Non-Traditional Trademarks

With the holiday season half way over, and Christmas less than a week away, you’re running out of time to bring some holiday cheer to those around you. Luckily, Chipotle, Taco Bell, and Jimmy Dean have your back and they’re ready to help you surprise and delight your food-obsessed friends and family this Christmas.

Perhaps your spouse just can’t get enough burritos from Chipotle? Well, how about Chipotle-branded guacamole, salsa, or tin foil wrapping paper on their gifts?

Or maybe your childhood memories are filled with the scent of a hearty breakfast on Christmas morning at your grandparents’ home. I’m sure your grandma or grandpa would be giddy with excitement when their gift comes wrapped in this sausage scented Jimmy Dean wrapping paper.

If your best friend is more into Taco Bell. You could go all out and build a tower of gifts, with guacamole, cheese, and the rest of the ingredients filling your gift stack wrapped from top (tortilla) to bottom (tortilla).

In today’s age of social media and cable cutting, creative marketing efforts like the above could encourage and deepen brand loyalty among consumers. It’s also a whole lot of free advertising as consumers share this content on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. In fact, the Taco Bell CrunchWrapping paper apparently reached #16 on Amazon Canada’s Best Sellers list before it sold out, so the preliminary results suggest the campaign was a success. With this success, it would not be surprising to see more brands join in on the fun next year, so keep an eye out next November for 12 feet of high definition Arby’s roast beef!

A recent Mall of America and Nordstrom shopping trip (with visiting extended family), coupled with some initial moments of admitted boredom, led me to wandering through the shoe department:

Let’s just say, the stroll through the shoe department made it all worthwhile, to capture the above image, showing Louboutin’s latest fashion sense, leading to my mental stroll down memory lane:

Louboutin Red: Blending Into the Background

Louboutin Red-Sole & Surrounding Contrast: An Implied Trademark Limitation

Louboutin: Still Waiting on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals

Louboutin Wins Second Circuit Appeal, Sort Of . . . .

Louboutin & Lessons Learned

That seven month span of blogging was pretty special (February 12, 2012 through September 17, 2012), actually making the case for narrowing Louboutin’s red sole color trademark registration.

In the end, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the amendment of the red sole color registration to compel the limitation we said was implied: Contrast with the remainder of the shoe.

This, of course, opened the door to requiring that Louboutin tolerate monochrome red shoes, as any red soles on a monochrome red shoe would not possess the necessary constrast to be seen.

Since then, Louboutin has been seeking global protection for his contrasting red-color trademark applied to shoe soles, with a recent win in the EU, however, he’s currently been snagged in India.

Given the striking shoe above, other Louboutin spiked shoes below, and knowing Louboutin’s comfort with non-traditional trademarks, filings at the USPTO seemed plausible, but no, none yet:

Afterall, the spikes appear purely ornamental with the potential for acquired distinctiveness, and no functionality, well, unless this footwear is designed for, shall we say, painful kicks in the pants.

At this point, the Louboutin brand appears synonymous with the red-sole of a woman’s shoe, which probably explains the non-verbal trademark below being applied to other fashion items:

 

 

So, we’ll keep a lookout for new non-traditional trademark filings by Louboutin, while you keep a lookout for any look-for advertising that might set the stage for claimed rights in a spiked mark.

Like many new parents, my wife and I own a Boppy® infant support pillow.  Examining the packaging, I noticed an excellent example of “look-for advertising:”

Typically, look-for advertising is part of a campaign to build consumer recognition of a product design to a level where it can support a claim of “acquired distinctiveness,” that is, the design tells consumers the product comes from a distinct source.  One exception to this process is that a functional product configuration is not distinct and can never acquire distinctiveness – functional features can only be protected by patents, if they meet the requirements for patent eligibility.  We’ve written extensively about these issues here, here, and here.

So, is the “Boppy Shape” functional, that is, unable to acquire distincitiveness?  This expired patent suggests the answer might be “yes,” describing the invention, a support pillow, as follows:

It is generally circular but discontinuous where tapered ends meet, defining a well in the center.

The patent drawings also show the “Boppy Shape” as a preferred embodiment of the invention:

This evidence doesn’t end the inquiry, but it’s strong evidence that the “Boppy Shape” is functional.  The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure describes patent evidence as follows:

It is important to read the patent to determine whether the patent actually claims the features presented in the proposed mark. If it does, the utility patent is strong evidence that the particular product features claimed as trade dress are functional. If it does not, or if the features are referenced in the patent, but only as arbitrary or incidental features, then the probative value of the patent as evidence of functionality is substantially diminished or negated entirely.

However, even if the “Boppy Shape” itself is functional and not protectable as a trademark, nothing stops Boppy from registering the phrase “Look for the Boppy Shape!” as a trademark, as these registrations show, here, here, and here, or the two-dimensional representation of the shape, here, and doing so is a good move by Boppy regardless of the whether the shape itself can ultimately also be registered.

One reason Boppy might want to do this is because with patent expiration comes generic competition.  And that’s fine – if all this talk about trademark and patent law gives you a headache, you can save a few bucks buying generic ibuprofen instead of brand name Advil – just don’t call it Advil®.

Where we as trademark professionals see generics violating that rule all the time (and counterfeits) is on e-commerce platforms like ebay and Alibaba. Just take a look at these snips from the search results for “Boppy Pillow” on these two websites:

Alibaba:

Ebay:

The listings above are not for Boppy brand pillows. Instead they appear to be generic support pillows, perhaps fairly produced given the expiration of the patent (Boppy owns other patents for other elements of its pillows and other products, which were not examined for this post). But what’s not fair, and what is actually likely infringement, is use of the “Boppy” trademarks to sell generic support pillows.

Based on my review of its product packaging and trademark registrations, Boppy has done an admirable job raising its trademark portfolio. Now the question is, is it time for a pillow fight?

These lime green building sites caught my eye and jogged my trademark memory. First, the future home of the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, at beam signing, on May 4, 2018:

Second, the expansion of the Metro Transit headquarters near downtown Minneapolis, on June 12:

Of course, the obviously common element of both building sites, besides my iPhone, is the same lime green sheathing, both also branded with the USG and SECUROCK word trademarks.

Then poof, they’re gone, after being covered by some black-colored sheathing, on August 2, 2018:

What’s my point? Actually, I have a few that immediately come to mind, so bear with me.

First, do you suppose United States Gypsum Company views the lime green color of its gypsum panels to be a trademark? Apparently there are no look-for statements on the product itself:

In looking for look-for ads that might draw attention to this particular shade of green as a brand, Green Means Go (scroll down after linking), is the closest I’ve found.

Let’s just say, USG has been far more effective in owning the color red as a band or stripe applied to packaging for plaster products, and the supporting look-for-like TOP RED word mark.

Still, it’s difficult to tell what USG thinks from the general legend used in its online brochures:

“The trademarks USG, FIRECODE, SECUROCK, IT’S YOUR WORLD. BUILD IT., the USG logo, the design elements and colors, and related marks are trademarks of USG Corporation or its affiliates.”

It’s even harder to tell, despite the “colors” mentioned in the legend above, after searching the USPTO, since USG allowed its Supplemental Registration — for what I’m calling the “lime green sheathing” — to expire without first obtaining, or at least, filing for Principal Registration.

The Supplemental Registration described the mark as “the color yellow green (Pantone 375) as applied to the goods.” Namely, “non-metal water-resistant boards and panels for construction.”

Why let it go?

I’m sure the color green is considered difficult to protect for sustainable building materials, but this color mark was narrowed down to the particular Pantone shade. Perhaps the shade changed?

Typically, a Supplemental Registration is considered valuable to a brand owner, while it works to build the evidence necessary to establish acquired distinctiveness for Principal Registration.

In addition, the Supplemental Registration for Pantone 375 was some indication that the USPTO did not view that shade of green as being functional even for sustainable building materials.

We’ll keep watching to see if Principal Registration is pursued.

In the meantime, let us know if you discover any better look-for advertising for USG’s SECUROCK gypsum panel sheathing. Loyal readers know how important look-for ads are for trademark colors.

Last, the now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t green gypsum panels remind me of the lavender color registration I convinced the USPTO to issue for spray in place insulation in 1994, oh the memories!

Even in July, with the heat of summer still blazing, you can’t get away from ice hockey in Minnesota. However, now that the Vegas Golden Knights have settled their dispute with the U.S. Army, it was starting to look like we were running out of hockey trademark news. Thankfully, the National Hockey League came through at the last second, filing a trademark infringement lawsuit on July 23. At issue is the NHL’s rights in the design of its championship trophy, the Stanley Cup, and the defendants’ sale of allegedly infringing beer mugs shaped like the Stanley Cup.

The defendants comprise companies, purportedly all owned or managed by the same individual, operating primarily under the name “The Hockey Cup LLC.” According to the complaint, the Hockey Cup has been selling unauthorized reproductions of the Stanley Cup as well as counterfeit jerseys. The company even applied to register trademarks for THE CUP HOCKEY. The NHL opposed the applications and, in response, the Hockey Cup counterclaimed to cancel the twelve registrations asserted by the NHL on the grounds of lack of ownership, abandonment, non-use, and fraud. With the gloves now off, the NHL chose to escalate the skirmish and sue the Hockey Cup in the Southern District of New York for trademark infringement, false association, dilution, copyright infringement, and unfair competition.

There is a good chance that the Hockey Cup will also assert its counterclaim for cancellation of the NHL’s registrations in the lawsuit. The counterclaim essentially argues that the NHL does not control the actual, physical Stanley Cup, and therefore the NHL cannot have trademark rights in the design of, or name of, the Stanley Cup. Strangely enough, this part of the argument has some truth to it. Since 1893, the Stanley Cup has been controlled by a pair of trustees. In 1926, the Trustees reached an agreement with the NHL, and the NHL has been the sole organization associated with the cup ever since, with continued permission from the Trustees. If that’s true, the Hockey Cup’s claims appear to be a bit of an underdog in this legal matchup.

But does the Hockey Cup’s sale of beer mugs in the shape of the Stanley Cup create a likelihood of confusion with the NHL? The NHL claims in its complaint that it has sold beer mugs in the shape of the trophy in the past, but none appear to be available at the moment. The NHL is selling Stanley Cup shaped ornaments, paperweights, inflatable trophies, miniature crystal replicas, and, for some reason, a popcorn maker. If we’re sticking with the booze, the NHL is selling a shot glass with a picture of the Stanley Cup. But yet, no beer mugs in the shape of the trophy.

To prevail though, the NHL does not need to show that it has lost sales due to the defendant’s conduct. Instead, there must only be a likelihood of confusion as to source, sponsorship, connection, or affiliation. One plausible argument in support of the NHL’s claim is that consumers will mistakenly assume that the mug has been licensed by the NHL.

In fact, one recent case from the Eleventh Circuit is quite relevant to the dispute. In that case, the Savannah College of Art and Design, Inc. sued an unauthorized online manufacturer and seller of apparel that was selling clothing with the school’s name. Savannah Coll. of Art and Design, Inc. v. Sportswear, Inc., 872 F.3d 1256 (11th Cir. 2017). The school sued, but the school could not establish that it began selling apparel with the school’s name before the defendant. Based on this, the district court concluded that the school’s rights in the mark with respect to education services did not provide it with trademark rights in the name for clothing. The district court granted summary judgement to the defendant.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, relying on precedent involving – you guessed it – hockey:

One of our older trademark cases, Boston Prof’l Hockey Ass’n, Inc. v. Dallas Cap & Emblem Mfg., Inc., 510 F.2d 1004 (5th Cir. 1975), controls, as it extends protection for federally-registered service marks to goods. Although Boston Hockey does not explain how or why this is so, it constitutes binding precedent that we are bound to follow.

As the quote suggests, the Eleventh Circuit is not certain that the precedent was rightly decided. In that decision, the NHL and the Boston team sued a manufacturer to prevent the sale of patches featuring team names and logos. The NHL had registered the marks for hockey game entertainment services, but not for any goods. The court noted the decision has been criticized but never overturned. As a result, the Eleventh Circuit remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the Boston Hockey ruling. The NHL—and any other school, sport team, or other organization with an appreciable amount of merchandising—will want to pay attention to the resolution of the case, and consider filing applications to register their marks for valuable, merchandised products.

In the meantime, we’ll watch the ownership dispute play out between the NHL and the Hockey Cup. While it appears to be a longshot, perhaps ownership of the cup will return to the people of Canada, as some prefer (mostly Canadians). Until then, we’ll leave you with the words of Lord Stanley himself, announcing the creation of the Stanley Cup in 1892:

 

Starbucks is moving away from green straws, actually any plastic straws, to live a little more green. So, we’re unlikely to see any straw trademark filings, despite decent look-for advertising.

While Starbucks appears to have drawn the short straw at the USPTO on its efforts to federally-register a pair of green dot marks, appeals to the TTAB are currently pending, here and here:

Let’s stay tuned to see whether Starbucks gets cooking at the USPTO by filing any service mark applications for its distinctive green colored aprons, can you say look-for advertising?

What do you think, does this GREENER APRON word-only mark filing move Starbucks closer?

Starbucks certainly seems to have a lot of brand equity wrapped up in the color green, so I’m left wondering why this coffee shop in San Francisco Int’l Airport chose its name and green letters?

Is it ironic that I’m writing and publishing this Starbucks post remotely on my lap top from here?

Starbucks, thanks for the great coffee, tasty blueberry muffin, and most importantly, the free wifi!

DJ Khaled and his son’s company sued an online retailer named Curtis Bordenave and his company, Business Moves Consulting, Inc., alleging that they are illegally using his and his son Asahd’s intellectual property.

Most of you likely know who DJ Khaled is, but I had not heard of him before reading about this dispute.  When I asked my friend about him on Friday night , she said “I know he is famous but I can’t tell you why.”  In looking at the Complaint, I found that “Khaled has enjoyed tremendous success in the United States and beyond as an entertainer, record producer, radio personality, radio label executive, and media celebrity.”  Wow. It appears I have been missing out.

DJ Khaled himself owns the KHALED mark in connection with musical sound recordings musical video records, disc jockey services, and other entertainment services.

DJ Khaled’s son, Asahd Tuck Khaled, is frequently featured on Instagram. The complaint asserts that Asahd has become a social media phenomenon.  He has lots of followers on Instagram (a social media I need to start using more—I have an account that I only use right now to communicate with my niece and nephew).

In addition, DJ Khaled is challenging Bordenave’s filing an application for “We The Best Lifestyle,” which infringes on his trademark WE THE BEST®.  DJ Khaled has registered the WE THE BEST® trademark in connection with, among other goods and services, musical recordings, entertainment services, online retail clothing store services, recordings and e-cigarette liquid.

Khaled frequently uses the saying “We the Best.”  Forbes even wrote an article entitled “How many Times can DJ Khaled say ‘We the Best’ in 40 seconds?” in November 2014.

Khaled worked the circuit using his catch phrase “We the Best” on shows such as The Ellen Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Live with Kelly and Ryan, The Chew, Rachel Ray, The Daily Show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night With Seth Meyers, and Good Morning America.  Khaled formed ATK Entertainment, Inc. to protect his infant son’s interests.

The complaint alleged that “Plaintiffs bring this action to halt the brazen attempt by trademark pirates…to usurp and trade on the names and trademarks of world-famous entertainer Rahled M. Khaled, known popularly as “DJ Khaled, and his 18-month old son, Asahd Tuck Khaled.”  It further describes Bordenave’s actions as “parasitic  conduct and bad-faith act.”  Specifically,  DJ Khaled and his son’s company brought various claims of violation of both Khaled and his son’s trademark rights and right of publicity under New York state law.  Not all states have such laws. Minnesota does not. See a former Duets post on the subject, here.

Specifically, DJ Khaled and his son’s company have brought claims under the New York Right of Privacy Act (N.Y. Civ. Rights Law §§ 50-51), trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act and common law, state law claims under the New York Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349), and commercial defamation.  Finally, they brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that they are not violating any rights of Bordenave or his company.

Khaled alleges damage because Bordenave attempted to interfere with a deal that Khaled had made with Nike to use his son’s name in conjunction with Michael Jordan to sell clothes.

This is not Bordenave’s first rodeo. The complaint states that he is a “serial trademark infringer.” Bordenave and his company have previously applied to register:

  • CARDI-B—which is the name of a well-known rapper
  • STORMI COUTURE—which it applied to register within a month of the birth of Kylie Jenner’s daughter Stormi Webster.

The complaint also alleges Bordenave improperly filed six other trademark applications based on other famous people, television stations or radio stations.

This appears to be a new trend with the rich and famous: promoting your kids names to sell products. Other famous parents have sought trademarks in connection with their children’s names. For example, Beyoncé and Jay Z applied for the mark BLUE IVY CARTER® in connection with numerous goods and services, including but not limited to, entertainment services, fragrances, cosmetics, skin care products, metal key chains and metal key rings, DVDs, CDs, and audio and visual sound recordings featuring musical performances, handheld and mobile digital electronic devices, baby teething rings, baby strollers and book, bags, and hair accessories. Beyoncé’s company is currently battling an Opposition filed by a company named Blue Ivy that is an entertainment and event planning firm focused on weddings and other elegant events.

We will have to see if DJ Khaled can stop Bordenave from capitalizing on his young son’s fame.

On a recent happy hour trip to HopCat, a brewpub chain with an incredible beer list of local and regional craft beers, I expected to find a trademark issue or two among the tap handles.  However, instead, I was distracted by a “catsup” bottle (hah) positioned casually next to a bottle of Heinz mustard.

The familiar green and gold border, the white cap, the white background, the shape of the plastic bottle…it reminded me of this previous DuetsBlog post involving a de-branded ketchup bottle.  Private labeling and contract manufacturing has become an increasingly popular means of overcoming barriers to entry, entering new market segments, or accommodating increased demand,  especially for breweries, wineries, and distilleries.

I doubt I’m alone in quickly jumping to the conclusion the HopCat “catsup” was a private labeled version of this and also wondered why the mustard wasn’t similarly branded (other than the lack of appropriate mustard puns):

But looking at the back of the bottle, I was proven wrong just as quickly:  “Manufactured for Hop Cat by Red Gold, LLC.”   However, Red Gold ketchup bottles appear to be sold generally with a yellow cap and a yellow label.  Hmm.

I suppose the shape of the HopCat bottle is closer to Red Gold’s shape, but everything else suggested to me that Heinz was the source behind the brewpub’s ketchup.

In contract manufacturing or private labeling agreements, it’s important to consider the responsibilities of each entity for packaging decisions.   Is the buyer responsible for providing the artwork for approval by the supplier?  Or is the manufacturer responsible for that with the buyer’s approval?  What are the approval conditions if any?  And depending on that decision, which entity is responsible for any liability associated with intellectual property or regulatory claims?  The representations and warranties in the agreement should also appropriately protect the entities – especially the buyer who is ultimately putting the product out into the market.

Toward the end of last week, a couple of friendly ironmongers (John Welch and Ron Coleman) had an interesting dialogue on Twitter, with some great insights about creativity and the law.

John noted that copyright’s requirement of “originality” is not the same as the requirement of “novelty” in patent law. Ron then weaved in some nice insights about creativity and trademark.

The heady discussion led me to rediscover a blog post of mine from more than nine years ago dubbed: The Paradox of Brand Protection: Knowing When to Hit the Consumer Over the Head.

If you can get past the congested text from this beginner’s first few weeks of blogging, it’s actually worth a complete read for the content, but for now, here’s an excerpt with some better spacing:

“I often remind branding professionals that trademark law rewards their creativity. Some seem to perk up with this subtle encouragement. After all, everyone likes to be rewarded, right? Well, one of the unobvious rewards for creativity comes in the prompt timing of when trademark ownership begins.

Being able to own and enjoy exclusive rights on “day one”—meaning, either the first day of use, or even before first use, upon the filing of a federal intent-to-use trademark application—is a big deal in the world of trademark and brand protection. In fact, timing can be everything.

Even a single day can be the difference between having the right to exclusivity and owning nothing at all (except perhaps, the losing end of a lawsuit and a pile of product and packaging ordered to be destroyed).

On the other hand, when rights are not available on day one, you may have an uncontrollable situation; one where competitors and others have an opening to copy or mimic before enforceable rights attach, and in some cases, these actions can make it difficult, if not impossible to obtain exclusive trademark rights at all.

So, the timing of when trademark rights are acquired is quite important, and those in the business of creating brands play an important role in when those rights may come to be.”

Those remarks aren’t ideally suited for the character limit in Twitter, but I’m thinking they reinforce Ron’s point that priority of trademark rights can be impacted by creativity/novelty.

As to my above remarks about federal intent-to-use trademark applications, I’m also mindful of this little dialogue shared with Ron a few years back, but nowhere near nine years ago.

So, the good news for the day is that the law, especially intellectual property law (copyright, patent, and trademark) does reward creativity, in a variety of ways, and each in their own way.

We’re looking forward to continuing this discussion, among many others, with those interested, at the upcoming Meet the Bloggers XIV unofficial INTA event near INTA in Seattle next month.

During the official portion of the INTA program, I’ll be reflecting on the impact of a creative legal theory that consumed lots and lots of lawyers’ hours (billable/non-billable) for a quarter century.

And, finally, let’s not forget about Duey’s little friend, right over here: