Non-Traditional Trademarks

-Martha Engel, Attorney

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:

 

 

A couple of years ago, our friend John Welch over at the TTABlog reported about a white color trademark that had acquired distinctiveness, according to a rare precedential TTAB decision:

No, that’s not a roll of toilet paper, it’s a preformed gunpowder charge for use in muzzleloading rifles. And the applied-for mark was described as “the color white applied to gunpowder.”

The application was filed almost five years ago. And after multiple responses over the years to various USPTO refusals, in 2015 the Applicant appealed the lack of acquired distinctiveness.

And, as John reported, the TTAB reversed the lack of distinctiveness refusal, instead being persuaded that Applicant’s look-for advertising and other evidence established distinctiveness:

But, that’s not the end of the story. Turns out there is a relevant utility patent, called White Propellant Compositions, which led to the filing of a weighty 50-page Notice of Opposition.

It spells out in dramatic detail the functionality of the color white for the gunpowder charges, among other grounds for registration refusal, and judgment has been entered against Applicant.

In case you’re wondering, yes, we were privileged to light the match on this one. Word to the wise, never forget the timeless ticking time bomb of functionality. It kills trademarks in its tracks.

Kaboom, but judge for yourself whether the claimed mark is looking more like toilet paper now.

Recently, a friend and I were watching The Bachelor—I know, I should be ashamed. During one of the commercial breaks, a spot appeared on-screen showing a woman wearing an elegant dress walking through a hallway. She turns into a doorway, and blue, shimmering light projects onto her face, as if she was underwater. A speaker off-screen says, “Open the door to a beautiful new experience for your home.” The commercial cuts to a small bottle with a spray nozzle on top. The bottle has a typical shape, but its packaging includes, near the top of the bottle, a “No. 3.” Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Immediately, my mind goes to Chanel’s timeless No. 5 perfume.

The speaker continues, introducing “Glade Fine Fragrance Mist.” The woman then crosses through a vertical air-water surface, as if she is entering a Stargate. She passes the boundary and floats in the adjoining room, which is filled with water. The speaker describes the “mist” as a bouquet of “florals, beechwood, and lush fruits that whisper a story on the air.” We also learn that the mist is infused with “essential oils” and “artfully crafted. Imagination? We have a fragrance for that.” The screen then shows the “Glade” logo, and the speaker identifies “S.C. Johnson, a family company.”  Take a look for yourself:

After watching the commercial, my friend remarked, “Hey, doesn’t that sound a lot like Chanel No. 5?” I thought the same thing. Just take a look at the branding for the advertised “Glade Atmosphere Collection”:

Now compare the “No 1,” “No 2,” “No 3,” and “No 4” for the above bottles to the Chanel No. 5 registered mark (which, by the way, has been registered since 1960, whereas the “Glade Atmosphere Collection” mark has only been registered since 2017):

Notice the similarities? The ‘o’ of the “No” is super-script in both marks. And, as anyone who passed Kindergarten will surely agree, one cannot help but intuitively notice that No. 5 follows 1, 2, 3, and 4. Combine that with the fact that air fresheners are similar to perfume, in a sense, and you have a formula for some potential consumer confusion. The use of small bottles and elegant advertising furthers the connection. And when you consider the historical fact that Coco Chanel picked No. 5 from a batch of perfumes labeled 1 through 5 (as well as 20 through 24), one cannot help but think that the similarities are more than just coincidence and happenstance.

Although floral scents are common, that Chanel No. 5 has a distinct smell of jasmine, bergamot (citrus/spicy orange), rose, lemon, linen, neroli (bitter orange), ylang-ylang (woody, an “essential oil”), lily of the valley, and iris makes the comparison to Glade’s Atmosphere Collection even more uncanny. Indeed, Glade “No. 1” has scents of jasmine and rose, in addition to cedar and apple. No. 2 smells of sweet pea and pear. No. 3 exudes beechwood, starfruit, and coconut—not that far off from No. 5’s tropical notes.  And No. 4 is a “velvety kiss of patchouli [a member of the mint family] and amber.” These scents certainly seem similar to Chanel’s No. 5, even if spread across multiple bottles.

What do you think? Do Glade Nos. 1 through 4 come dangerously close to No. 5? Given the similar marks and smells, one cannot help but make the comparison.

Last year we took a whiff of Hasbro’s application to register the smell of its Play-Doh® for “toy modeling compounds.” We didn’t think the application was ripe for a functionality refusal, but a refusal on the ground of a lack of acquired distinctiveness seemed like a certainty.

An Office Action issued on May 26th, 2017, refusing the application on the ground of a lack of acquired distinctiveness. The Office Action also included a number of Requests for Information to determine whether a functionality should issue, too.

For the uninitiated, a trademark must be distinctive in order to be protectable. Because a scent mark cannot be inherently distinctive, an applicant must establish “acquired distinctiveness,” also known as “secondary meaning,” to obtain a registration. Essentially, acquired distinctiveness means that the claimed mark may not have been a symbol of the source of the goods, but because of advertising, commercial success, publicity, etc., the public has come to recognize the claimed mark as a identifying a particular source for the goods.

For attorneys looking for a good playbook as to how to establish acquired distinctiveness, look no further than Hasbro’s Response, filed on November 27. The Response includes pretty much every piece of evidence that you could ask for.

It included the classics:

  • Sales numbers, more than a billion since 2004 in the U.S.
  • Advertising numbers, $77 million since 2004 in the U.S.
  • Longstanding use, since the year 1956
  • Unsolicited media attention referencing Play-Doh’s “unique and distinctive smell” and its “legendary scent”

It included new hits, like screenshots of social media of consumers talking about the memory of the smell of Play-Doh as a child. It also included “blogs written by experienced attorneys who opine on the source-identifying function and registrability of the applied-for mark.” Looking at those articles, you might even recognize a familiar blog post. No need for any thanks, Hasbro. But on a completely unrelated note, this R2-D2 Play-Doh set looks pretty great. Just saying.

The Response also included the obligatory declaration from a Hasbro head honcho to support these claims. The declarations always have at least one over-the-top assertion that you just can’t help but include. Here, it was the reference that Play-Doh for some people is “as identifiable as their mother’s faces.” Might be a bit of a stretch, not that I’m saying I wouldn’t have included it though. For me, the gem is the strange but unforgettable fact that since 1956 more than 950 million pounds of Play-Doh had been sold. If only it had included a reference as to how big that Play-Doh boulder would be.

And yes, the Response even included the coveted, but not always available “look for advertising”:

I’m not entirely convinced this qualifies as “look for advertising” though. It doesn’t direct consumers to the claimed trademark like a “look for the purple cap!” might do. Just looking at the advertising doesn’t tell me what type of smell I’m looking for. It’s close enough though, and the rest of the evidence is pretty compelling.

So, do you think the evidence was successful? Could the examiner smell what Hasbro was cooking? If you guessed yes, then congrats. The application published on February 27. Now all that is left is to see whether any of Hasbro’s competitors file an opposition to the application.

It’s certainly possible that a competitor might feel that providing Hasbro with ownership of the “scent of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, combined with the smell of a salted, wheat-based dough” might put them at a non-reputational, competitive disadvantage. In theory, it doesn’t seem like granting Hasbro the registration will be problematic, but in practice it will depend upon how broadly Hasbro interprets its rights.

But that may be parting the cart before the horse. Let’s wait and see how the next 35 days go before we start talking enforcement.

Yesterday, while on the highway heading to a client meeting, I noticed a truck that looked like this:

It reminded me of the plentiful ink we’ve spilled over the years about singular iconic non-verbal logos that can truly stand alone. Remember Seth Godin’s generous insights shared, here?

Given the dominant display of Amazon’s non-verbal logo shown above (without the Amazon brand name), it’s probably time to ask: Does or Can the Amazon Non-Verbal Logo Truly Stand Alone?

Over time, Amazon carefully and strategically has migrated and associated the non-verbal logo with other Amazon indicia, while omitting the likely famous Amazon word mark and brand name:

 

These variations look to be on the way, with Amazon not only smiling, but licking its chops as well:

So, I’m thinking Amazon’s “smile or curved arrow” design logo, has been out and about without a parent or guardian long enough, and it can and does truly stand alone, what do you say?

Back to the question in the title of the post, what do you see, a smile or a curved arrow, or both?

The more messages the better, at least from a trademark perspective, especially in thinking about Amazon’s scope of rights having no singular meaning, right?

Earlier this month, a California federal judge kept alive a suit brought by the estate of famous jazz musician Thelonious Monk against North Coast Brewing Co. for trademark infringement and infringement of the right of publicity. The dispute centers around North Coast’s popular “Brother Thelonious” Beligan-style abbey ale (beer seems to be on the mind here at DuetsBlog as of late), which features a likeness of Thelonious Monk on its label:

Credit

The estate, managed by Thelonious Monk’s son, Jr., agreed to allow North Coast to use the likeness for selling the beer so long as North Coast agreed to donate some of its profits to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. North Coast apparently upheld its end of the deal, donating over $1M to the Institute since 2006. Though, North Coast also expanded its use beyond beer, to beer brittle, goblets, hats, apparel, signs (metal, neon, and paper), playing cards, pins, and even soap (made–incredibly–using the beer).

North Coast even registered a trademark on its label design, which “consists of a profile portrait of a gentleman in a red cap, dark glasses, and brown monk’s garb holding a glass of dark beer in one hand and a human skull in the other hand, with a stylized circular black and white piano keyboard behind his head, in an abbey setting.” Sounds like Thelonious Monk, don’t you think? North Coast also has a registered trademark on the name “Brother Thelonious.” A little late to the game, the estate registered a trademark on “Thelonious Monk” this summer.

In 2016, the estate rescinded its permission to use Thelonious Monk’s likeness, and after North Coast refused to stop using the likeness, initiated its lawsuit. The district court judge denied North Coast’s motion to dismiss the case, stating that the factual record underlying the dispute needs to be fleshed out before any of the estate’s claims can be decided. Give it several months to up to a couple years before the court issues a ruling.

The estate’s lawsuit, especially the claim for infringement of the right of publicity, got me thinking about the bases for the right of publicity and the right’s applicability to celebrities who have died–sometimes referred to as “delebs.” Sadly, Thelonious Monk died in 1982. But, like many celebrities, the value of his work and likeness endure after death. Indeed, some celebrities have become bigger in death than they were in life (e.g., Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Presley). And beloved local delebs continue to make appearances:

Credit

At first glance, it seems odd that a deceased celebrity (through an estate) would have any right to control the use of likeness after death, let alone profit from it. Indeed, the right of publicity, provided under state law, is largely founded on privacy grounds, protecting the use of one’s identity in commercial advertising given the personal and private interests at stake. After death, those personal privacy interests are no longer compelling. But the right of publicity in many states is also founded on property grounds, in view of the fact that (at least for many celebrities) individuals often invest extensive time, energy, and money in promoting and creating their own personal brand. The thought is that, like other intellectual property rights, one should be able to receive the benefits of that investment (which encourages such investment in the first place). Thus, the right of publicity is based upon both privacy and property interests.

The right to publicity is recognized in over 30 states, but the scope and breadth of the right varies in each state largely because states have differing views on whether the right should be grounded in privacy, property, or both (and if both, to what degree?). Many of these states have a right of publicity statute, but some do not. For example, as I discussed previously, Minnesota does not have a right of publicity statute. In 2016, the Minnesota State Legislature considered the “Personal Rights In Names Can Endure” (“PRINCE”) Act, but never passed the bill. Have no fear, though; previously, in Lake v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the Minnesota Supreme Court recognized the right of publicity based on “individual property” rights and “invasion of privacy,” citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B (1977). 582 N.W.2d 231 (Minn. 1998).

Interestingly, because the right of publicity is a creature of state law, where a person was domiciled (residing) at the time of death controls what kind of right of publicity that person’s estate has after death. Estates for celebrities who were domiciled in Oklahoma are the most fortunate and can enforce the right of publicity for up to 100 years after death. But woe be upon an estate in Wisconsin, which bases its right of publicity on privacy interests and only allows living persons to enforce the right. The amount of time a right of publicity can be enforced after death varies dramatically state-to-state. For a helpful run-down of most states, see this useful overview.

How about in Minnesota? The PRINCE Act would have allowed an estate to enforce a right of publicity for up to 100 years, like Oklahoma’s statute. Under the common law, it remains unclear how long the right persists–though, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota held (ironically) in Paisely Park Enterprises, Inc. v. Boxill, that the right survives death. See 2017 WL 4857945 (D. Minn. Oct. 26, 2017) (Wright, J.). How long thereafter? The Restatement (Second) of Torts doesn’t say.

The most basic takeaway from the current state of the law is that celebrities with likenesses that may have great value in commercial use should consider domiciling in states that have favorable post-mortem rights of publicity. Thelonious Monk was domiciled in New Jersey when he died, and the New Jersey right of publicity extends no longer than 50 years after death. So the estate has about 14 more years during which it can enforce the right, which Thelonious Monk may not have ever exercised in life.

By the way, if you’re interested in trying out the Brother Thelonious, it is available in two Twin Cities locations: First, and most appropriately, the Dakota Jazz Club & Rest (Minneapolis), and also at Hodges Bend (St. Paul).

It is frequently becoming more and more difficult to remember all the topics we’ve covered here over the last — almost — nine years. A recent Snickers end cap display jogged my memory:

Turns out, eight months into this little adventure we call DuetsBlog, I wrote a blog post called Delicious Trademarks: Candy Bar Cross-Section Trademarks? Then, a year later I wrote this one.

My only friendly amendment to the above point of sale end cap convenience store display is to swap the ™ notice for the coveted (or not so, under certain circumstances) ® registration symbol.

Wow, I have been asleep at the switch on this topic, my sincere apologies dear readers. Nearly a year after my second post on this topic, Mars filed an application to register this trademark:

After a couple rounds of descriptiveness office actions, Mars was able to persuade the Trademark Office that the claimed non-verbal candy bar depiction had acquired distinctiveness.

But, that wasn’t the end of the story, because as is often the case when unusual trademark protection is sought, a direct competitor came knocking, in this case, Hershey Chocolate opposed.

Our friend Marty Schwimmer over at the Trademark Blog was johnny-on-the-spot back in 2013 as Hershey opposed the day before Halloween, while I was distracted with this cheesy topic.

The functionality opposition continued for roughly three years until Hershey was able to extract some pretty sweet concessions from Mars, as revealed in this Consented Withdrawal of Opposition Without Prejudice Contingent Upon Amendment of Application.

So, after a little interpretation and modification by the Board, the registration issued with these express limitations:

“The mark consists of a cross-section of a candy bar showing layers within the candy, namely, a middle light brown layer containing several tan-colored peanut shapes and a bottom tan layer, all surrounded by a brown layer. The mark depicts a distinctive two-dimensional cross-sectional view of a candy bar.”

“No claim is made to the exclusive right to use the following apart from the mark as shown: THE SELECTION OF CANDY BAR INGREDIENTS DEPICTED IN THE MARK OR TO THE CONFIGURATION OF A CANDY BAR CONTAINING THOSE INGREDIENTS, EXCEPT AS DEPICTED IN THE APPLIED-FOR MARK.”

Now, there’s a mouthful. Suddenly, the actual issued trademark registration, doesn’t seem all that non-traditional, non-verbal yes, but clearly a two dimensional slice of, let’s say, non-configuration.

Given that, would you be speechless explaining to a client (anyone other than Hershey) what it can and can’t do in advertising food looking something like that when broken in half?

Another question, why doesn’t the end cap display of the cross-section match the drawing of the registered mark? For what it’s worth, I’m more tempted by the end cap than the registration.

Last question, what about Mars’ representation that the claimed mark “always appears in exactly the same manner when used by Applicant.” Maybe it was true when made, don’t know for sure.

Today I write with a thought-provoking question: Just who owns the trademark rights to Telsa/SpaceX’s Spaceman Roadster? Tesla? SpaceX? Perhaps even humanity?

If you didn’t catch it, SpaceX recently launched its first Falcon Heavy three-booster rocket designed to carry large payloads into space. In a stunning feat of engineering and genius marketing, the rocket sent SpaceX CEO (and Telsa CEO) Elon Musk‘s Tesla Roadster toward the Sun (where it will orbit for billions of years), all while returning two of the three boosters to the same location from which the rocket departed.

It might seem incredible to believe, but the NASA-defined space object “Tesla Roadster (AKA: Starman, 2018-017A)” is now traveling away from the Earth on its trajectory to the Sun. You can track the object using NASA’s HORIZONS system and even watch a live feed from its on-board cameras.

Yes, these are real pictures: credit, credit.

If you haven’t seen the launch and booster touch down, now is the time; it is truly awe-inspiring and one of the biggest feats of the decade. It may also be the most ambitious marketing promotion for a product and service (the Falcon Heavy) ever, establishing both Tesla and SpaceX as innovative, intelligent, and forward-thinking brands. And that gets me thinking: Spaceman (or some similar description), as a potential name, symbol, or device, could constitute a trademark. But because two separate companies, Tesla and SpaceX, are involved in launching the car into space, just who has a right to the mark? And does Spaceman itself operate as a mark identifying either company as its source?

The answer could hinge on whether either company decides to use the mark to designate itself as the source of certain goods or Spaceman, for that matter. The primary purpose behind trademark protection is to reduce information and transaction costs, while protecting investment in the creation and promotion of marks that do just that. Thus, a fundamental inquiry in trademark infringement cases is whether use of a mark causes consumer confusion as to the source of a good or service. So far, both companies have touted the Falcon Heavy achievement. But Spaceman itself does not clearly indicate one source over the other. Of course, the Roadster identifies Tesla as its source, but the rocket on which it is affixed designates SpaceX as the means for its position in space. Maybe that is enough of a distinction to make the mark part Tesla and part SpaceX.

I would like to believe that both companies’ CEO, Elon Musk, would think of Spaceman not as a symbol of either business, but rather a symbol of human achievement and what is to come. Indeed, both companies have grand visions for humanity. SpaceX’s mission is “to enable humans to become a spacefaring civilization and a multi-planet species.” Telsa is purposed on “accelerat[ing] the transition to a sustainable energy future.” To any other-worldly being, Spaceman itself identifies Earth and its people as its source. In this way, Spaceman is similar to other satellites within the solar system, which identify Earth as progenitor. Perhaps, then, it is fair to say that we all have a stake in the symbol. What do you think?

 

 

Words and pictures are so 2017. This year, it is all about the non-traditional trademarks (i.e., something other than brand names and images). In the past, we’ve covered a variety of these types of trademarks, from colors to product shapes, to sounds and even the touch of a product. Even looking only at college football, there are registered marks for the color of a field, player uniforms, and fan chants.

And 2018 has already given us a new category: hand gestures. Music and fashion mogul Shawn Carter (also known as Jay-Z) recently applied to register the hand gesture below for entertainment services.

According to one origin story, the image of a diamond was meant as a reference to the slang term “rock” for diamonds. Jay-Z’s record label is Roc-A-Fella Records, and using the hand symbol has come to be known as “throwing up the roc.”

Whether due to Jay-Z’s popularity or due to the calorie burning benefits of raising your arms briefly, the symbol has become a bit ubiquitous in popular culture. Everyone from Aaron Rodriguez, Fran Drescher, to Warren Buffet and others are documented roc-throwers. But nobody can do it quite like Hov himself:

Also worth adding to the list is professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. He’s been throwing the roc since the ’90s:

Although his gesture is just a little bit different, with his fingers extended. Also, he refers to his symbol as the diamond cutter. He also has already registered a version of the gesture (shown below) as a trademark for various clothing items.

And, come to think of it, he sued Jay-Z over the symbol years ago. Although there isn’t much information available, it appears the case settled out of court with Jay-Z making a payment of an undisclosed amount (to keep it fair and balanced, there is a wrestling source and a hip hop source).

As of yet, no word on whether Diamond Dallas Page will take action against Jay-Z’s trademark application. Perhaps the settlement between the parties prevents him from doing so. But if so, then why did Jay-Z wait for nearly a decade to file his own trademark application? And although the Diamond Cutter was registered as a trademark, should either celebrity own enforceable rights in a hand gesture? Does it really signify source? Or does it remind us of something in a non-trademark manner, like trash compactors remind me of Star Wars or triangles remind me of the White Stripes?

And I would be remiss to not mention the elephant in the room: the conspiracy theory that Jay-Z along with many other musicians, politicians, and others are part of a secret society of the illuminati, freemasons, or (more recently) Taco Bell. Fingers crossed the Trademark Office utilizes her power to issue a Request for Information to demand that Jay-Z answer once and for all whether he is, in fact, a member of the Illuminati.