As the court ruled, and repeatedly reminded: "Toilet paper. This case is about toilet paper."

Just last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit enjoyed applying only a modicum of potty humor while deciding Georgia Pacific Consumer Products LP v. Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a case involving alleged non-traditional trademark rights in Georgia-Pacific’s Quilted Diamond Design embossed on the surface of toilet paper (shown above):

  • "Georgia-Pacific unrolled this suit against Kimberly-Clark, alleging unfair competition and trademark infringement under the Lanham Act, for Kimberly-Clark’s introduction of its redesigned toilet paper."
  • "We review the district judge’s grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing all facts in favor of the nonmoving party. . . . Therefore, despite the fact that the judge dutifully plied her opinion, we now wipe the slate clean and address Georgia-Pacific’s claims."

Actually, I think the court could have enjoyed itself even more with this case, since most agree double ply humor is far superior than single ply, especially when it’s on a roll.

Returning to the substance in hand, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that Georgia-Pacific’s Quilted Diamond Design, found on the surface of Quilted Northern brand toilet paper — and made recognizable from the television commercials with cartoon quilters — "is functional and therefore cannot be protected as a registered trademark."

It is unfortunate for Georgia-Pacific that it was unable to capture both patent protection for a limited term and trademark protection for eternity. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive intellectual property rights, but as this decision painfully demonstrates, if planning, coordination, and great care is not exercised, any hope of eternal trademark protection will be wiped away.

As you may recall, I’ve emphasized the importance of legal and marketing types working together in graceful collaboration to stand a reasonable chance of avoiding the many pitfalls in creating valid and protectable traditional and non-traditional trademark rights (Furminator, Smash Burger, and Bawls Guarana).

But, this decision, rejecting trademark protection for the above-depicted federally-registered design trademarks, highlights the importance of not only having talented legal and marketing types working together for common intellectual property goals, but also, the equally strong need for very close collaboration between patent counsel and trademark counsel.


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As you may recall from March of this year, we blogged about Kimberly-Clark’s novel intent-to-use trademark application for a "sensory, touch mark" in connection with disposable paper hand-towels. Other discussions of sensory, touch marks may be found here

In any event, the original description of the claimed Kimberly-Clark trademark was as follows: "The

The October/November issue of Brand Packaging magazine just hit the streets and I’m deeply honored to say that my piece entitled "A Trademark Touch: Strategies for Owning and Protecting Touchmarks" is this issue’s "cover story" (minus the skull and crossbones).

The digital version can be read here. I hope you find it

This sponsored banner ad is currently appearing in AdAge’s Daily News on-line newsletter:

How many boxes of tissue do you suppose this ad is responsible for selling?

If the answer is none, that is probably fine with Kimberly-Clark since the return on investment for this ad is measured quite differently, I’m sure, given how the

Let’s revisit the topic of non-traditional “touch” trademarks today.

Of all the traditional five human senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) and trademarks that can be perceived by one or more of those senses, touch, a/k/a tactile, a/k/a texture trademarks are just about as uncommon as any (taste, perhaps, being the least common). Indeed, back in 2006, Marty Schwimmer from The Trademark Blog correctly noted the dearth of recognized tactile marks. Moreover, despite a 2006 INTA Board of Directors’ Resolution supporting the protection of touch marks, few appear to have reached for or grabbed any such protection (putting aside Kimberly-Clark, already blogged about here).

As arguably one of the most intimate of the senses: ‘Touch is the first sense developed in the womb and the last sense used before death.” Given that and given other unique characteristics of “touch” among the senses, it is a bit surprising that touch marks haven’t been pursued more by marketers looking to create intimate, emotional connections with a brand: “Another distinction of the sense of touch is that it is identified with the real. You can’t believe your eyes, nor your ears, and taste is personal and subjective, but touch is proof.” By the way, since touch/tactile/texture marks are so uncommon, why can’t we agree on what to call them? For what its worth, my vote is to call them “touch” marks since that is the term that names the underlying basic human sense.

Anyway, with that background, as far as I can tell, the one industry that seems to show the most promise or, at least, interest in touch trademarks, is the alcoholic beverages industry, most particularly those companies that focus on selling distilled spirits or wine.

                          


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Kimberly-Clark® is no stranger to securing federal registrations for its various non-traditional trademarks. No doubt, these unconventional trademark assets are of great commercial value and an important part of K-C’s evolving business strategy and intellectual property portfolio.

My previous post about the oval-shaped facial tissue container K-C was able to federally register in November 2007 is linked here. That post also discussed their current non-traditional trademark application covering a “textured alternating dot pattern appearing on the surface of the carton of disposable paper hand-towels.” By way of update, it was initially refused registration in April, but the application remains pending, as can be seen here, with no response due until October 2009.

Kimberly-Clark® has non-traditional, single color trademarks too:

Kimberly Clark Safeskin Purple Nitrile Exam GlovesSAFESKIN® Purple Nitrile Exam Gloves, Beaded Cuff, Small, Purple. Box of 100

In fact, I recently came across a pair of their federal trademark registrations for “the color purple,” one obtained in 2002 and the other in 2006. The differences in the description of goods between these two “color purple” registrations help make a point that is quite important to both marketing and trademark types, namely, the importance of keeping registered trademark scope current and consistent with the underlying and evolving business scope.


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