Everyone knows if you really want to get zero calories from a beverage without any strings attached, you have to drink water. But what if you hate water? Try sparkling water! Look how exciting it is:

If sparkling water is the remedy to plain old boring water, why are some trademarks for sparkling water so … flat?

Back in May, Steve wrote about a new Pepsi sparkling water product branded as bubly™. That’s “bubbly” misspelled “bubly.” For sparkling water, it’s also descriptive, probably generic, and definitely not a conceptually strong trademark. Just look at this snip from the Wikipedia page for “carbonated water,” listing “bubbly water” as a generic alternative term:

Then earlier this month, it was announced that Pepsi has agreed to buy SodaStream, the popular manufacturer of at-home sparkling water makers, its most economical model branded Fizzi™.  That’s “fizzy” misspelled “Fizzi.”

De ja vu, anyone?  Take a look at the Wikipedia page again, if you have to:

So, here we have another descriptive, probably generic, definitely not conceptually strong trademark that lacks any suggestive, inherently distinct sparkle. And if there’s any doubt, check out the descriptive uses of the word “fizz” right on the product packaging:

And on the label attached to the machine:

And on the product website:

And in the consumer comments:

And in the FAQs:

Do marketers of sparkling water hate trademarks? (And why are they such bad spellers?)

Perhaps we’ll never know. Or perhaps the answer is simply that these marketing types just wanted to avoid this:

Video: link

Or this:

But what’s the fun in something so flat!

Marketing-types, what would you do? Would you bottle the brand that is so flat it needs no imagination for its meaning to bubble up in the minds of consumers? Or would you go with the brand that nobody knows how to say but plenty of folks enjoy . . . and enjoy poking fun at?

I’ve been thinking about the nature of language lately, ever since I listened to a podcast about various philosophers who devoted their study to language. For example, Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, is famous for his work on the logic of language. A fundamental premise to his philosophy is that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” In other words, language, although purposed on painting a picture of reality, is fundamentally limited in its ability to describe and do so fully and accurately. For Wittgenstein, this primarily meant that language cannot help us answer pressing metaphysical questions, but the realization has practical importance in branding.

Consider Wittgenstein’s insight in tandem with the desire to promote recall and recognition in a name without causing customers to confuse the name with another source, and you are presented with the challenge underlying all word-based marks: to turn a generally-known and familiar word (or prefix or suffix or otherwise) into a distinctive identifier so that it means something different or more than its generic definition. No small task, especially given language’s inherent descriptive limitations, and this is evidenced by the finite universe of words and combinations to choose from. There is bound to be some overlap in naming. Hence, we regularly witness “trademark twins”–the same or similar words used as marks for different sources of goods and services.

One example of trademark twinning has garnered attention in the press recently, arising from a trademark infringement suit between the Billy Goat Tavern and the Billy Goat Chip Company. The Billy Goat Tavern is a fast-food restaurant in Chicago which gained notoriety when its founder brought his goat to a Cubs game, but was asked to leave (with his goat), casting the “Billy Goat’s Gruff” curse on the Chicago Cubs. Saturday Night Live also parodied the experience of eating there–accurately, I can attest.


Credit: Fox 32

The Billy Goat Chip Company, out of St. Louis, has no affiliation with the Tavern, but the Tavern took issue with the Chip Company’s similar name after the Chip Company’s crisps started showing up in Chicago. Recently, a federal judge rejected the Chip Company’s defense that the Tavern delayed too long in suing the Chip Company, after having notice of the similar name for several years. It is worth noting that although the companies’ names begin with the same two words, their logos set them apart:

But the similarity of the names in the context of food may be more likely to cause confusion than if the names were used in completely different industries. On a continuum of “identical” to “fraternal” (non-identical) twins, it’s hard to pinpoint where the marks fall–and, thus, whether trademark law would require a bit more distinguishing. There is a possibility that consumers would think of the chips, for example, as having some affiliation with the Billy Goat Tavern as a source. This is even more likely when one realizes that the Billy Goat Tavern has never sold fries, only chips with its signature “cheezborger.” Coincidence? I’ve written about stranger coincidences before. Even then, though, how many consumers are that knowledgeable about the Billy Goat Tavern to make the connection? I’m thinking these twins are fraternal.

Numerous other examples of trademark twins abound: Domino’s Pizza and Domino Sugar, Dove Soap and Dove Chocolate, Pom Wonderful and Wonderful Pistachios–just to name a few! Speaking of three, how about some trademark triplets: Apple (iPhone), Apple Records, and Apple Paints. Or quadruplets: Delta Airlines, Delta Dental, Delta Faucet, and Delta Power. These twins, triplets, and quadruplets all borrow similar common words as names, but use them in different industries–making it unlikely that consumers will confuse the companies as one source. Their use in dissimilar markets and in connection with unique logos mitigates the legal danger presented by the intersection of the limits of language, fleetingness of human memory, and protections afforded by trademark law. But industry and logo are just two ways in which their genes differ.

Can you think of additional trademark twins or otherwise? How are they fraternal or identical? What do you think is most important when balancing simplicity, familiarity, notoriety, and legality?

Since last week, the internet has blown-up about what United States Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh might decide regarding issues coming before the Supreme Court if he joined the highest Court of the land. As a judge on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has been skeptical about the authority of administrative agencies. This could impact decisions rendered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).

Specifically, Judge Kavanaugh has been critical of the authority of the government agencies to promulgate regulations interpreting legislation. Judge Kavanaugh would likely find it inappropriate for an agency to fill in gaps left in a statute.  Judge Kavanaugh would likely chip away or do away with the Chevron doctrine. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). This doctrine refers to a defense invoked by a government agency that allows a court to show deference to the agency’s interpretation of a law that it administers.

Several years ago, the United States Supreme Court held that issue preclusion should apply (so long as the other elements of issue preclusion are met) when the trademark usages adjudicated by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) are materially the same as those before the district court. B&B Hardware Inc. v. Hargis Indus., _ U.S. _, 135 S. Ct. 1293 (2015).  In other words, the decision of the TTAB can be binding on other courts. DuetsBlog has posted on this decision before:

Likelihood of Preclusion: Fallout From the Supreme Court Ruling on Likely Confusion and What Do Gripe Sites Have to Do with SCOTUS’s B&B Hardware Decision?

Justice Thomas and the late Justice Scalia disagreed with the majority in the B&B Hardware decision. In his dissent, Justice Thomas was troubled by the fact that the TTAB was not comprised of Article III judges. Instead, the judges serving on the TTAB lacked input from either the President of the United States or the Senate. The dissent believed that applying issue preclusion raised serious constitutional concerns.

Judge Kavanaugh appeared to have a similar view in connection with a decision related to an underlying decision rendered by the Copyright Royalty Board (“CRB”). He suggested that there was “a serious constitutional issue” with the way judges are appointed to the CRB. Judge Kavanaugh further wrote that “under the Appointments Clause, principal offices of the United States must be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.” Judge Kavanaugh wrote that the CRB had acted arbitrarily.

It will be interesting to see what impact a Justice Kavanaugh (or whoever becomes the ultimate replacement for Justice Kennedy) will have on the USPTO and intellectual property issues in general.

Hawaii seems to be on the mind here at DuetsBlog lately. Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting three Hawaiian islands for the first time. While there, I quickly became acquainted with Hawaiian life and language. It’s a beautiful place; I recommend everyone visit.

When I first landed on Kauai, the “garden island,” I was quickly greeted with “Aloha,” in sound, sight, and mind. Although most understand “Aloha” to be a friendly greeting, the word has much greater meaning. It also means love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy. In one word, it embodies Hawaii–and, indeed, the State of Hawaii has declared that Aloha is its official spirit. It is “more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. . . . ‘Aloha’ means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. ‘Aloha’ is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ‘Aloha’ means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.” Haw. Rev. Stat. § 5-7.5(a). All government employees are instructed to “contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the ‘Aloha Spirit.'” Haw. Rev. Stat. § 5-7.5(b). I guess they don’t call it the “Aloha State” for nothing!

With such importance to native Hawaiians, citizens of Hawaii, and the state themselves, it is no wonder that “Aloha” has also become a popular company, place, product, and service name on the islands. Throughout my journey there, I began to notice Aloha almost everywhere I went. See, for example, the following:

And the list goes on… In fact, a basic USPTO search revealed almost 500 live Aloha marks, and a search on the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs revealed over 10,000!

Seeing Aloha used so frequently caused me to ponder the potential risks of choosing a word like ‘Aloha’ for use in a brand. On the one hand, the word used in connection with most goods, services, and places is arbitrary or fanciful. What is, for example, “Aloha Tofu?” And the word may be suggestive or descriptive of Hawaiian roots. But on the other hand, the word “Aloha” is so ubiquitous that it can hardly be said to be inherently distinctive. Its common use, standing alone, does not immediately identify a single source and seemingly undermines the ability to develop secondary meaning in the minds of at least a Hawaiian public constantly bombarded with the word. Tying additional words to Aloha (e.g., “Aloha Fridays” or “Liquid Aloha”) might create more distinctiveness. But there seems to be an overarching risk that the mark’s initial generic non-distinctiveness will never be overcome. This risk is akin to genericide, but not due to expropriation–rather, widespread appropriation.

I enjoy the Aloha spirit and hope it spreads far and wide. But its ubiquitous adoption could turn a word which means quite a bit (see above), into a word which means very little when it comes to trademark law.

One of the most common defenses to patent infringement is that the asserted patent is invalid. The reasons for invalidity regularly range from lack of utility, to incorrect inventorship, and even to fraud (as I’ve recently written about). Often, the defendant asserts that the patent is invalid for lack of novelty or non-obviousness–pointing to some piece of evidence that the defendant says conclusively shows that the invention was already in the public domain before the plaintiff even applied for the patent. That evidence is called invalidating “prior art.”

Prior art can spell the unexpected demise of an otherwise valid patent, and it comes in many forms. For several decades, published prior art (not to be confused with prior art in the form of prior uses or sales) consisted of already-existing patents (and applications), trade journals, drawings, articles, websites, standards, whitepapers, etc. But Congress expanded the scope of published prior art dramatically in passing the America Invents Act in 2012. Whereas before prior art consisted merely of “printed publications,” post-AIA, prior art also encompasses things that are “otherwise available to the public.”

The larger–and more modern–universe of possible published prior art is easy to imagine. For example, prior art references are no longer limited to traditional publications and documentary evidence. Instead, additional forms of multimedia come into play–which is fitting in today’s multimedia-packed times. Videos, movies, broadcasts, and recordings all now qualify as prior art, so long as they are available to the public.

But despite this expansion, litigants have not yet fully taken advantage of the change. There have been a few recent uses of video as prior art, such as the iconic iPhone keynote speech made by the late Steve Jobs demonstrating a technology described in an Apple patent. Ironically, in commenting on the “bounce-back” effect that was the subject of the patent, Steve Jobs stated, “boy have we patented it.” But Apple failed to patent it fast enough after the speech.

https://youtu.be/-3gw1XddJuc?t=29m7s

Samsung used clips from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to argue that Apple’s design patent for the shape of a tablet was invalidating prior art.

Apple really seems to be taking the brunt of video prior art challenges.

Just one week ago, a Federal district judge in the Northern District of Florida addressed–apparently for the first time–whether a YouTube video could constitute prior art. The court, in HVLPO2, LLC v. Oxygen Frog, LLC, 4:16-CV-336 (MW/CAS) (Dkt. No. 133), held that a YouTube video can constitute prior art and that YouTube videos are “sufficiently accessible to the public interested in the art.” Not exactly a groundbreaking finding to someone of my generation, who grew up with YouTube and the internet. Indeed, the USPTO’s own training guides (slide 15) specifically state that YouTube videos are a perfectly acceptable form of prior art. The USPTO has stated that videos qualified prior to the AIA, but there is conflicting authority.

The plaintiff in HVLPO2 had argued that the particular YouTube video in question was uploaded on a random account, so no one interested in the art would have found it. The court pushed back in eccentric fashion, stating:

It appears that Plaintiff is unfamiliar with how YouTube works. A familiar user would know that you don’t need to search for a particular channel to watch the videos uploaded on it. For example, if you want to watch a video of a cat skateboarding, you can search “cat skateboarding”; you don’t need to know that it might have been “CatLady83” who uploaded the video you end up watching.

The court held that the YouTube video in question appeared within the first 20 videos when using appropriate search terms on the site. “Surely, the effort involved in composing a basic search query and scrolling down the page a few times does not exceed the ‘reasonable diligence’ that the law expects of a hypothetical prior art subject.” I couldn’t agree more, and I recommend this fun cat skateboarding video:

But even though most YouTube videos are generally accessible, not all are available to the public. For example, YouTube videos may be “private” or “unlisted,” potentially removing them from the “otherwise available to the public” category or at least undermining the argument for their accessibility. Thus, as even the court in HVLPO2 noted, the defendant still has to prove the existence of public access to the video prior to the applicable date. This can be accomplished by proffering screenshots of the video in the browser and evidence of that video’s publication date (which is disclosed on the YouTube website and many other video sharing platforms).

Besides the above, there are few other examples of videos (online or otherwise) being used as prior art. This is probably due in part to the current difficulty of searching the vast amount of video and audio–as opposed to text, for example–available on the internet. But as computer learning gets better and better, I expect audiovisual prior art will play a bigger role in both patent prosecution and litigation, so long as that prior art is “otherwise available to the public.”

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

When you finally identify a name for your business, product or service, you must conduct proper due diligence to ensure that you have a legal right to use the name. Trademark searches are mandatory and I’d strongly recommend talking to a great trademark attorney. A little upfront time and money can save you a ton of heartache and cash at a later point (if, for example, the name you decide to use is challenged by someone who is already using a similar name).

One of the other things you should do is conduct foreign language checks using native speakers to identify if the name has unfavorable meaning in a foreign language. Even if you do not plan to market in a foreign country, you do not want your name associated with unfavorable meanings. Here are some examples that prove the point:

  • Barf Detergent – In Persian apparently Barf means snow. But can you imagine the conflict in the mind of an English speaker when seeing a detergent called Barf?

  • Vicks – When Vicks was introduced in Germany, somebody forgot that the German pronunciation of “v” is “f” which made their “Vicks” brand name sound like slang for sexual intercourse (the name in German speaking countries is now Wick which translates correctly).
  • Scat Airlines – An airline based in Kazakhstan. Not sure if an English speaker would fly them.

  • Emerdata – This is the reincarnation of Cambridge Analytica. I find great irony in the fact that the name translations in Portuguese and Italian refer to the act of defecation.
  • IKEA – IKEA has a unique naming convention that often leads to translation errors. For example, some product names sounded like sex acts. And in many cases, IKEA names just sound amusing to English speakers:

Perhaps there is an alternative strategy to conducting a disaster check on international translation. What if you actively looked for names that translate well across the major languages of the world? As an example, one of the reasons that Kit Kat is so successful in Japan is the name “Kit Kat” famously translates to “You will surely win.”

“Good Translation” might be an excellent naming strategy!

In recent USPTO news, Trader Joe’s, the supermarket chain known for its eclectic and unique foodstuffs, recently filed an opposition to registration of the mark “Trader Schmo,” which is described as designating a wide variety of Kosher foods. Understandably, Trader Joe’s took issue with the mark, and particularly its use in the food category. The company instituted an opposition (which I cannot help but note is #999,999), arguing that “Trader Schmo” will confuse consumers because consumers will naturally switch “Joe’s” with “Schmo,” given the popular phrase “Joe Schmo.”

This is not the first time Trader Joe’s has taken legal action to protect its brand. Notably, just a couple years ago the company sued “Pirate Joe’s,” a counterfeiter with a backstory almost too unbelievable to be true. Pirate Joe’s was a “rebel Canadian grocery operation,” which bought Trader Joe’s products in the United States and “smuggle[d] them across the border to Vancouver” to sell them. Pirate Joe’s eventually ran aground under the immense pressure of its legal fees.

Pirate Joe’s Comes Crashing Down, Credit: Georgia Straight

This new dispute reminds me of the famous “Dumb Starbucks” experiment by comedy TV series Nathan For You. Over one weekend in 2014, the show opened a coffee shop that looked just like a real Starbucks, except that its name and every drink it sold was preceded by the word “dumb.” The comedian behind the prank (or “art“) claimed that “Dumb Starbucks” was permissible fair use because both the use of the Starbucks mark, as well as the store itself, was one big parody. One cannot help but notice some parallels to Trader Schmo; the latter word refers to a hypothetical “dumb” person.

Comedian Nathan Fielder, Credit: New Yorker

Dumb Starbucks and Trader Schmo raise difficult questions about permissible comedic use under trademark law. On the one hand, the marks free ride on the notoriety of other marks, bringing attention. On the other, it seems unlikely the marks would cause actual consumer confusion, making them harmless jokes. Whether Trader Schmo runs afoul of the Lanham Act will likely depend on two major inquiries: (1) whether it constitutes infringement or dilution, and (2) whether statutory fair use defenses apply.

InfringementPreviously on this blog, I explained that infringement usually centers on likelihood of confusion, which is evaluated using a variety of factors:

whether the use is related, the strength of the mark, proximity of the use, similarities of the marks, evidence of actual confusion, marketing channels employed, the degree of care likely to be exercised by consumers, the user’s intent in selecting the mark, and the likelihood of expansion of product/service lines.

The factors could support a finding of infringement here. The uses are related (food). The strength of the Trader Joe’s mark rides the line between arbitrary and fanciful to descriptive; who is Trader Joe in the abstract, and what does he sell? Surely the marks are similar…sounding. But on the other hand, would an average Joe really mistake Trader Schmo for Trader Joe’s? As a counter, though, it seems reasonable to infer that Trader Schmo was selected because it is similar to Trader Joe’s.

Dilution: So there might be infringement. How about dilution? This occurs when the similarity between the accused mark and a famous mark is likely to impair the distinctiveness or reputation of the famous mark. Dilution does not require any actual or likely consumer confusion. Depending on how good Trader Schmo’s Baba Ganoush, Gefilte fish, Matzo ball soup, and Borscht taste, Trader Joe’s could have an argument for dilution–especially if Trader Schmo’s grows large enough to undermine the distinctiveness of Trader Joe’s as a famous brand.

Fair Use: Generally speaking, the fair use provisions for infringement and dilution both require: (1) that the accused mark be used in a descriptive sense and not as a mark, and (2) that use of the accused mark be fair and in good faith. However, fair use does not provide a defense to infringement if there is likelihood of confusion–but we’ll gloss over that for now.

First, Trader Schmo could arguably be descriptive, delineating traded products. And the word ‘schmo’ has Jewish roots, which could describe the Kosher foods the mark designates. On the other hand, Trader Schmo isn’t inherently descriptive in that it actually describes a product or a characteristic or quality (e.g., Vision Center, a store for glasses). And it’s being used as a mark. So fair use might not even apply.

Assuming descriptiveness, the second element (the ‘fair’ aspect of the doctrine of fair use) often implicates the kinds of First Amendment interests that protect parody, satire, and criticism. But there’s no indication that Trader Schmo is intended to comment on Trader Joe’s. Moreover, courts have rejected the idea that a use is “fair” or in good faith if its similarity to a protected mark is deliberately concocted to garner attention. Trader Joe’s could have a good case for that here–just as Starbucks likely had against Dumb Starbucks.

A high-level analysis of the Trader Schmo mark suggests it could constitute infringement or dilution and is not fair use. This conclusion underscores trademark law’s general distaste for humor when it comes to commerce, as opposed to actual social commentary and comparison.

Recently, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal appellate court that primarily hears appeals in patents cases) heard arguments in NantKwest Inc. v. Matal, No. 16-1794 on the issue of attorneys’ fees (a timely topic) in certain patent cases.

Credit: PatentlyO

Attorneys’ fees are a necessary and inescapable cost of enforcing one’s rights and, as often is the case, can be astronomical in intellectual property cases. Under what is known as the “American Rule,” parties to a case usually must shoulder their own attorneys’ fees and costs–even if they win. Some statutes alter this general rule, allowing those who win in court (known sometimes as “prevailing parties”) to recover fees and costs. But reimbursement is the exception, rather than the rule.

The issue on appeal in NantKwest is unique and far more exceptional than prevailing party statutes. As clearly explained in a recent Law360 article, the case has to do with a previously-neglected section of the Patent Act, which provides that parties who “appeal” USPTO decisions directly to a district court (as opposed directly to the Federal Circuit) must pay “all expenses” incurred by the USPTO, win or lose. The full language can be found in 35 U.S.C. § 145, which provides:

An applicant dissatisfied with the decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board…may, unless appeal has been taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, have remedy by civil action against the Director in the United States District Court….The court may adjudge that such applicant is entitled to receive a patent for his invention….All the expenses of the proceedings shall be paid by the applicant.

For more than 100 years, the USPTO interpreted the “all expenses” language to apply only to travel expenses, expert fees, and miscellaneous costs. But in 2014, the USPTO argued that similar language in the Lanham Act (at 15 U.S.C. § 1071) entitled the USPTO to not only traditional costs, but also the USPTO’s attorneys’ fees. A district court agreed, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

It wasn’t long until the similarly-worded language in the Patent Act came to bear on patent applicant NantKwest. Citing § 145, the USPTO argued that NantKwest should pay over $78,000 in attorneys’ fees. But the district court disagreed, stating that the word “expenses,” American Rule presumption, and over 100-year history of the Government’s position on this provision in the Patent Act, together required a narrow construction of the term. But the Federal Circuit reversed the district court in a 2-1 decision. Months later, the entire Federal Circuit agreed to hear the case en banc (to be considered by all of the judges, rather than a three-judge panel).

Numerous third-parties filed briefs with the Federal Circuit in anticipation of the rehearing. The American Bar Association is against an expansive interpretation, asserting that such would serve as a “roadblock to justice.” The International Trademark Association, which has interests given the similar language in the Lanham Act, and the American Intellectual Propertly Law Association agree.

The Federal Circuit recently heard oral argument in NantKwest and has not issued its opinion. But as I have chronicled before, the questions posed at oral argument may provide clues as to what may result. Here are some of the questions judges asked during the Government’s oral argument:

  • “[The USPTO] says there is no meaningful dispute with respect to whether ‘expenses’ covers attorneys fees or not. Isn’t there enough in the record to establish there is some ambiguity in terms of the coverage of ‘expenses’?”
  • “[The USPTO previously] hired independently counsel?” This references outside fee arrangements from the 1800s, perhaps establishing a factual basis for distinguishing attorneys’ fees from expenses.
  • “If it’s so clear, why did it take the PTO until the last couple years to tumble onto this supposedly unambiguous reading?”
  • “So, time out, [is the USPTO] saying that when the taxpayers were paying [the USPTO’s] fees, [the USPTO] had no obligation to seek them, but when the applicants would be paying [the USPTO’s] fees, now [the USPTO] suddenly need[s] to go seek them? You just said that [the USPTO] turned into a self-funded agency. Fefore that, who was paying the expenses of the agency?”
  • “So the statute has said for 170 years all expenses of the proceeding shall be paid by the applicant. That is not discretionary, correct? So the PTO did not have the discretion if the statute included attorneys’ fees…to not seek attorneys’ fees because the statute is mandatory, not discretionary?”
  • “Didn’t the agency become user-funded in the 80s?”
  • “Do you agree that since it wasn’t mandatory…the agency was in error for the last 170 years when it failed to seek attorneys’ fees?”
  • “What I don’t understand…if the AIA mandates that [the USPTO] be completely user-funded, why isn’t the cost of a patent examiner, or the cost of Xeroxing, or the cost of parking part of the fees pro-rata that [the USPTO is] seeking in this case?”
  • “Can you cite to any other provision…in which a loser can recoup its attorneys’ fees?”
  • “How are the salaries that are paid to the staff attorneys treated within the PTO budget? Are they an operating cost? Are they expensed out? Is there any profit margin factored into any of those costs?”
  • “Did counsel ever receive bonuses during a fiscal year? Counsel can get a bonus, isn’t that correct? Why aren’t they expensed in? Or in this particular instance?”
  • “Do you all keep detailed time sheets? Day-by-day, every [6] minute break? At the time that it is spent, or at the time in retrospect after the case is over? Are contemporaneous time sheets kept for every item that every lawyer works on?”
  • “What was the hourly rate?” The attorney for the USPTO responded that the value of USPTO attorney time is “roughly $100 per hour.”
  • “There’s no dispute in this case, at least, that expert fees are included in the statutory provision? And does the PTO contract with outside providers?”
  • “What about the access-to-courts issue?” This references a due process argument and the concern that requiring the payment of the USPTO’s attorneys’ fees would be prohibitive to small inventors and businesses.
  • “Is it your view that the expenses of this appeal should be payable, including the salaries of PTO employees who might be sitting here?”
  • “So you’re saying that the language in the statute that says ‘this proceeding,’ is not limited to the action in the district court, but also includes this appeal and maybe a Supreme Court appeal?” The USPTO responded yes, but that it wasn’t seeking such fees, prompting one judge to ask, “Why?…You don’t have discretion to request…or waive them.”
  • “Are you aware of any other statute that shifts the salaries of an agency’s attorneys onto the party who brought proceedings challenging the agency’s decision?”

Question to the other side, NantKwest:

  • “What is the purpose of the expense provision in section 145? Why did Congress adopt this unusual provision?” The answer? “We don’t know” because the legislative history doesn’t provide an answer.
  • “How are attorneys’ fees accounted for in a law firm? Are they profit? Income? Expense?”
  • “So your theory is that ‘expenses’ means traditional costs?”
  • “If you’re sitting there in Congress, and you’re trying to craft an unambiguous provision that would allow for the personnel expenses, would it be sufficient in this provision to say, ‘all of the expenses of the proceeding, including the personnel expenses’?” This spawned a great deal of back-and-forth about how Congress could have been more explicit without using the words “attorneys’ fees.”
  • “Is it your position that the ‘all expenses’ language is clear and doesn’t include attorneys’ fees? Or that it’s ambiguous, and, therefore, under Supreme Court precedent…doesn’t include attorneys’ fees?”
  • “My understanding is that nobody has identified any statute that uses generic language…without a parenthetical stating ‘including attorneys’ fees’ that has been interpreted to cover time for lawyers?”
  • “Are we really dealing with attorneys’ fees here?…In your experience as a practitioner…does that include a profit margin?”
  • “Do private law firms follow the government model? In which people who bill less hours…get to charge more per hour?” This was a somewhat lighthearted question.

On rebuttal:

  • “When did the Government determine that this provision included attorneys’ fees? For 170 years did [the USPTO] believe that it was entitled to seek them, but didn’t have to?”
  • “What about when the Government said that the possibility that the Government would try to seek fees was so remote that it could not be taken seriously?”

After listening to the oral argument, one is left with the distinct impression that the Federal Circuit was more critical of the Government’s newfound position and more accepting of NantKwest’s arguments. Yet, as shown above, the questions the judges asked the Government far exceeded those directed to NantKwest. As a recent Star Tribune article reported, if the case was being heard by the Supreme Court, this could suggest that the judges actually support the Government’s position. But given the entire tone of the oral argument–especially that of the rebuttal, in which the judges specifically asked the Government to address arguments raised by NantKwest–I cannot help but think the Federal Circuit will rule against the Government, creating a circuit split with the Fourth Circuit and ultimately setting up an appeal to the Supreme Court. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: The Federal Circuit rejected the USPTO’s arguments, stating “the American Rule prohibits courts from shifting attorneys’ fees from one party to another absent a ‘specific and explicit’ directive from Congress. The phrase ‘[a]ll the expenses of the proceedings’ [in 35 U.S.C. § 145] falls short of this stringent standard.”

Maybe you’ve heard of Warby Parker. The eye wear company has become quite successful in a previously monolithic industry. But a tongue-in-cheek advertising effort for a new onion ring monacle might just cross the line into provoking a trademark feud. See, Exhibit 1, below:

And, for the main course:

Even if Warby’s doesn’t actually sell the products, the packaging incorporates not only the entirety of the Arby’s trademark, but also the iconic, cowboy hat/maybe-its-a-fishhead logo. Has Warby Parker’s rebellious attitude finally crossed a line?

It turns out, no. No it hasn’t. According to AdWeek, Arby’s and Warby Parker specifically teamed up on this project as part of an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke (and, ICYMI, this is not Warby Parker’s first rodeo, either). So the joint use of the marks is authorized by both parties and not an infringement. As the companies explain in their joint press release:

Arby’s has an eye for meat. Warby Parker has meat for eyes. The result? A new partnership sandwiched somewhere between vision and at least eight different kinds of meat.

If you’re lucky enough to live in New York, New York, there will be two real life Warby’s restaurants, beginning this Friday, March 30th. The participating locations are at 121 Greene Street and 32 E. 23rd Street. I don’t know where those addresses are, but for marketing purposes I hope it isn’t Long Island (no offense, Long Island).

So yes, this isn’t an infringement issue. But this is still a trademark story. At some point attorneys on both sides of the equation received an email because “This sounds awesome, but I think we have to run it by legal first.” Thankfully, the attorneys didn’t get in the way of this project to prevent it from actually happening.

My only complaint is that the companies announced it as an April Fool’s Day joke. You have to at least try to trick people into falling for it. Come on.

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.