DuetsBlog

Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

DYKES ON BIKES No Longer Idling After Matal v. Tam

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

Simon Tam wasn’t the only one barred by the Lanham Act from reclaiming a historically derogatory term.

Dykes on Bikes is a nonprofit lesbian motorcycle organization.  According to their website, the group’s mission is to “support philanthropic endeavors in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and women’s communities, and to reach out to empower a community of diverse women through rides, charity events, Pride events, and education.”  In 2015, Dykes on Bikes tried to register their logo as a service mark for entertainment.  The application was put on hold pending the outcome of Matal v. Tam, as the Supreme Court considered whether Simon Tam could register his band name—The Slants.  In view of the Court’s landmark decision holding the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, Dykes on Bikes will move forward with its trademark application as well.

It was in 2003 when Dykes on Bikes first sought to register the name of their organization as a service mark for education and entertainment services.  Registration was refused on the basis that the mark was disparaging to lesbians.  The organization appealed to the TTAB, arguing that the word “dyke” had become a positive term and a symbol of pride and empowerment.  Dykes on Bikes won their appeal before the TTAB.  But when the mark was published for opposition, an individual named Michael McDermott filed an opposition claiming the mark was disparaging to men.  Ultimately, McDermott’s opposition was dismissed for lack of standing.  In particular, McDermott failed to show either (1) he possesses a trait or characteristic implicated by the proposed mark; or (2) others share the same belief of harm from the proposed mark.  The TTAB dismissed McDermott’s opposition and the Federal Circuit affirmed.  DIKES ON BIKES was successfully registered in 2007.

Because they had already won the disparagement battle for their first mark, Dykes on Bikes was surprised to face another disparagement refusal for a second mark.  In 2015, the group sought to register their logo as a service mark.  They sought review by the TTAB, and the case was put on hold pending the outcome of Matal v. Tam.  Dykes on Bikes also filed an amicus brief in the Tam case, arguing in favor of Tam’s position.  After the Supreme Court held in Tam that “the disparagement clause violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” the DYKES ON BIKES W M C logo was approved for publication.

Dykes on Bikes and The Slants had similar goals.  As Dykes on Bikes described in their amicus brief, both groups “have chosen to reclaim self-referential terms as trademarks for the benefit of the groups those terms refer to.”  They also drew a distinction with respect to a certain NFL team name: “the Washington Redskins have chosen a term that is unrelated to the people who identify as members of the football team and is commonly understood to be a slur which members of the identified group have not reclaimed.  Whatever the constitutionality of the PTO’s treatment of the Redskins mark, the team’s use of that name is immoral and Dykes on Bikes encourages the Washington Redskins to give up their trademarked name as a matter of respect and decency.”

While the Tam decision may have opened the proverbial flood gates of offensive trademark applications, it also allows for these positive trademark uses in reclaiming derogatory terms.

Call of Duty Trademark Lawsuit: A Humvee Humdinger

Posted in Branding, Fair Use, Famous Marks, First Amendment, Infringement, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Trademarks

AM General, manufacturer of Humvee military vehicles, has sued Activision Blizzard for trademark infringement, based on the use of the “Humvee” and “HMMWV” marks for the virtual military vehicles displayed in Activision’s Call of Duty video games. See the complaint here, filed last week in the Southern District of New York. For those of you who are not avid video-gamers, Call of Duty is a military-themed first-person shooter game–and it’s one of the best-selling games in the world, selling more than 250 million copies since 2003.

AM General owns federal trademark registrations for the marks HUMVEE (Reg. No. 1697530) and HMMWV (Reg. No. 3026594), for use in connection with the military trucks that the company manufactures. (“HMMWV” is an acronym referring to High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.)

This dispute raises issues similar to those I’ve discussed in recent posts (such as here) regarding the gap between trademark use in the real-world, versus trademark use in the virtual realm, such as in video games, which involve depictions of arguably related goods or services. Here, it is questionable whether consumers would be confused as to source. There is no indication that AM General sells video games, or that Activision sells military vehicles.

For example, in E.S.S. Entm’t 2000, Inc. v. Rock Star Videos, Inc., 547 F.3d 1095, 1100 (9th Cir. 2008), the court held that consumer confusion was unlikely based on a video game’s reference to the mark “Play Pen,” referring to a real-world strip club, because: “The San Andreas Game is not complementary to the Play Pen; video games and strip clubs do not go together ….  Nothing indicates that the buying public would reasonably have believed that ESS produced the video game or, for that matter, that Rockstar operated a strip club.”

Nevertheless, confusion as to source isn’t the only actionable type of confusion–there’s an argument that consumers could be confused as to whether there is an affiliation, sponsorship, or approval between Activision and AM General as to the Call of Duty video games and the references to the HUMVEE and HMMWV marks, such as a licensing deal. Such an argument is reinforced by AM General’s allegations in the complaint that it has licensed the use of its HUMVEE mark in several other video games.

However, Activision may also have several defenses, including a nominative fair-use defense. The defense of nominative fair-use may apply where a defendant uses a mark solely to describe and refer to the plaintiff’s product, but not the defendant’s product, for purposes such as comparison, criticism, or simply a point of reference. Here, it would seem that Activision is using the HUMVEE and HMMWV marks nominatively, to refer to AM General’s military vehicles, rather than any of Activision’s products.

A free-speech defense may also apply for artistic expression under the First Amendment. The Rock Star Videos case, cited above, has relevant discussion of this defense in a similar context. In that case, the court applied the Second Circuit’s “Rogers test,” under which “an artistic work’s use of a trademark that otherwise would violate the Lanham Act is not actionable unless the [use of the mark] has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever, or, if it has some artistic relevance, unless [it] explicitly misleads as to the source or the content of the work.” Rock Star Videos, 547 F.3d at 1095 (quoting Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994, 999 (2d Cir. 1989)). The court held that this defense was established, because the San Andreas video game was an artistic work; the reference to the “Play Pen” mark for a strip club had “at least some artistic relevance” (this is a low threshold–the level of relevance “merely must be above zero”); and the reference did not explicitly mislead consumers as to the source of the work.  Id. at 1099-1101.

Similarly here, Activision could argue that its video game and the references to AM General’s marks are merely artistic expression; that the references to the HUMVEE and HMMWV have at least some non-zero level of artistic relevance; and such references do not explicitly mislead consumers.

It will be interesting to see the defenses raised by Activision and how this dispute ultimately plays out. Activision’s answer to the complaint will be due in a couple weeks. How do you think this case will be resolved? Stay tuned for updates.

 

Classic Trademark Fair Use of Google Mark?

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Fair Use, Genericide, Loss of Rights, Marketing, Trademarks

North Memorial Health must be spending significant advertising dollars at the moment, with a variety of ads appearing all over the Minneapolis skyway system, above is one current example.

In addition, there are a series of humorous and sarcastic TV ads that were designed to poke the bear of our broken health care system, congrats to Brandfire on their creative work here.

The current ad campaign follows the health system’s rebrand and slight truncation earlier this year, from North Memorial Health Care to North Memorial Health:

“The brand campaign consists of TV, out of home, digital and print advertisements. It pokes fun at the industry by showing experiences of customers and attitudes of healthcare that are universally frustrating.  The print and outdoor advertisements also demonstrate that North Memorial Health accepts its share of the blame, but commits to working harder to deliver an unmatched experience for the customer.”

So, I guess, if patients admit to having Googled their symptons prior to their appointment, they will no longer be scolded for doing so by doctors, nurses, and other health care providers, right?

But, what about the glaring Google reference in the above skyway ad, did North Memorial Health need permission from Google for the gratuitous reference?

You may recall, a few years back I wrote about Google surviving a genericness challenge (Tucker and Jessica have provided updates), drawing attention to possible meanings of the word Google:

“The word google has four possible meanings in this case: (1) a trademark designating the Google search engine; (2) a verb referring to the act of searching on the internet using the Google search engine; (3) a verb referring to the act of searching on the internet using any search engine; and (4) a common descriptive term for search engines in general.”

Seems to me, in the North Memorial Health ad shown above, Google could be understood as the verb meanings in both (2) and (3), as the capitalization doesn’t point uniquely to Google.

There is little doubt that no Google permission is required for the ad, because nominative fair use ought to apply, given the plausible, but not required meaning of the above definition in (2).

More interesting to me though, is the question of whether classic fair use could apply as well to the Google use, given the plausible, but not required meaning of Google in definition (3) above.

If so, I’m not sure I’ve encountered an example or case before where both classic and nominative fair use applied, perhaps this is a first, so what do you really think, without Googling it, of course?

This Friday: You Can Say Buh Bye to Dr. No!

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Marketing, Social Media, Trademarks

This Friday, yours truly will be presenting “Making Your Business Blogging Visible” at SME (Sales and Marketing Executives of Minnesota), and you can learn about all of the details here.

Given the title, as you might have guessed, I’ll be sharing some perspectives on how DuetsBlog came to be, where we’ve been, how we’ve been doing what we do, and where we’re headed.

As you well know, we’re passionate about bringing lawyers and marketers together, much earlier in the creative process, and in the process we’ve shined a spotlight on the infamous Dr. No.

If you have been here from the beginning or if you have been curious enough to check out our inaugural post on March 5, 2009, you know that we believed our audience to be two-part:

“If you are a lawyer and you find yourself getting in the way more than facilitating the process, you need a regular dose of Duets Blog. If you have no formal legal training and your intellectual property lawyer prefers roadblocks over intelligent collaboration, join our conversation on Duets Blog.”

Nowadays, following my recent and invaluable work in Seth Godin’s altMBA workshop, I’m thinking it might make sense to reframe “who this is for” in this way:

“People who love brands that need intellectual property lawyers, whether they know it or not.”

While on this amazing journey of more than 2,200 blog posts (roughly 1/3 are from me), we’ve grown, evolved, and we’ve shared scores of guest posts from dozens of non-lawyer guest bloggers.

We’ve also enjoyed getting to know you, and we’ve enjoyed your countless published comments, your perspectives and blog ideas, and all of our amazing off-line conversations and friendships.

Although we haven’t yet reached the remarkable goal of 7,000 blog posts (like the one who is admired), each one of us has enrolled for this work and each one of us lives by this sage guidance:

“I write every word. I don’t understand outsourcing something this personal, a privilege this important.”

Here’s a question, is it really a blog post, if the person’s name next to the title is not the actual, the real author? Blogging is really personal, even if individuals are writing on a team or group blog.

As I mentioned in the promotional video for this Friday’s SME luncheon event, “I’m looking forward to meeting you, this is a dialogue you will not want to miss, see you soon!”

UPDATE: Use promo code BAIRD for the bargain SME rate of $39.

The Hidden Section 2(f) Claim

Posted in Articles, Guest Bloggers, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Patents, Squirrelly Thoughts, Trademarks, USPTO

-Wes Anderson, Attorney

Hello (again) DuetsBlog! Readers may have noted my recent absence from the blog. I recently embarked on a new stage of my career as in-house corporate counsel, and Steve gave me the opportunity to contribute as a guest blogger.

Even in my in-house role, I remain a trademark law hobbyist. One of the great hidden gems of the Trademark Office’s online database are “file wrappers” – the aged paper folders that served as the formal records for trademark registrations until the early 2000s, when the PTO went fully digital. As a means of preserving the old paper records, the Trademark Office provides public access to full-color scans of these folders.

For example, I’m willing to wager that nearly every reader of this blog owns a pair of GOLD TOE socks. And sure enough, Gildan USA Inc. owns a trademark registration dating back to 1964, No. 770,389 for the GOLD TOE trademark.

One interesting thing to note – as the classic GOLD TOE socks have gold weaving on the toe section, one would expect a modern-day application to require a Section 2(f) claim of acquired distinctiveness. And sure enough, TSDR states the registration is subject to a Section 2(f) claim, but that limitation is nowhere to be found on the registration certificate itself. The renewal filings of record also fail to make any reference to a Section 2(f) claim. So where did it come from?

Here, the file jacket has the answer – and seems to suggest just how precarious PTO record-keeping once was. The first page contains a litany of stamps recording various filings dating back from 1963 all the way to 2004 – still, no Section 2(f) claim. But on page 2, at the very bottom, some Trademark Office employee appears to have made the notation “2(f),” in pencil:

When exactly was this claim made? Did the registration owner make a declaration as to sufficient past use? That’s unclear – all we have is a simple notation.

So, if you have some free time this weekend, I can think of no better way to spend it than delving into the trove of file wrappers preserved on the PTO website. If you find an interesting one, let us know!

Kim Kardashian Secures Hometown Advantage

Posted in Articles, Famous Marks, Fashion, Law Suits, Marketing, Product Packaging, Trademarks

Kim Kardashian West’s (“Kardashian’s”) company Kimisaprincess, Inc. won its motion to transfer a pending case against the company from Illinois to California. Danish makeup artist Kirsten Kjaer Weis (“KKW”) sued Kimisaprincess in Illinois alleging claims of trademark infringement, false designation of origin and unfair competition against Kardashian’s company.

Kim Kardashian and her family are no strangers to Duets Blog or the Courts. See Kardashian/Jenner TrademarksKardashians Caught Without Makeup, But Not The Way You’d Expect, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Danish makeup artist KKW sells and distributes her products with a stylized KW brand or with her full name through fancy retailers such as Barney’s. In contrast, Kardashian’s company sells products in less expensive superstores such as Target, CVS and online. Kimisaprincess sells a brand of makeup called “KKW Beauty” after her initials that was released in June 2017. The products are sold exclusively online.

Makeup artist KKW alleges that she and Kardashian’s company are direct competitors. Because of Kardashian’s fame and celebrity, it is likely consumers will mistakenly believe KKW’s products—despite its prior rights to the trademark—is associated with Kardashian. This will damage KKW and prevent KKW from controlling the reputation and goodwill that KKW has established for her products.

Kardashian’s company brought a motion to transfer the pending case to California. Her company argued that that there is better access to documents and witnesses in California where Kimisaprincess and Kardashian herself are both located. In addition, third parties such as Kardashian’s momanger (as she’s known by the press), Kris Jenner and the company that designed Kardashian’s KKW Beauty products are also in California. Plaintiff lives in New York. There are not people or documents at issue located in Illinois.

In opposing the motion, Plaintiff Danish makeup artist KKW argued that Illinois was an appropriate venue, because actual confusion between her products and the KKW Beauty products had occurred in Illinois during a survey conducted about the products. The Court found this argument to be unpersuasive, because the KKW Beauty products are sold nationwide, so confusion would also occur in California.

The Court noted that there would be a marginal increase in cost to go to California, but it does not create a cost where none was. Plaintiff KKW would have to travel to Illinois too.

The showdown between the Danish makeup artist (KKW) and Kardashian’s Kimisaprincess will take place in California. Do you think the dispute will end up on the “Keeping up with the Kardashians” reality show?

Gucci: The Other Stripe Mark

Posted in Fashion, Genericide, Infringement, Non-Traditional Trademarks

Normally when we talk about stripes trademarks , we’re talking about iconic sportswear brand adidas. An avid litigant with respect to use of “three stripe” designs on footwear and clothing, adidas is a regular feature here at DuetsBlog, where we have discussed disputes with lululemon, Puma, and retail store Forever 21. But today we’re talking about a different three stripe brand, the blue-red-blue and green-red-green three stripe designs featured by luxury brand Gucci. Not everything is new though. Gucci’s foil in this dispute is no stranger to stripe-infringement claims, as our friend Forever 21 makes another appearance.

Over the past year, Gucci sent cease and desist letters to Forever 21 regarding the sale of clothing and accessories featuring a familiar striped pattern. Following an exchange of letters, Forever 21 struck first, filing a complaint requesting declaratory judgment that its sale of the products does not infringe Gucci’s rights, and requesting that the court cancel Gucci’s registrations on the grounds of lack of secondary meaning and/or genericness. In its answer, Gucci asserted claims of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition. Excerpts from Gucci’s answer displaying the clothing at issue are shown below (with additional examples here and here). 

 

In its answer, Gucci only addressed Forever 21’s non-infringement count. Prior to filing the answer, Gucci filed a Motion to Dismiss all the claims related to cancellation of Gucci’s registrations. On Monday November 6, the District Court issued an order granting the motion, providing Forever 21 with 10 days to file an amended complaint.  In the order, the court suggests that Forever 21 may have an uphill battle in pursuing these claims, stating

[T]he court is skeptical that plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts to support its claims for cancellation based on lack of secondary meaning, aesthetic functionality, and genericism.

So while I’d love to get into the substance of whether Forever 21 has a chance at cancelling these “three-stripe” registrations, we’ll have to see whether Forever 21 is able to craft an amended complaint to overcome the court’s concerns. In the interim, I’m left considering Gucci’s three stripe marks alongside adidas’ three stripe marks. In reviewing each parties’ registrations, an interesting detail emerges. Both parties own registrations for stripe designs associated with clothing, but that doesn’t mean both parties have the same type of registered rights.

For adidas, it registered its stripes as trade dress for its products. For example, Reg. No. 3,029,127 describes the registered mark as “three parallel stripes running along the sleeve of a shirt, t-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket or coat.” The drawing of the mark is shown below.

Clearly, adidas’ registrations is specifically for a stripe patterned applied to jackets.

Gucci’s registered rights? Not so much. Based on the registrations identified in Gucci’s answer and counterclaim, none of Gucci’s registrations cover trade dress. All of the registrations instead appear to be for an image of stripes. The descriptions for Gucci’s marks are all similar to Reg. No. 4,379,039, which describes the mark as “a stripe containing three distinct bands of color with a red band in the middle of two green band.” The drawing for the registrations is simply a square with three stripes.

Does Gucci’s failure to register its mark as trade dress affect Forever 21’s ability to cancel the registrations for these design logos? Normally use as a trademark is on a tag, label, on the pocket, or emblazoned across the shirt. If Gucci’s actual use of the registered mark is limited solely to the trade dress along the bottom or cuffs of jackets, does it open up any potential claims for cancellation based on non-use? Does Gucci’s failure to register its mark as trade dress affect Gucci’s ability to assert that Forever 21 is infringing a federally registered trademark? I guess we’ll find out whether Forever 21 wades into these waters when (or if) it files its amended complaint. Stay tuned.

 

Rosland Drops “What’s in Your Safe” Tagline?

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

Cause and effect is difficult to establish when all the relevant facts have not been assembled.

We certainly don’t claim to have all of them here, with Rosland Capital’s current TV commercial.

But, it was easy to wonder about timing, after noticing William Devane’s omission of the previous “What’s in Your Safe?” tagline in favor of “Are You Safe?” — especially given this precious gem:

What’s in Your Tagline, A Strong Trademark?

On November 9, 2015, we questioned the strength of Capital One’s “What’s in Your Wallet” tagline:

“Capital One has taken no apparent action against Rosland Capital’s trademark registration for the tagline What’s in Your Safe? for “telephone ordering services in the field of precious metal ingots and numismatic coins” — the first registration it obtained was not stated in the form of a question (What’s in Your Safe) for “retail store services featuring precious metal ingots and numismatic coins; on-line retail store services featuring precious metal ingots and numismatic coins; retail catalog ordering services via telephone featuring precious metal ingots and numismatic coins.” Capital One didn’t even put in an extension of time to oppose either of those or What’s in Your Pocket? for a credit card holder, leaving me to wonder will any mark other than an identical one get Capital One’s serious attention?”

The USPTO files now reveal that Rosland Capital surrendered its What’s in Your Safe registration and surrendered its What’s in Your Safe? registration, oh yes, six months later, on May 17, 2016, so sorry for our delay in reporting these developing facts.

Are we causing a ruckus, or are we simply reporting the facts?

Branding Stories Around The Lack of Memory

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Marketing, Squirrelly Thoughts, Television, Trademarks, USPTO

I’ve been meaning to write about a TV commercial for a while, but I keep forgetting to do it.

Perhaps I need the very product being advertised in the commercial, because what gained my attention was the clever tagline following the brand name: Prevagen. The Name to Remember.

Given the goods being sold, it struck me as a clever play on words, literally descriptive, but figuratively not, so the double meaning allows it to be registered without acquired distinctiveness:

Prevagen (apoaequorin) is clinically shown to help with mild memory problems associated with Aging.

I’ve never tried it, but since I’ve seen this ad more than a few times, I’m left wondering if I’m within their target market? So, I know I’m AARP eligible, but I can’t recall if I’m really a member.

Yet, I’m left wondering why the Prevagen folks haven’t sought separate registration for the tagline, standing alone, apart from the Prevagen brand name, as their specimen of use shows.

I don’t know, maybe they forgot?

Aaron Keller of Capsule noted, in another context, that “memory decay is abhorrent” for brands.

Anyway, going through this exercise has reminded me that we need to submit evidence of our continued use of this clever tagline — that I think I designed myself — for our legal services:

If You Want to Protect Your Name Remember this One®

And, when I search for the word “memory” on Ron Coleman’s Likelihood of Confusion® blog, this gem keeps coming up, perhaps the repetition exists for those with “mild memory problems.”

You might be wishing I’d be done by now, hoping I’ve disremembered what’s next, but I’m really feeling it currently, and our friend James Mahoney, has provided me with a hot tip that Tom Rush, American Folk Icon, will be performing at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis later this week.

You guessed it, or perhaps you’ve never memorized Rush’s hits or play list, but he’s the guy who has his Remember Song on YouTube, currently showing over 7 million views.

And, there’s more, before I omit something else, our friend Seth Godin also has weighed in on the subject of memory, I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten this one, nor has Nancy Friedman for that matter.

The good news is, as John Welch — from the TTABlog — reported way back in 2007, thanks to genericness, it would appear that anyone could sell card games called, you guessed it: Memory.

Apparently though, times and circumstances have changed, or the Rhode Island decision John discussed was not the final word, or perhaps someone simply failed to remember, because Hasbro, in fact, still maintains federally-registered rights in Memory for a card matching game.

Oh, by the way, back to our federally-registered tagline, searching the USPTO database for marks with both “name” and “memory” yields surprisingly few live ones, so broad rights, right?

Well, I’m not making this up, but as it turns out, there is presently a trademark fight, between two law firms, going on now for nearly five years at the TTAB and in Philadelphia federal district court, over the claimed mark: Remember This Name. Well, imagine that, and then commit it to memory.

Larry Pitts & Associates, P.C. is arguing that Lundy Law’s claimed Remember This Name mark is generic, and part of the public domain for anyone to use, oral argument is likely in January 2018.

There might have been more I wanted to say on this subject, I’m not sure, but I’m thinking that this has been plenty for a pleasant stroll down memory lane, at least for now. Do you agree?

University of North Dakota Abandons Sioux Mascot, but not Sioux Mark

Posted in Famous Marks, First Amendment, Loss of Rights, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Trademarks

The weekend of October 20-21, 2017, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and North Dakota Fighting Hawks traded wins in one of college hockey’s most competitive series. While watching the NCHC broadcast, an ad for the “Sioux Shop” appeared on screen. The ad explained that the Sioux Shop sells North Dakota fan gear at Ralph Englestad Arena (affectionately referred to by North Dakota fans as “the Ralph”), the 400,000 square foot, first-class hockey palace in Grand Forks where the Gophers and Hawks were facing off. I was surprised by the ad, especially in view of the fact that the University of North Dakota is no longer referred to as the “Sioux.”

Picture credit: Pinterest.

The Sioux Shop ad also reminded me of a recent experience I had when flying Southwest Airlines, in which a gate staff member was wearing a Fighting Sioux lanyard. As many frequent Southwest fliers can attest, Southwest’s employees often wear memorabilia of their favorite sports teams. I asked the staff member where she got the lanyard, as it appeared to be new. She replied that the University is still licensing the mark so as not to abandon it and that she picked it up from a licensed merchandiser. Apparently, you can also buy Fighting Sioux gear on Amazon.

As many hockey fans know, the University recently changed its mascot to the Fighting Hawks, from the Fighting Sioux, after backlash from the NCAA and a statewide ballot initiative approved the change. The “Fighting Sioux” is also one of several arguably-disparaging marks based on Native American culture that have been criticized in recent years. For example, the Fighting Sioux trademark is similar to the R-word trademark, which was challenged and later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer. With this political and legal background in mind, I thought to myself when watching the Sioux Shop ad, “Didn’t North Dakota change it’s sports mascot to the Hawks, and, if so, why does the fan shop still bear the ‘Sioux’ name? Can NCHC, an NCAA conference, even run an ad for a shop selling merchandise bearing a name similar to one that the NCAA singled out as ‘hostile or abusive’?” Just what is going on here?

It turns out that the Southwest staff member was right: the University still licenses the Fighting Sioux trademark so as to avoid abandonment. The reasons appear to be threefold: First, the University agreed in a 2007 settlement with the NCAA that it would maintain the Fighting Sioux trademark. Second, the school appears to be concerned that if it does not license the trademark and control the flow of Sioux merchandise, someone will flood the market and stymy efforts to phase in the Fighting Hawks mascot and phase out the Fighting Sioux mark. Ironically, then, in order to effectively stop using the Fighting Sioux name, the University must “use” the mark. Third—and perhaps this is unfair cynicism—money.

The Lanham Act provides that a trademark may lose its viability through abandonment when the holder of the mark both discontinues use of the mark and intends not to resume use of the mark. See 15 U.S.C. § 1127. The law states that nonuse for three consecutive years is prima facie evidence of abandonment. See id. Clearly, the University hasn’t run into that issue yet. However, the issue that the University does face is whether it is making a “bona fide use” of the Fighting Sioux mark “in the ordinary course of trade, and not made merely to reserve” its right in the mark. Id. Reductions in the use of a mark may contribute to a finding of both prongs of the abandonment test. So can failure to take action against infringers. Of course, whether a reduction in use and a change in the scope and extent of licensing shows abandonment depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

The University’s current licensing strategy definitely toes the blue line on bona fide use. It appears that the University is only licensing productions of 9,000 pieces of merchandise at a time and in limited auctions. Such small offerings surely dwarf those available to fans in the years leading up to the mascot switch. On the other hand, the offerings are in the same category: sportswear. The geographic range of the sales is also smaller than before. In addition to the practically-discontinued use of the mark, the University’s licensing also seems disingenuous. One reason for maintaining the mark is to control the supply of Fighting Sioux gear competing with Fighting Hawks gear, and I’m not sure that purpose shows intent to use the Sioux mark (rather than mere reservation of it). I’m also skeptical that using the mark is helping transition efforts; as one source reports, new Fighting Sioux gear has been known to sell out very quickly, and fans continue to cling to the name–not to mention the Ralph, which has over 2,500 Sioux logos plastered throughout the arena in fulfillment of its late eponymous benefactor’s desire to protest a mascot name change.

Whether the University’s current use of the mark can stave off the threat of abandonment, while at the same time render the Fighting Sioux mark obsolete, remains to be seen. For now, North Dakota hockey fans are stuck between two mascots, and neighboring rivals look on in confusion, with no clear end in sight.