Are you shopping for a trademark? Stores spend lots of money branding their names. Accordingly, many register their store names as trademarks.   Over Thanksgiving while shopping in Turkey,  I saw the store front sign Inci®.

I thought it was unique because you do not often see the ® on a store front sign. For example, you do not see bloomingdale’s® or Neiman Marcus®.  Although I am not quite to the shopping level of Isla Fisher’s character in the movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” I still have never seen the Inci® store anywhere in the United States, or even on the streets of Paris or London. 

When I returned to the United States, I checked the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO for short) website and found that there is an abandoned trademark for Inci in the United Statesand two live trademarks for Yeni Inci

and Inci Fatih.

According to the USPTO website, “Inci” means pearl. Although I cannot fully understand the Turkish registration website, I was able to determine that the same trademarks are owned by the same entities in the United States and Turkey. The registrations are for clothing. It is unclear, however, if this trademark owner is associated with the Inci® store that I saw in the Turkish mall.

Could the owner of the Turkish store Inci® receive protection in the United States even if it did not have a valid  registration? Possibly. The “famous marks” doctrine could provide such protection. This doctrine was born in my favorite city Paris. Article 6bis of the Paris Convention for Protection of Intellectual Property protects marks within a nation where it is well-known even though it is not actually used or registered in that nation  So, if Inci® can show that it is well-known in the United States it may receive additional protection. 

The courts are far from uniform in applying the “famous marks” doctrine. A New York court ruled in favor of Cutabaco, the company producing the favorite cigar of Cuban President Fidel Castro.  The court held that Cutabaco had a legally protectable right to COHIBA because the Cuban brand was well known among United States premium cigar smokers before the American company General Cigar resumed use of the COHIBA trademark. Accordingly, the court granted Cutabaco an injunction prohibiting General Cigar from continuing to sell cigars under the COHIBA trademark and cancelled General Cigar’s COHIBA. On the other hand, the Second Circuit refused to recognize the doctrine in connection with the famous Bukhara restaurant of New Deli. The Second Circuit explained that Congress had not incorporated the doctrine into Federal Trademark law so it would not recognize the doctrine.  

Whether Inci® or other such European stores would receive protection in the United States without registered trademarks will depend upon how famous the stores are and what court they land in. With the international nature of the economy, this is a topic that the Supreme Court will likely take up in the years to come.