— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA)’s decision last year to end its boys-only policy was met with mixed reactions.  Some lauded it as a progressive victory.  Others, including former Girl Scouts, viewed it as a thinly-veiled corporate strategy and a loss for girls.  As part of an early adopter program, more than 3,000 girls have already signed up to be BSA Cub Scouts.

To help solidify its more inclusive policies, the Boy Scouts also announced a new branding strategy.  Beginning in 2019, the organization will be known as Scouts BSA.  The rebranding efforts include a new tag line: “Scout Me In.”

The Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) has been openly and decisively against the Boy Scouts’ policy change.  In a public letter to the Boy Scouts, the GSUSA expressed its concern regarding what it perceived as the “short-sightedness of thinking that running a program specifically tailored to boys can simply be translated to girls.”

In a blog post on its website, GSUSA wrote, “We believe strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides, which creates a free space for girls to learn and thrive.”  It continued, “The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl- and youth-serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families. Girl Scouts offers a one-of-a-kind experience for girls with a program tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs.”

The Girl Scouts are now suing the Boy Scouts for trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition.  The GSUSA asserts that its right to use the SCOUT and SCOUTING marks in connection with development programs for girls has been long recognized by the TTAB and the Boy Scouts.  GSUSA notes that the two organizations’ use of the SCOUT, SCOUTS and SCOUTING marks have, until recently, “either been preceded by words like BOY or GIRL . . . or appeared in a context making clear that the programs at issue were developed by one organization or the other.”  In the complaint, the Girl Scouts provide evidence of confusion among the public resulting from the Boy Scouts’ use of the ungendered terms.  Cited examples include cases of girls accidentally signing up for Boy Scouts programs and parents believing the two organizations have merged.

The GSUSA seeks an order blocking the Boy Scouts from using SCOUT, SCOUTS, SCOUTING, or SCOUTS BSA without “an inherently distinctive or distinguishing terms appearing immediately before it,” in connection with services directed to girls.

This is not the first time the two groups have fought over branding.  Prior to 1917, the Girl Scouts were instead known as the Girl Guides.  When the change to “Girl Scouts” was announced, the chief executive of the Boy Scouts accused the group of “trivialize[ing]” and “sissify[ing]” the term.  According to the Atlantic, the Boy Scouts even sued over the name change.

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

It was festival time in Italy when I passed this food truck at an Abruzzo village’s celebration. I understand a little Italian (and speak even less), so what initially caught my eye was the crowd and the fun-loving couple serving up the goodies.

I knew that “Amici delle” on the sign and t-shirts means “friends of,” but didn’t know what “Fregne” means. Turns out, it’s the name that Elena Iannone gave to her special take on a type of Abruzzo pastry that she and her husband sell from the truck.

Only later, when I was gazing at the photo, did I spot the clever warning on the sign in the bottom-right corner of the case:

“Gli amici delle ‘Fregne’ declinano ogni responsabilita da un eventuale dipendenza!” (Loosely: Friends of the “Fregne” take no responsibility for you becoming addicted!)

How’s that for a not too subtle boast about the quality of your tasty pastries?

Not content with that, though, the Amici take it further. The offerings have names like Exotic, Delicate, Greedy, Widow, Kinky, and a few others that hint at the meaning of Fregne, which none of my Italian dictionaries defines. Suffice to say that the jovial Elena has both a sense of humor and a marketing instinct.

Most of the time when we talk about marketing and advertising campaigns, the subject companies are well-known, at least regionally, and often nationally or internationally. But lots of little one-offs, like the Amici delle Fregne, produce creative, consistently on-brand approaches that are qualitatively right up there with the big leaguers.

And like the big leaguers, when your marketing is good, your product better live up to it. Based on what I saw that night, when the Amici were happily handing over a steady stream of Fregne, they more than deliver on that front.

An NFL team and an NBA team are duking it out over trademarks with the word “UPRISING” to be used with eSports.

What is eSports you may ask? It is professional competitive video gaming. Anyone with a teenager has probably heard of Fortnite. Fortnite is a world-wide phenomenon. Over three nights during TwitchCon (which is a Fortnite competition), Fortnite averaged around 65,000 viewers per day across Twitch, YouTube and Facebook. However, there are also numerous other video games such as Hearthstone, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Star Craft II and Overwatch, among others. Indeed, Overwatch is related to the trademark dispute involving the owner of the New England Patriots.

The dispute involves the marks BOSTON UPRISING and NORTH UPRISING. Specifically, last month, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots Robert Kraft’s company, Kraft Group, filed a Notice of Opposition against an application filed by the NBA’s Toronto Raptors for the mark NORTH UPRISING (stylized) in connection with clothing and other merchandise that is to be used with video games. The Kraft Group alleges that the stylized mark in the application is similar in stylization and font of its applied for stylized mark for BOSTON UPRISING.

Continue Reading The New England Patriots Are Ready To Battle Off The Field

We’ve been stalking Kevin O’Leary’s nutty Mr. Wonderful trademark application, for a while now.

In April, we thought the USPTO would refuse registration of Mr. Wonderful for nuts, based on this:

In June, we were shocked to see the USPTO missed issuing the obvious refusal, and in August, we noted and reported that The Wonderful Company LLC had filed an Extension of Time to Oppose.

Just last month, O’Leary’s trademark counsel filed a Request for Express Abandonment of the Mr. Wonderful trademark application, and the USPTO promptly issued a Notice of Abandonment.

One of O’Leary’s most famous lines from Shark Tank seems to fit this very moment, as we mourn the loss of O’Leary’s Mr. Wonderful trademark application for roasted nuts, with a popular meme:

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Last year I wrote a “Change Your Name Already” blog post about Overstock.com on DuetsBlog which described the painful way that Overstock.com was trying to communicate that their name did not fit what they were doing as a business…”we are so much more!” My response was to politely suggest that they call me to help them find a new name that did fit their business model.

Recently MailChimp launched an ad campaign that approached the “our name does not fit our business model” issue from a different angle. In this effort, they celebrate the fact that they have outgrown their name and tell prospective customers that they would like to help them do the same thing.

Brilliant…simply brilliant. Both Overstock.com and MailChimp have outgrown their names, but Overstock.com communicates it in a way that makes the potential customer feel stupid (“you thought we only sold overstock items but you are stupid…we actually do more!”). MailChimp admits they do more than what their name implies and desire to have the same impact on the prospective customer’s business, thereby leaving prospective customers feeling hopeful. Big difference.

So the CEO of Overstock.com should still call me to initiate a name development project…but the CEO of MailChimp can just take a bow!

There’s been a major update in the trademark infringement lawsuit brought by the Museum of Modern Art (“MoMA”) against the cafe and art gallery, MoMaCha in New York City.

MoMA’s motion for a preliminary injunction was recently granted by Judge Louis Stanton of the Southern District of New York. As we discussed previously, the infringement allegations by MoMA were compelling, and it appears the court agrees that MoMA is likely to succeed on its claims, based primarily on the similarity of the marks and the relatedness of the parties’ goods/services in the same city (both parties display works of art along with offering cafe services). The court was particularly persuaded by the similarity of the vertical use of “MoMaCha,” as seen on the coffee cup above, with MoMA’s similar vertical use on the museum building signage above. (See Order at p. 18.)

The court’s preliminary injunction bars MoMaCha from continuing to use its name, logo, and the momacha.com domain name, at least while the legal proceedings are pending. As of today, the previous website, www.momacha.com is no longer accessible.

Instead, it appears that MoMaCha has already rebranded to a slightly different name, by changing one letter: MaMaCha, with a new website already available here: www.mamacha.nyc

Unfortunately, that probably won’t be sufficient to satisfy MoMA’s trademark infringement concerns. Indeed, the New York Times reported that MoMA has already sent a letter to “MaMaCha” regarding the new name and demanding that they cease use. The demand letter closes by stating:

Changing the ‘O’ in MOMACHA to an ‘A’ merely indicates your clients’ continued contempt for MoMA’s trademark rights. Your clients’ decision to change to a mark of such an infringing nature will be done at their peril.

As discussed in my last post, in the midst of trademark infringement allegations, extra caution is warranted. Just as one should be cautious with business expansion under an alleged infringing mark to mitigate damages, extra care is also warranted in selecting a new or modified mark (whether voluntarily or by court order) to avoid similar or further infringement claims, as there will be extra scrutiny and potentially over-aggressive enforcement by the opponent in the present dispute.

And as a practical matter, if one has to expend the effort and resources to re-brand, it may be more cost-effective to make a more significant, lower-risk change, rather than pushing boundaries with a minor change that may again be challenged, instigating further litigation expense, and requiring another re-brand. In many cases, simply changing one letter may not sufficient. Based on these developments thus far, I’m sure there will be interesting updates to come, so stay tuned.

Credit: Local Solutions

I write today regarding a squirrelly thought: are the benefits of registering a hashtag trademark almost always outweighed by the consequences? In light of a recent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) ruling and the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure’s (“TMEP”) provisions, hashtag marks offer much less protection than traditional character-based marks, such that the latter are preferable in most situations.

We’ve all seen hashtag words and phrases (without spaces between the words) in social media, most commonly on Twitter–but also now on other sites, such as Facebook and Instagram. By affixing a hash symbol (#) to a word or phrase in a post, users can garner attention, join in a movement, and possibly “go viral.” Popular recent trending examples are #MeToo and #TakeAKnee. And of course, who could forget:

#selfie

Hashtags serve filtering, identifying, and promoting functions that have commercial advertising value. Thus, it is no surprise that hundreds of individuals and companies have applied for trademarks on “hashtag marks,” seeking to control the use of certain hash-preceded words and phrases. In fact, at the time of writing, there are over 1,900 such registrations. Hashtags are hip, and everyone wants one–or so they think.

In 2016, the USPTO added TMEP § 1202.18, which explains when “hashtag marks” may be registered:

A mark consisting of or containing the hash symbol (#) or the term HASHTAG is registrable as a trademark or service mark only if it functions as an identifier of the source of the applicant’s goods or services. . . . Generally, the hash symbol and the wording HASHTAG do not provide any source-indicating function because they merely facilitate categorization and searching within online social media . . . .Therefore, the addition of the term HASHTAG or the hash symbol (#) to an otherwise unregistrable mark typically will not render it registrable.

Recently, the TTAB applied this rule and other doctrines, holding that the addition of hashtags usually do nothing to make a mark distinctive. In the case, the TTAB rejected singer Will.I.Am’s application for a hashtag mark for #WILLPOWER because it was too similar to other registered marks containing”willpower,” and the hash symbol had no source-indicating distinctiveness, merely operating as a metadata tag for social media platforms.

The TTAB decision and TMEP provisions greatly narrow the registrability of hashtag marks, as well as their enforcement scope, such that it seems as if there is very little upside to applying for such a mark in most circumstances. An applicant does not need to register an otherwise-registrable mark as a hashtag mark in order to protect the mark if hashed. In such cases, a hashtag registration provides no more protection than a traditional character registration; the hash adds no additional layer of distinctiveness, just as it would not lend distinctiveness to an unregistrable word or phrase. Thus, an applicant should only apply for a hashtag mark in instances in which the non-hashed word or phrase lacks distinctiveness without the hash. If there is a case to be made for a traditional mark, the applicant should pursue that mark instead because traditional marks can be enforced more broadly.

If an applicant applies, however, only for a hashtag mark, then non-distinctiveness absent the hashtag will work to preclude the registrant from enforcing the mark in non-hashed situations. Even if the hashtag mark could be a mark on its own without the hash, the fact that the hashtag mark is either the first or only mark could result in a presumption against non-hashed distinctiveness–after all, why apply for a hashtag mark at all in such circumstances? It may also be more difficult to prove that non-hashed phrases, which in their non-hashed form are separated by spaces, infringe the hashtag mark. Imagine, for example, two competing phrases (the first example of which is a registered hashtag mark):

#lifeofabusyexecutive

Life of a Busy Executive

If the hash provides the distinctiveness for the first example (and perhaps in tandem with the lowercase and squished text), then presumably the second phrase without the hash (and with spaces) would not tread on that distinctiveness, working against a showing of consumer confusion and infringement. Of course, the holder of the hashtag mark could prevent identical use by competitors in commerce, but not similar non-hashed uses.

Emerging trademark law teaches that hashtag marks are extremely narrow–intentionally so–and as we’ve discussed before, hashtag marks are also greatly susceptible to fair use defenses. There appear to be few upsides to seeking such marks, at least without first trying for a traditional mark. So although trademark commentary as of late has focused on the trendiness of obtaining a hashtag mark, the more important question is whether it is worth doing so. In most cases, the answer will probably be “no.”

M. Shanken Communications, publisher of Wine Spectator — a popular magazine, website and mobile application that offers wine ratings on a 100-point scale — has filed a lawsuit against California-based Modern Wellness, Inc., based on that company’s use of “Weed Spectator” for ratings of cannabis. The federal complaint, filed in New York, alleges claims including trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution. The case is M. Shanken Communications, Inc. v. Modern Wellness, Inc. et al., Case No. 18-cv-08050 (S.D.N.Y.).

M. Shanken alleges that the website and social media pages offered by Modern Wellness use the terms “Weed Spectator” and “WS” for cannabis rating publications, which are confusingly similar to M. Shanken’s use of “Wine Spectator” and “WS” marks for its wine rating publications. For example, Modern Wellness also offers a similar 100-point rating scale for cannabis, and the parties’ marks allegedly contain similar font and style. Furthermore, M. Shanken cites to several Modern Wellness pages that associate cannabis with wine.

M. Shanken’s claims will require establishing a likelihood of confusion (except for the dilution claims) based on the Second Circuit’s eight Polaroid factors. Among those factors, two of the most significant are the similarity of the marks and the relatedness (or “competitive proximity”) of the parties’ services. Although there are some similarities of the marks, M. Shanken may have some difficulty establishing likelihood of confusion based on a lack of relatedness between cannabis rating and wine rating.

However, M. Shanken also brought a dilution claim, which does not require a showing that the services are related or competitively proximate. Therefore, M. Shanken may prevail on that claim, if it can prove the use of “Weed Spectator” is likely to cause dilution by blurring or tarnishment. M. Shanken alleged that its marks are tarnished by Weed Spectator because of the association with an illegal drug (under federal law and most states). Nevertheless, the federal dilution claim also requires a showing that M. Shanken’s marks are “famous,” which is a high bar to establish.

What do you think? Would you be confused as to the source of the Weed Spectator mark, or believe there was some affiliation or connection between the parties? Even if not, do you think that M. Shanken’s marks are tarnished or blurred by Weed Spectator? Stay tuned for updates.

— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney

Amazon’s patent (U.S. Patent No. 9,280,157) for a “System and Method for Transporting Personnel Within an Active Workspace” has been in the news recently.

The invention is described as a device for keeping human workers safe in an automated (i.e., robotic) work environment.  In the Background, the patent discusses the rapid rise of automation in inventory-handling systems.  “Technological advancements have made an ever-increasing amount of automation possible in inventory-handling and other types of material-handling systems.”  ‘157 patent at col. 1, ll. 7-9.  “However, there may be circumstances where it is necessary for human operators to traverse, or otherwise go onto, an active workspace where the mobile drive units are carrying out their assigned inventory-related tasks.”  ‘157 patent at col. 1, ll. 14-18.  An automated work environment can be dangerous for human workers.  As a solution, the patent proposes a transport device to transport a human worker safely through an automated inventory-handling work area.  The premise, and the described need for the invention, sound reasonable enough.  However, it’s the drawings of this patent that are garnering some unwanted attention.

Amazon worker cages allow users to safely traverse automated work areas.
At least there’s a bench (414) to sit on?

The patent illustrates and describes the transport device as, well, a cage for workers.  The Detailed Description describes the device as a “cage-like structure configured to substantially prevent the user from sticking an appendage through the enclosure.”  ‘157 Patent at col. 13, ll. 51-53.  Importantly, the claims of the patent (i.e. the scope of protection) are relatively broad and do not specifically require the cage-like structure.  Claim 1, for example, is directed to an inventory-handling system to transport a user within a workspace, the system including a first device to transport users within the workspace, a second device to transport users within the workspace, and a management module directing movement of the two devices.  Of course, this doesn’t render the imagery of work cages any less concerning.

A recent study conducted by two artificial intelligence researchers drew attention to the patent.  The authors referred to the patent as: “an extraordinary illustration of worker alienation, a stark moment in the relationship between humans and machines.”  News of the patent quickly reached major outlets and social media.

Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Operations, Dave Clark, responded on Twitter:  “This was never used and we have no plans for usage.”

This patent, the resulting blowback, and Amazon’s response highlight a couple of important points about patent protection.

First, patents (and, typically, patent applications) are publicly accessible documents.  At the heart of the patent system is an exchange.  The inventor obtains the right to exclude anyone from making or using the invention, but in exchange, must disclose that invention to the world.  Thus a company seeking to obtain a patent, and particularly a high profile company like Amazon, should keep in mind that every word and drawing will be viewable by the public.

Second, Clark’s statement that the company has no plans to implement the cages is a reminder of the value a patent can have.  A patent grants the owner a right to exclude others from practicing the invention.  A patent owner need not actively practice the invention herself in order to enforce it against others.  Even when a company is not looking to implement a particular invention, an issued patent on the concept may provide a leg up on competitors.  The relatively broad claims of the Amazon patent, which do not rely on the cage design, allow Amazon to exclude its competitors from employing a system for transporting humans through an automated work space.

As Steve blogged earlier this week, we’ve had a lot of “zero” on the mind lately—marks related to the word and numeral. It got me thinking about the letter ‘O,’ especially since it has been in recent trademark news.

If you missed it, The Ohio State University and Oklahoma State University are now dueling it out at the USPTO over Oklahoma’s trademark application related to the block ‘O.’ Specifically, Oklahoma is attempting to register a mark of “a drum major marching while leaning back with head tilted back”:

According to Oklahoma, it has been using the singular block ‘O’ since 2001, most notably on the jersey of its band’s drum major (but also on sports memorabelia):

But in an opposition to the mark, Ohio says it has been using the same letter since as early as 1898, and it’s current main athletics logo includes the block ‘O’ in the background:

According to Ohio, Oklahoma’s use of the leaning and tilted ‘O’ is likely to cause confusion. I wonder if any other O-state institutions will weigh in—looking at you, Oregon.

On the one hand, the block styling of the Oklahoma ‘O’ could cause consumers to accidentally purchase sports gear from the wrong institution. On the other hand, the letter ‘O’ is such a fundamental unit of the English language that it’s hard to argue just one institution should be entitled to its exclusive use—even if it’s only in the college sports context. And Oklahoma is only seeking registration of a mark which uses ‘O’ in a minor fashion. However, Oklahoma’s marching ‘O’ mark could run into issues related to the requirement that the mark be used in commerce. After all, it’s a mark representing the band major, who wears an ‘O.’ How does Oklahoma otherwise use the mark or plan to use it commerce?

It turns out that the letter ‘O’ is not widely used as a mark on its own. There are some recognizable uses, though. Perhaps the most distinctive use of the letter ‘O’ is the Oprah Magazine:

In 2001, a German magazine also named ‘O’ sued Oprah’s ‘O’ magazine, but the suit appears to have gone nowhere, and Oprah’s ‘O’ lives on.

The only other major ‘O’ competitor appears to be Cirque du Soleil:

Maybe there’s some potential for confusion between the Oklahoma drum major and the high-flying circus performers. Though, I’m guessing the audiences for both don’t substantially overlap.

I think the few recognizable instances of ‘O’ marks can be explained by the overall minor distinctiveness a single letter can generate when used in connection with a brand. This is the up-hill battle both Ohio and Oklahoma will face in arguing their sides of the trademark dispute. Stronger letter marks are paired with other words, such as O Magazine and O Cirque du Soleil. Another example comes to mind: Toys ‘R Us (also in the news lately).