The federal courts of appeals have split as to how to apply the doctrine of nominative fair use in trademark infringement cases. Last week, the Second Circuit endorsed the nominative fair use factors used by the Ninth and Third Circuits. At the same time, however, the court rejected the manner in which the Ninth and

I once spent 20 minutes trying to figure out whether I was installing a metal insert for an NYMÖ lamp upside down, or rightside up. I’m still not sure I ever installed it correctly, but it’s still working. So there. But a new IKEA översittare is getting a lot of attention on the internet, and

While filling up my gas tank at our local Costco last week I coudn’t resist capturing this photo of pump signage to ask our dear readers a few pointed questions:

Is there any doubt that the automobile depicted in the Costco advertisement is a Corvette Stingray? If so, HiConsumption should resolve any lingering questions.

How

Unable to resist a good trademark story, I snapped this photo in one of the countless gift shops along Hollywood Boulevard, as my family searched for various stars and did the "Walk of Fame," a week or so ago. What drew us into this particular shop was a striking wall full of shelves displaying what appeared to be rows upon rows of mini-Oscar gift statuettes.

Unlikely, however, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences "has carefully limited reproductions of the Oscar statuette . . . ." In fact, the Academy has a pretty controlled press-kit full of legal regulations, and the only trinkets that the Oscar trademark is federally registered for appears to be clothing, books and pamphlets; and the non-verbal two-dimensional depiction of the Oscar statuette is federally registered as a trademark for only clothing, pre-recorded videotapes, and books and pamphlets, no trophies or other gift items, it appears.

Indeed, upon closer inspection, the shop’s sign appropriately reads: "Small Trophy $8.99." It struck me that this is literally the sign of an effective trademark enforcement program. Left to their own devices, it wouldn’t be surprising to see shopkeeper’s signage reading "take home your very own Oscar style trophy," or "Oscar style trophies for sale," but the well-trained sign makes no such mentions and it does not utter the words "Oscar" or "Academy Awards," presumably because the Academy’s Oscar trademark police frequently patrol these parts. Or, perhaps when you’re positioned on Hollywood Boulevard, tourists get the picture, so to speak, without the use of another’s probably famous trademark.

What about when your gift or trophy shop is not on Hollywood Boulevard, but instead, somewhere along the Information Superhighway or beyond?


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The Easter Bunny eats lettuce, right? OK, not a very substantive tie-in for today’s Easter Day post . . . .

Anyway, about five weeks ago the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois rendered a trademark decision in Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises,Inc. v. Leila Sophia AR, LLC, d/b/a Lettuce Mix, granting plaintiff Lettuce Entertain You

  v.     

Texas Toast is the generic name for a type of bread, you know, the big thick double-cut slices. Anyone can call their bread Texas Toast if that is what they are selling, and, by the way, it doesn’t have to be toasted for the name to fit.

But, what if you’re selling a product made from bread, say, croutons? Can Texas Toast be owned and registered as a trademark for croutons? What if they are big, thick croutons, with a "Texas Toast" cut? And, if you market your croutons as "New York " brand, "The Original Texas Toast" croutons, does that not imply, if not admit, that others are free to compete by selling their own brand of, perhaps, non-original "Texas Toast" croutons? What if you didn’t start using a TM designation until after you noticed your competition selling Texas Toast croutons? Interesting questions, no doubt.

Well, ten days ago, a federal district judge in Ohio denied cross-motions for summary judgment in a trademark infringement case over an Ohio company’s claimed common law unregistered rights in "Texas Toast" for croutons and a Grand Rapids, Michigan company’s claimed descriptive fair use of "Texas Toast" also in connection with croutons. As an aside, having spent two years in school there, when I think of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and bread, sorry, all that comes to mind for me, are the wonderfully and perfectly steamed hot dog buns at the world famous Yesterdog.

In any event, back to Texas Toast, here is a pdf of the decision in T. Marzetti Co. v. Roskam Baking Co. , indicating that it is too early to decide the Texas Toast trademark infringement case because there are several disputed issues of fact, including, among others, the meaning and the term’s placement on the all-important Spectrum of Distinctiveness, i.e., whether "Texas Toast" is generic, descriptive, or suggestive for croutons.

Now, since the case wasn’t cut short and decided on summary judgment with a limited record, we’ll have to wait and see how the evidence shapes up and whose claim ends up being, eh, toasted, but  I’ll have to say, at this point, "Texas Toast" sounds to me like a category of croutons — those cut from texas toast style bread; like Lite and Light is to beer, and Brick Oven is to pizza — each are generic terms that are not own-able for those goods, because they designate a category of goods, not the origin or source of the goods. By the way, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first to use a generic term, if found generic, it is available for use by all, even direct competitors.

So, this is probably one of those trademark cases where who wins will come down to the proper placement of the claimed mark on the Spectrum of Distinctiveness. If generic, case over, defendant wins. If suggestive, plaintiff acquired rights based on its first use, two years prior to defendant’s use, and will likely win, provided a likelihood of confusion can be shown. If descriptive, plaintiff will be in the difficult position of proving that it acquired distinctiveness in "Texas Toast" prior to defendant’s first use, so within a short two-year period of time. If so, good luck with that.

No doubt, when it comes time for trial (or perhaps another summary judgment motion prior to trial), the plaintiff will make the most of the fact that the Trademark Office did not issue a descriptiveness or a genericness refusal on TEXAS TOAST for croutons, see the USPTO details here. Seems like an oversight to me, at least with respect to descriptiveness, after all, the plaintiff has the number one selling brand of texas toast style garlic bread, and it now has expanded that use into the field of croutons.

Ironically, to put its TEXAS TOAST trademark application in condition for publication by the U.S. Trademark Office Marzetti had to argue, and did so successfully, that it wasn’t likely to be confused with the prior federally-registered TEXTOAST trademark for bakery products. In doing so, it narrowed its description of goods from "croutons" to "croutons sold in a salad toppings section of grocery stores and supermarkets." Given that Marzetti’s mark will now be published for opposition, it is probably safe to assume that Roskam Baking will now oppose registration of Marzetti’s claimed TEXAS TOAST mark for croutons, so it doesn’t become registered prior to trial, but we’ll see.

So, what do you think about the critical Spectrum of Distinctiveness questions?

  1. Is Texas Toast generic for a category of croutons made from texas toast style cuts of bread?
  2. Is Texas Toast merely descriptive of croutons because it immediately describes a feature, characteristic, or attribute of croutons? or
  3. Is Texas Toast suggestive of croutons, because, a consumer’s imagination is required to understand the connection between the mark and the goods, or as plaintiff argues, "everything is bigger in Texas."  

Is plaintiff Marzetti’s suggestiveness argument all hat and no cattle?

Now, vote again, after reading plaintiff’s own description of its croutons below the jump.


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A couple of weeks ago I posted an Accountemps billboard advertisement that prominently features what appears to be a 3M Post-it brand removable adhesive note, and I asked whether it constitutes fair use, and whether 3M’s permission is necessary to run the advertisement, since 3M owns a federal trademark registration for the color "canary yellow" in connection with these notes.

As the comments to that post reveal, some recognize the billboard image as a 3M Post-it note, and believe permission should be required to run the ad, others were unaware that 3M has a trademark on the color canary yellow, others believe that yellow adhesive notes are generic, and several apparently believe that even if the billboard depicts a 3M canary yellow Post-it note, no permission should be required. In fact, several pointed out that yellow adhesive notes can be obtained from a variety of sources, raising the question of how close those shades of yellow are to 3M’s trademarked canary yellow?

So, just for you, I collected six different pads of yellow-colored adhesive notes and fixed them to a dark green background for a little follow-up quiz. Can you identify any "canary yellow" and name the sources of the six different yellow adhesive notes shown below (answers below the jump)?


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This billboard ad has appeared in various locations around the Twin Cities for some time now. 

Each time I saw it, I wondered whether it would be the last, given how vigilant 3M is in protecting its various trademarks and other intellectual property. This time, I had a camera handy to capture it.

Now it’s time for some questions.

Is there any