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.

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!

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.

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.

We continue to have Super Bowl LII on our minds here in the Twin Cities. It’s hard to avoid thinking about the upcoming “Big Game” with ads like these blanketing our skyway maze:

Turns out, everyone wants to have a little piece of the action in this upcoming event, even without the formality and cost associated with sponsorship, some call it ambush marketing:

Ambush marketing is not necessarily unlawful. It’s tricky, but I’m guessing the above ad may have cleared a legal review. No obvious conflicts with federally-registered rights, it appears.

Having said that, does this little guy change your view on things? Look familiar? It appears to be the same Wilson NFL Pee Wee Touchdown football without the name brands shown:

I’m thinking the JB Hudson ad employed a little airbrush strategy, or at least some strategic and highly precise palm expansion and placement in hiding the Wilson and NFL logos.

Actually, if so, it’s a good move, but will it be enough — especially given this website link — to avoid the aggressive NFL Super Bowl sponsorship police?

Who owns rights in TOUCHDOWN for footballs, if anyone? Anyone?

Neither Wilson nor the NFL appear to own federally-registered rights in TOUCHDOWN for footballs, but do common law rights exist?

If so, who owns them, the NFL or the maker of the NFL’s official game footballs, Wilson?

Moreover, did legal review consider non-verbal marks? What about the stitching design bordering the football laces? Non-traditional trademark? Functional? If not functional, fair use?

So much to think about as we anxiously await the Big Game in our own chilly backyard . . . .

Back in December we wrote about a trademark infringement case (Weems v. Plews) involving claimed exclusive rights in the color chartreuse as applied to various kinds of hoses.

Since then, Plews has been busy trying to short circuit the case and have the unregistered (common law) trademark infringement claims dismissed, contending Weems did not adequately plead that the color is nonfunctional.

Non-functionality is a required allegation for those claims involving infringement of claimed common law rights — infringement claims based on a Principal Registration, however, don’t require the allegation, since it is believed the USPTO already has determined the question.

Yet, as we have noted before, functionality, if proven, is a ticking time bomb, and it will destroy federally-registered rights no matter how long ago the USPTO issued the registration.

The problem with an early motion to dismiss is that the Court must accept all factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party: Weems.

So, not surprisingly, the Court denied Plews’ motion to dismiss the common law trademark infringement claims, for now, but I suspect after extensive discovery has been conducted in the case, Plews will attempt a motion for summary judgement to avoid the need for a trial. If so, at that time, the Court will not have to accept as true the allegation of non-functionality, it will have to examine the evidence to see whether functionality remains as a genuine issue for trial.

Meanwhile, Weems has been busy at the USPTO trying to convince the assigned Examining Attorney that the color chartreuse has acquired distinctiveness in garden hoses too, not just the previously federally-registered compressed air hoses. Early in April, Weems filed argument and evidence totaling 153 pages, but no decision there yet.

So, continue to stay tuned, this case shows no sign of trickling to an end any time soon.

We’ve written a lot about single color trademarks here over the years. Weems, the owner of the Flexilla brand has unleashed its federally-registered chartreuse-colored non-traditional trademark for “compressed air hoses” against Plews for selling air hoses with a “bright florescent green color” — a color that Plews claims online “reduces chances of tripping while on a job site.

Weems owns a non-traditional trademark registration on the Principal Register for chartreuse in connection with “compressed air hoses” — but, it recently abandoned a single color trademark application for electrical power extension cords, and it hasn’t yet obtained a registration on the Principal Register for chartreuse in connection with garden variety hoses (i.e., garden hoses):

FlexillaHose

Weems owns a pair of Supplemental Registrations for the chartreuse color (one having a black stripe, the other having a green stripe) in connection with watering hoses and garden hoses, but two months ago its attempt to achieve Principal Registration for chartreuse in connection with those goods and others was refused by the USPTO (Weems has until April 2017 to respond to the failure to function as a trademark and lack of distinctiveness refusals).

More thoughts on this case tomorrow, but in the meantime, do you think Plews tripped into this trademark dispute, or does it likely have a plan and a valid defense?

Hat tip to Jason for flagging the Weems v. Plews trademark complaint for us, currently pending in the Northern District of Iowa.

Glove4
Chou #1
Glove1
Digitcare
Glove3
Chou #2
Glove2
Chou #3
Glove5
Chou #4
Glove6
Avent Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in 2009, we wrote about what was then Kimberly Clark’s pair of single color purple trademark registrations in connection with “gloves for medical and surgical uses” and “disposable nitrile gloves for general use,” now owned by Avent and sold under the HALYARD brand:

HalyardPurpleNitrile

Those registrations are still big deals since they both exist on the Principal Register (as opposed to the Supplemental Register), and as far as I can see, no other medical examination glove colors have been able to withstand the reliable USPTO probing to attain Principal Registration status.

As the above six hand drawings reveal, growing numbers in the medical examination glove world have raised their hands at the USPTO to gain federal registration of a single color or a contrasting pair of colors (one appearing on the inside and the other on the outside).

Let’s wait and see what happens to the six pending applications for the drawings shown above (Chou #1, Digitcare, Chou #2, Chou #3, Chou #4, and Avent Green) after the USPTO rolls up its sleeves, and begins a different kind of hands-on examination. We’ll follow the drama as it unfolds.

From where I’m sitting, it seems doubtful that any will pass the vigorous Principal Register examination, but there are also serious questions as to whether survival of the appropriate Supplemental Register probing is warranted either, as explored more deeply further below.

In addition to #1-4 above, Chou also has a blue/white — outside/inside color combination mark and the inverse of those same colors — both on their way to the Supplemental Register.

Ascend Eagle also has a few hands in the color trademark pot for medical examination gloves, orange is registered on the Supplemental Register (tangerine never made it), but this peach and this red one are both suspended for consideration on the Supplemental Register.

Colur World has a suspended pink single color application too, apparently now attempting Principal Registration, since it already has a Supplemental Registration for pink medical gloves.

While, Xela has secured single color copper and single color magenta trademark registrations — both have landed on the Supplemental Register stretcher too; as did this individual’s single color application for gold colored medical gloves.

With all this focus on gaining Supplemental Registrations in the medical examination glove field, you’d think the USPTO’s probing on the question of functionality has been, perhaps a bit soft.

Turns out, the Digitcare trademark application for an outer-white/inner-black medical exam glove contains an enlightening bit of information that could shine like a flashlight on the question of functionality:

  • “Contrasting Black and White ApexPro identifies conformance to infection control protocols”
  • “High contrast perma-white exterior for improved visibility with infectious fluids”

If so, what kind of future does that signal for this otherwise nearly identical Supplemental Registration, interestingly assigned from Chou to Digitcare, a few years back.

Show of hands, how many see the functionality scalpel removing even the Supplemental Registration option to one or more of the above six pending color applications, given the revelations in the Digitcare file history?

Last week a federal lawsuit was filed in Minnesota by Blu Dot to protect alleged intellectual property rights in the floor lamp shown on the left below. The accused “strikingly and confusingly similar” floor lamp shown on the right below is sold by Canadian Rove Concepts:

stilt-floor-lamp-walnutNordicLamp

So, what type of intellectual property do you suppose is being asserted here?

The “strikingly similar” allegation is a hint that copyright infringement is being alleged, although Blu Dot admits it hasn’t yet obtained a copyright registration, which used to be considered a predicate to the court having jurisdiction over a copyright claim. Instead Blu Dot filed for copyright registration only the week before filing suit in Minnesota federal district court.

Given that delay, what is clear about Blu Dot’s copyright claim is that waiting to seek copyright registration will cost it any hope of obtaining statutory damages or attorneys fees against Rove Concepts, even if it has a copyright and even if it was infringed. What remains unclear is whether Blu Dot actually has a copyright and whether it will be able to obtain the necessary registration to sustain a copyright infringement cause of action.

Copyright registration and protection is denied to useful articles such as lamps, unless an original sculptural work of authorship can be identified separately from, or exist independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article. So stay tuned, as it is certainly debatable whether copyright is a proper form of intellectual property protection for this particular floor lamp.

The “confusingly similar” allegation by Blu Dot is a further hint that non-traditional trademark infringement is being alleged here too. This won’t be an easy claim to pursue for Blu Dot either, since it will have to prove its design is “non-functional” (as it is not federally-registered as a non-traditional trademark product configuration) and it will have to establish acquired distinctiveness in its claimed trade dress elements (before addressing likelihood of confusion):

  • three legs that descend from a single base leg of the same width and depth;
  • each of the three legs pivots horizontally away from the center before angling down to the floor;
  • a portion of upper limb of each leg is stacked on top of each other making the legs different heights;
  • the legs angle out to form a tripod-like base; and
  • smooth fabric-covered shade.

A year and half ago we wrote about an interesting chandelier configuration trademark application — despite more than five years of use, registration on the Principal Register was refused as a non-distinctive product design, so the applicant amended to the Supplemental Register. It will be interesting to see what kind of evidence Blu Dot is able to establish in support of acquired distinctiveness, as five years of exclusive use won’t be enough.

Probably what is most surprising about Blu Dot’s federal complaint is that it alleges no ownership of or infringement of any design patents. Design patent protection seems ideally suited for this very kind of useful product, and it is not at all cost prohibitive to obtain.

Finally, back to Blu Dot’s non-traditional trademark infringement claim again, to the extent copyright is applicable, the Supreme Court’s Dastar case may very well knock out any trademark or unfair competition protection sought by Blu Dot. As the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota recently noted in Bruce Munro and Bruce Munro Studio v. Lucy Activewear, Inc. et al:

Courts, however, are “‘careful to caution against misuse or over-extension’ of trademark and related protections into areas traditionally occupied by patent or copyright.” [quoting Dastar] Copyright and patent laws are meant to protect against copying the originality and creativity of another, for a certain time and under certain guidelines, while the Lanham Act and trademark law serve a distinct purpose. * * * The Lanham Act “‘does not protect the content of a creative work on artistic expression’ because an ‘artist’s right in an abstract design or other creative work’ is protected by copyright law.” * * * [E]xtending trademark protection to a particular style of artistic expression would improperly extend trademark law into the area of copyright protection.” * * * Thus, the Court will dismiss with prejudice the trademark and trade dress claims to the extent they are based on Munro’s style and the elements of Munro’s artistic works.

So, how do you come down on the lamp case — is Blu Dot going to face red lights on its copyright and trademark claims? Will it end up wishing it had a design patent to assert against Rove Concepts?

AnatomyofTMWarning

We wrote about the above trademark warning ad a few years back, and the claimed trademark owner likely recognizing vulnerability as to validity:

The idea generally is, let’s show and create a record that we are educating the public about our trademark rights and hopefully deterring misuses that otherwise might find their way into the public eye and influence the relevant public’s understanding of a term or symbol as being generic and part of the public domain, free for anyone to use, even competitors.

Now, the validity of Car-Freshner Corporation’s federal non-traditional trademark registrations for the shape, configuration, and silhouette of a tree design, are seriously being questioned.

Sun Cedar, a non-profit based in Lawrence, Kansas, with the able pro-bono assistance of Marty Schwimmer of the Leason Ellis firm, has filed an answer and counterclaim in federal district court in the Northern District of New York, denying Car-Freshner Corporation’s allegations of trademark infringement, dilution, and unfair competition, and seeking cancellation of U.S. Reg. Nos:

on functionality grounds, and the ‘016, ‘233,  ‘888, and ‘854 registrations on abandonment grounds.

You can read more about this trademark dispute here at Techdirt — calling it another example of trademark bullying.

Here is an image of the Sun Cedar product that is alleged to infringe and dilute Car-Freshner Corporation’s federally-registered trademarks in the so-called Little Trees design:

SunCedarTree

A few questions come to mind.  Would you have put your non-traditional trademark rights at risk for the above alleged infringement?

Will the registrations be exposed to have ticking time bombs inside them?

If so, will Marty declare timber! as they fall and then gather up the debris to stack like cord-wood?

Or, will there be a mixed result, and if not chopped down altogether, might the registrations simply be chopped down to size.

Endless possibilities abound, so stay tuned, this is sure to be an interesting one.