit against rival luxury canvas tote maker (sarcasm), My Other Bag, for trademark infringement and dilution.

To the casual observer, one might not be able to distinguish My Other Bag’s signature tote (which on one side says “My Other Bag,” and on the other has a cartoon picture of a bag) from that of Louis Vuitton’s “Speedy Satchel.” Case in point:

Too bad for Louis Vuitton the test for parody is largely based on the casual observer–or, at least those with “a modicum of intelligence.” Even they can tell that My Other Bag’s product was a joke, the District Court held.

My Other Bag Seeks Reimbursement for Louis Vuitton’s Obviously-flawed Lawsuit

After successfully defending itself against Louis Vuitton’s claims, My Other Bag filed a motion for attorneys’ fees incurred in responding to Louis Vuitton’s highly questionable suit, citing the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Octane Fitness v. Icon Health & Fitness, 134 S. Ct. 1749, 1758 (2014). The Lanham Act provides for attorneys’ fees in “exceptional cases,” and it is hard to see how this case might not be one of them, where the parody was–in the words of the District Court–“obvious.” Octane Fitness interpreted “exceptional” under the Patent Act’s identical language to depend on the circumstances and strength of a party’s litigating position (as compared to the typical case).

On January 8, 2018, the District Court–to the surprise of many–denied My Other Bag’s motion, sidestepping whether Octane Fitness applies to the Lanham Act and holding that fees were not appropriate for “several reasons.” Louis Vuitton Malletier, S.A. v. My Other Bag, Inc., No. 14-CV-3419 (JMF), 2018 WL 317850 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 8, 2018). They include:

  1. Although the District Court and the Second Circuit “did not find this case to be a particularly close call, it cannot say that Louis Vuitton’s arguments were so objectively unreasonable (as either a legal or factual matter) that no party ‘could see an opening . . . through which the argument[s] could be squeezed,'” primarily because dilution by blurring and infringement are fact-intensive and based on “subtle” multi-factor analyses.
  2. That a use is parody does not necessarily resolve a dilution or infringement claim, such as when a trademark is used as as designation of source, “and Louis Vuitton advanced colorable (albeit unsuccessful) arguments that [My Other Bag’s] totes designated Louis Vuitton as their source.” The District Court also ironically pointed to a “flawed and distinguishable” case that Louis Vuitton has previously won as evidence that its position was not objectively unreasonable.
  3. The fact that Louis Vuitton did not show loss of sales or diminution of status is irrelevant because dilution is actionable regardless of actual or likely confusion (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c)(1)).
  4. Louis Vuitton did not litigate the case “in an exceptionally vexatious and coercive manner,” but rather using merely “acceptable, if aggressive, litigation tactics” that were in some instances “regrettable,” but not exceptionally bad.
  5. “Louis Vuitton’s aggressive efforts to protect its trademarks have, on occasion, veered toward the unseemly.” The David-and-Goliath match-up was also concerning. However, Louis Vuitton had good reason to aggressively seek enforcement of its marks because if it didn’t, it could risk losing its rights. Moreover, Louis Vuitton has a history of winning many of its cases.

The District Court’s Precedent Will Likely Lead to More Undeserved Settlements in Parody Defense Cases

It is difficult to agree with the District Court’s conclusion on fees in this case, especially in view of the fact that Louis Vuitton is branded as “one of the biggest trademark bullies around.” There is something to be said for diligent protection of trademark rights, but it’s one thing to go after a counterfeiter and quite another to cause a non-competing humorist to expend over $800,000 in its defense. That both the District Court and the Second Circuit actually called Louis Vuitton out for its failure to take a joke shows that the company’s litigating position was exceptionally laughable.

More importantly, the ruling lays out an impossibly-high standard in effect; if this case is not exceptional, it is hard to believe any other case with the same procedural history would be. What constitutes exceptionally “vexatious and coercive” behavior if not the bringing of an unreasonable lawsuit? Ultimately, the District Court’s precedent, if adopted by other courts, will likely lead to more undeserved settlements. The jokesters become the butt of their own jokes, and the humorless thread one more feather to their “unseemly” caps.

Thankfully others in the fashion industry, such as Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, show some semblance of fun–particularly as to tote bags. But given that the one he’s sporting below was made by Naco Paris in response to winning a trademark suit brought by Chanel, maybe not so much.

Happy Birthday: TTAB Turns Sixty in 2018

Posted in Articles, Branding, First Amendment, Infringement, Marketing, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Trademark Bullying, Trademarks, TTAB, USPTO

We follow closely and write a lot about what goes on with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); these ironmongers do too, really well.

Serious trademark and brand owners care about TTAB decisions because many trademark disputes begin and end there, as the TTAB determines the important right to federally register trademarks.

What I mean by beginning there is, discreetly-used third party conflicting marks “flying under the radar,” rise to another level of trademark enforcement importance for a trademark and brand owner when the user also seeks federal registration, almost requiring the opening opposition salvo.

Federally-registered trademark owners know the importance of protecting the federal trademark register, because what, and how many similar third party marks, are allowed for registration, can negatively impact the owner’s trademark strength, scope of rights, and enforcement success.

Trademark rights are dynamic, they’ll shrink or grow over time, depending on the landscape at the time of enforcement, so not limiting registration at the USPTO can have more negative impact on strength and scope than an single, discreet, unauthorized use of a confusingly similar mark.

Looking the other way at trademark applications landing within a brand owner’s legitimate scope of protection, indirectly sends the perhaps unintended message to the trademark world, and those who monitor it, that the owner willingly accepts the shrinkage of its trademark rights.

So, serious trademark owners watch for conflicting filings at the USPTO, and stand in the way of registration, until agreement can be reached on how to coexist without a likelihood of confusion.

What I mean by many trademark disputes ending at the TTAB is, most oppositions do not go to final decision, the vast majority settle with a mutually-beneficial coexistence agreement in place.

And, when they don’t, trademark and brand owners — who follow us here — also know that the importance of final TTAB decisions has been raised, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently opened the door to having certain TTAB decisions — through the application of issue preclusion — control the outcome of later federal district court infringement and dilution law suits.

Congratulations to the TTAB on reaching sixty years of dedicated service to trademark and brand owners, as we look forward to the interesting issues likely to be decided in 2018 and beyond.

As I reflect on the more than twenty-five years of my experience before the TTAB, at this point in time — spanning nearly half of the TTAB’s existence — I’ll have to say, the TTAB seems to be carefully and thoughtfully emulating the characteristics of a fine wine as it matures.

What are your predictions of the 2018 decisions that will stand out? Fraud? Functionality? Fame?

Will the TTAB revisit its previous perceived inability to address Constitutional issues, like say, dilution tarnishmentreligious text marks, or application of the Section 2(c) bar to prevent federal registration of political trademark speech, and, if not this coming year, when?

I’m thinking this will be the year of informational and failure to function decisions, how about you?

Super Bowl Ambush Marketing Games Begin?

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Fair Use, False Advertising, Marketing, Non-Traditional Trademarks, Trademarks

We continue to have Super Bowl LII on our minds here in the Twin Cities. It’s hard to avoid thinking about the upcoming “Big Game” with ads like these blanketing our skyway maze:

Turns out, everyone wants to have a little piece of the action in this upcoming event, even without the formality and cost associated with sponsorship, some call it ambush marketing:

Ambush marketing is not necessarily unlawful. It’s tricky, but I’m guessing the above ad may have cleared a legal review. No obvious conflicts with federally-registered rights, it appears.

Having said that, does this little guy change your view on things? Look familiar? It appears to be the same Wilson NFL Pee Wee Touchdown football without the name brands shown:

I’m thinking the JB Hudson ad employed a little airbrush strategy, or at least some strategic and highly precise palm expansion and placement in hiding the Wilson and NFL logos.

Actually, if so, it’s a good move, but will it be enough — especially given this website link — to avoid the aggressive NFL Super Bowl sponsorship police?

Who owns rights in TOUCHDOWN for footballs, if anyone? Anyone?

Neither Wilson nor the NFL appear to own federally-registered rights in TOUCHDOWN for footballs, but do common law rights exist?

If so, who owns them, the NFL or the maker of the NFL’s official game footballs, Wilson?

Moreover, did legal review consider non-verbal marks? What about the stitching design bordering the football laces? Non-traditional trademark? Functional? If not functional, fair use?

So much to think about as we anxiously await the Big Game in our own chilly backyard . . . .

#SBLII: #HereWeGo?

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Fair Use, Fashion, Marketing, Trademarks, TTAB, USPTO

We’ve come a long way from April 1, 2017, until now, with the steady drumbeat — and ads galore — in preparation for the upcoming Super Bowl LII in downtown Minneapolis:

As the NFL promotes use of the SBLII hashtag, it is preparing to do battle, or at least stand in the way, of another hashtag mark that the USPTO published for opposition: #HereWeGo.

Turns out, the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be concerned with Jennifer Menichini’s application to federally register #HereWeGo for a variety of clothing items.

I’m guessing that the Steelers believe they have standing to try and block registration of Menichini’s claimed mark based on the Steeler’s fight song, apparently called “Here We Go.”

Stay tuned to see whether this results in a formal trademark opposition, as the deadline for the NFL and Steelers is currently the day before Super Bowl LII: February 3, 2018.

What’s Your 2018 New Year’s Resolution?

Posted in Articles, Branding, Marketing, Trademarks

Recently traded this picture (credit to this G, not that one) for sub-zero temps in the Twin Cities:

Wonderful time spent with family; looking forward to sharing lots of trademark stories in 2018.

Do you have any wishes for 2018? Do you have any 2018 resolutions you’d like to share?

The former implies a lack of control. The latter suggests an ability to control with some discipline.

My wish for our Vikings is to enjoy home field advantage during Super Bowl LII, and win!

My 2018 New Year’s Resolution is modest and achievable: Continue rising 30 minutes earlier, to enjoy a good stretch complete with deep and inspiring thoughts.

Happy New Year to each and every one of you!