Likelihood of Confusion

Does Sanas Health Practice Ltd. (“Sanas Health”) think that Daenerys or Sansa will win at the end of the wildly popular Game Of Thrones series and ultimately sit on the Iron Throne?  Sanas Health filed two applications for the mark “QUEEN OF THRONES” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). Interestingly, the Applicant’s name Sanas is extremely similar to the Game of Thrones show leading character Sansa Stark. This may be merely a coincidence but could be argued to enhance confusion between the GAME OF THRONES® marks and the applied for “QUEEN OF THRONES” mark.

I guess there could even be those out there that think Cersei will not die in the final season (not me) and instead will end up on the Iron Throne at the end of the series. But, I am thinking most people agree with me that she will not survive (and will likely be killed by one of her brothers – my bet is on Jaimie).

Not surprisingly, Home Box Office (“HBO”) believes that Sanas Health is trying to capitalize on the goodwill of its famous GAME OF THRONES® mark and brand; and thereby, diluting its distinctive and famous GAME OF THRONES® marks. HBO further believes that the “QUEEN OF THRONES” mark is confusingly similar with its marks. Accordingly, HBO has filed a Notice of Opposition against these applications (No. 91246195).

By way of background, HBO has thirty-one (31) registrations and applications for GAME OF THRONES marks (including design marks and GAME OF THRONES with additional words such as GAME OF THRONES CONQUEST®, GAME OF THRONES THE THREE-EYED RAVEN®, GAME OF THRONES ASCENT®, and GAME OF THRONES BEYOND THE WALL) in connection with various goods and services.

Sanas Health applied for its “QUEEN OF THRONES” mark in connection with:

  • “Castor oil for medical purposes,” IC 5 (Ser. No. 87/839,043); and
  • “Nutrition counseling; Dietary and nutritional guidance; Providing a website featuring information about health, wellness and nutrition; Providing information about dietary supplements and nutrition,” IC 44  (Ser. No. 87/922,698).

This is not HBO’s first time seeking to protect its marks related to the Game Of Thrones series and brands. HBO has three (3) trademark registrations and an application for WINTER IS COMING®, which is the House of Stark-centric premiere episode of the Game of Thrones series. The Purple Wine Company attempted to register the “WINTER IS COMING” mark in connection with wines. HBO opposed the application and the Purple Wine Company failed to respond. The mark is now abandoned.

The Examining Attorney found the recent application for “WINTER IS COMING” filed by Chen Yufang to be confusingly similar with HBO’s WINTER IS COMING® marks and issued an Office Action preventing registration. We will have to see if Mr. Yufang serves a response to this Office Action or abandons the application. If he does not abandon the Application and is able to overcome the Office Action, I would anticipate that HBO would file a Notice of Opposition against his application for the famous “WINTER IS COMING” mark.

Fans of the Game of Thrones series are aware of the fanciful word “Dracarys” as a command to Daenerys’ the fire breathing dragons. HBO opposed an application filed by Hangzhou Wanry Imp. & Exp. Co., Ltd.  (“Hangzhou”) to register the “DRACARYS” mark in connection with numerous automobile related accessories. HBO opposed the application and Hangzhou failed to respond. The mark is now abandoned.

Fan favorite Tyrion Lannister proclaimed, “That’s what I do. I drink and I know Things” in season six of Game of Thrones, and HBO’s official trailer for the sixth season included this saying. When Francis Collins from Florida tried to register this mark in connection with t-shirts, HBO relied upon its common law rights associated with its sale of t-shirts having the “That’s what I do. I drink and I know Things” mark to oppose the Application. Ms. Collins defaulted and her application for the mark is now abandoned and dead.

DuetsBlog has featured other posts related to the famous show and its brand, including Martha’s post here, and mine here.

The wait is almost over.  The final six episodes of Game of Thrones start on April 14.  We will have to see if there is a King or Queen who ends up on the Iron Throne and what happens to the “QUEEN OF THRONES” applications.

A loyal reader brought to our attention the logo for a rather interesting chiropractic practice:

Without too much pain, can we all agree on the likely inspiration for the above name and logo?

What’s really interesting is that the name Thorassic Park has been federally-registered since 2004, so there is little doubt that the names may co-exist without likelihood of confusion or dilution.

But, what about the visual identities? Don’t they seem far too close, even if the businesses are very different? It appears the chiro-logo is almost a fossil now, having been around twenty years.

How can that be, given the close proximity between Orlando, Florida and Bradenton, Florida? What are the odds that the Jurassic Park franchise owner hasn’t discovered the chiro-logo before now?

And, what are the odds a patient of Thorassic Park in Bradenton might need an adjustment after visiting Jurassic Park in Orlando? Might there be an opportunity for a shuttle service in between?

So, if you are the brand police for the Jurassic Park franchise, does the chiro-logo give you back pain? For the creatives in the crowd, does your spine tingle seeing this painstakingly cloned logo?

It’s fall, and you know what that means: football season! For many, this means a return to the couch each weekend to spectate America’s most-watched sport. But the popularity of doing so appears to be in decline. This shift isn’t only affecting the NFL, but also college football as well, as ticket sales continue to plummet. Increasingly among my own family and friends, it seems as if everyone is more interested in playing their fantasy leagues than watching reality unfold before them. Which is why, one would think, that leagues and other football organizations would want to promote discussion about football, rather than hinder it.

Credit: Geek.com

But football organizations are cracking down on, rather than encouraging, use of familiar football names and phrases. Some have questioned, for example, the NFL’s bully-like tactics in aggressively protecting the “Superbowl” name. The annual “big game” is so well-known and such a major event that it’s almost impossible not to use its actual name. Yet, the NFL persists, enforcing more than just its famous name, drawing the ire of commentators each year.

Such tactics appear to have inspired a recent filing by the Heisman Trophy Trust against “HeismanWatch.com,” for trademark and copyright infringement. The Heisman Trophy Trust, the complaint says, is the owner of a slew of federal trademark and service mark registrations related to the Heisman Trophy, “one of the most distinguished, prestigious, and recognized awards in all of sports, and perhaps the most famous of all individual awards in football.” The award is given to the most outstanding collegiate football player, usually a quarterback or running back, each year. You might recognize the trophy by its distinctive “stiff-arm” maneuver captured in bronze:

Credit: The Ringer

Defendant HeismanWatch.com is a website that offers information, analysis, and podcasts about the Heisman trophy award. It is known for its “one-of-a-kind regression model that processes simulated Heisman votes,” to predict in advance who will win the Heisman each year. It reportedly correctly predicted the most recent winner, Baker Mayfield.

The Heisman Trophy Trust, apparently, does not appreciate HeismanWatch.com’s analysis and attention. It alleges that the website is deliberately attempting to free ride on the fame and notoriety of the Heisman Trophy marks, and it says that consumers are likely to believe there is a connection between the website and the actual trophy organization. Of course, the fact that HeismanWatch.com exists at all belies any such connection; the Trophy selection is secretive, but the website helps fans read the field and guess who will win next.

Time will tell whether the Heisman Trophy Trust can prevail against a news reporting and commentary organization like HeismanWatch.com, but it’s not unprecedented. The Academy Awards sued “OscarWatch.com” over a decade ago, prompting the website to change its name to “Awards Daily.” One cannot help but think that HeismanWatch.com has an incredibly strong nominative use defense, though. Under nominative use doctrine, another person can use the trademark of another if:

  1. the thing identified by the trademark (here, a trophy) cannot be readily identified any other way;
  2. the mark is used only as much as is necessary for that identification; and
  3. the use does not suggest sponsorship or endorsement.

The nominative use defense protects free speech and against the need to use “absurd turns of phrase” to avoid liability.

Credit: Wikipedia

It’s difficult to imagine a viable substitute to the name “Heisman,” given the trophy’s actual name–and namesake. What alternatives are there to HeismanWatch.com that do not include the surname? One commentator  offered an idea:

BestOffensivePlayerWithAGreatPRCampaignOnAVerySuccessfulTeamWatch.com.

Of course, this is absurd. And generic alternatives would fail to adequately describe what the website does (e.g., OutstandingCollegiateFootballPlayerWatch.com). One also doesn’t have to look much farther than a simple Google search to find that the media regularly uses “Heisman Watch” as a phrase to discuss anticipation about the next awardee. Even ESPN has a section called “Heisman Watch.” This kind of ubiquity shows the obvious necessity of using the surname. The common use of the phrase also suggests there is a very low likelihood that collegiate football fans are confusing the website–or any other reporting source–with the actual trophy organization. These are hallmarks of fair use.

But setting aside the legal defenses, one has to wonder if organizations such as the Heisman Trophy Trust, NCAA, and NFL ought to relax a little, and encourage the kind of use presented by sites like HeismanWatch.com. These fan centers generate excitement about, and interest in, football. That’s something football desperately needs more of lately.

Juut, an award-winning salon and spa founded in Minneapolis, has grown over the last 30 years, expanding into Arizona and California, with a focus not only on beauty, but health and wellness.

Juut was founded by David Wagner (author of Life as a Daymaker — How to Change the World by Making Someone’s Day), naturally the Juut name means: “to uplift humanity and serve others.”

“We celebrate individuality, authenticity and real beauty. Our mission is to create dynamic and significant Daymaking experiences that positively impact people, society and the world at large. Our vision at Juut is to transform the world with beauty.”

What is Juut to do when a popular, nicotine-pushing brand, adopts this similar Juul visual identity:

It’s difficult to imagine “Juuling” (notice the brandverbing) being a welcome activity in a healthful Juut salon or spa, and it’s similarly hard to imagine nicotine-containing Juul pods being available for sale at a Juut salon or spa, but neither would be required to show likelihood of confusion.

Juul’s apparent mission is to: “Improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers.” The problem, as noted by the FDA, is the product is being used by minors, not only adult smokers.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the New York Times reported on the magnitude of the problem:

“The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday declared that teenage use of electronic cigarettes has reached ‘an epidemic proportion,’ and it put makers of the most popular devices on notice that they have just 60 days to prove they can keep their devices away from minors.”

Juul has been targeted in recent lawsuits for targeting minors, as alleged in this Vaporized ad:

Given Juut’s laudable mission, any risk of its identity being confused with the likes of Juul would seem unwelcome, yet Juut has never taken any enforcement steps, at least none at the TTAB.

On the other hand, Juul has been busy at the TTAB, enforcing its federally-registered trademark rights in JUUL against the likes of JUUC for electronic cigarette chargers, JUUS for electronic cigarette holders, FUUL for electronic cigarette chargers, and MUUL for electronic cigarette cases.

So, what about likelihood of confusion? Do the very different missions of Juut and Juul portend no likelihood of confusion, or do they speak to the significant damage resulting from any confusion?

Credit: Local Solutions

I write today regarding a squirrelly thought: are the benefits of registering a hashtag trademark almost always outweighed by the consequences? In light of a recent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) ruling and the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure’s (“TMEP”) provisions, hashtag marks offer much less protection than traditional character-based marks, such that the latter are preferable in most situations.

We’ve all seen hashtag words and phrases (without spaces between the words) in social media, most commonly on Twitter–but also now on other sites, such as Facebook and Instagram. By affixing a hash symbol (#) to a word or phrase in a post, users can garner attention, join in a movement, and possibly “go viral.” Popular recent trending examples are #MeToo and #TakeAKnee. And of course, who could forget:

#selfie

Hashtags serve filtering, identifying, and promoting functions that have commercial advertising value. Thus, it is no surprise that hundreds of individuals and companies have applied for trademarks on “hashtag marks,” seeking to control the use of certain hash-preceded words and phrases. In fact, at the time of writing, there are over 1,900 such registrations. Hashtags are hip, and everyone wants one–or so they think.

In 2016, the USPTO added TMEP § 1202.18, which explains when “hashtag marks” may be registered:

A mark consisting of or containing the hash symbol (#) or the term HASHTAG is registrable as a trademark or service mark only if it functions as an identifier of the source of the applicant’s goods or services. . . . Generally, the hash symbol and the wording HASHTAG do not provide any source-indicating function because they merely facilitate categorization and searching within online social media . . . .Therefore, the addition of the term HASHTAG or the hash symbol (#) to an otherwise unregistrable mark typically will not render it registrable.

Recently, the TTAB applied this rule and other doctrines, holding that the addition of hashtags usually do nothing to make a mark distinctive. In the case, the TTAB rejected singer Will.I.Am’s application for a hashtag mark for #WILLPOWER because it was too similar to other registered marks containing”willpower,” and the hash symbol had no source-indicating distinctiveness, merely operating as a metadata tag for social media platforms.

The TTAB decision and TMEP provisions greatly narrow the registrability of hashtag marks, as well as their enforcement scope, such that it seems as if there is very little upside to applying for such a mark in most circumstances. An applicant does not need to register an otherwise-registrable mark as a hashtag mark in order to protect the mark if hashed. In such cases, a hashtag registration provides no more protection than a traditional character registration; the hash adds no additional layer of distinctiveness, just as it would not lend distinctiveness to an unregistrable word or phrase. Thus, an applicant should only apply for a hashtag mark in instances in which the non-hashed word or phrase lacks distinctiveness without the hash. If there is a case to be made for a traditional mark, the applicant should pursue that mark instead because traditional marks can be enforced more broadly.

If an applicant applies, however, only for a hashtag mark, then non-distinctiveness absent the hashtag will work to preclude the registrant from enforcing the mark in non-hashed situations. Even if the hashtag mark could be a mark on its own without the hash, the fact that the hashtag mark is either the first or only mark could result in a presumption against non-hashed distinctiveness–after all, why apply for a hashtag mark at all in such circumstances? It may also be more difficult to prove that non-hashed phrases, which in their non-hashed form are separated by spaces, infringe the hashtag mark. Imagine, for example, two competing phrases (the first example of which is a registered hashtag mark):

#lifeofabusyexecutive

Life of a Busy Executive

If the hash provides the distinctiveness for the first example (and perhaps in tandem with the lowercase and squished text), then presumably the second phrase without the hash (and with spaces) would not tread on that distinctiveness, working against a showing of consumer confusion and infringement. Of course, the holder of the hashtag mark could prevent identical use by competitors in commerce, but not similar non-hashed uses.

Emerging trademark law teaches that hashtag marks are extremely narrow–intentionally so–and as we’ve discussed before, hashtag marks are also greatly susceptible to fair use defenses. There appear to be few upsides to seeking such marks, at least without first trying for a traditional mark. So although trademark commentary as of late has focused on the trendiness of obtaining a hashtag mark, the more important question is whether it is worth doing so. In most cases, the answer will probably be “no.”

M. Shanken Communications, publisher of Wine Spectator — a popular magazine, website and mobile application that offers wine ratings on a 100-point scale — has filed a lawsuit against California-based Modern Wellness, Inc., based on that company’s use of “Weed Spectator” for ratings of cannabis. The federal complaint, filed in New York, alleges claims including trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution. The case is M. Shanken Communications, Inc. v. Modern Wellness, Inc. et al., Case No. 18-cv-08050 (S.D.N.Y.).

M. Shanken alleges that the website and social media pages offered by Modern Wellness use the terms “Weed Spectator” and “WS” for cannabis rating publications, which are confusingly similar to M. Shanken’s use of “Wine Spectator” and “WS” marks for its wine rating publications. For example, Modern Wellness also offers a similar 100-point rating scale for cannabis, and the parties’ marks allegedly contain similar font and style. Furthermore, M. Shanken cites to several Modern Wellness pages that associate cannabis with wine.

M. Shanken’s claims will require establishing a likelihood of confusion (except for the dilution claims) based on the Second Circuit’s eight Polaroid factors. Among those factors, two of the most significant are the similarity of the marks and the relatedness (or “competitive proximity”) of the parties’ services. Although there are some similarities of the marks, M. Shanken may have some difficulty establishing likelihood of confusion based on a lack of relatedness between cannabis rating and wine rating.

However, M. Shanken also brought a dilution claim, which does not require a showing that the services are related or competitively proximate. Therefore, M. Shanken may prevail on that claim, if it can prove the use of “Weed Spectator” is likely to cause dilution by blurring or tarnishment. M. Shanken alleged that its marks are tarnished by Weed Spectator because of the association with an illegal drug (under federal law and most states). Nevertheless, the federal dilution claim also requires a showing that M. Shanken’s marks are “famous,” which is a high bar to establish.

What do you think? Would you be confused as to the source of the Weed Spectator mark, or believe there was some affiliation or connection between the parties? Even if not, do you think that M. Shanken’s marks are tarnished or blurred by Weed Spectator? Stay tuned for updates.

Two months ago, our attention seized on a nutty and woefully deficient USPTO examination of a trademark application to register — Mr. Wonderful — for roasted nuts, and nut-based snack foods, among other food products, given the prior WONDERFUL trademark rights owned by these folks:

Just like clockwork, events now appear to be playing out as expected, so keep your eyes peeled and your watches synchronized. Last Friday, The Wonderful Company LLC, filed an extension of time to oppose registration, so the new deadline for opposition is September 8, 2018.

We’ll likely soon see whether a Letter of Protest was filed behind the scenes, giving the USPTO a chance to correct this mistake and issue a likelihood of confusion refusal —  as it’s hard to imagine the Examining Attorney’s failure to issue a refusal won’t be considered clear error, so stay tuned.

Wonderful likely has made contact with Mr. Wonderful by now — my question would be, how hard will Mr. Wonderful play to salvage the other food items currently in the identification of goods?

What do you think, are these goods sufficiently related to roasted nuts to become toast, as well?

Jellies and jams; Banana chips; Dried fruit-based snacks; Fruit preserved in alcohol; Nut butters; Olive oil for food; Potato chips; and Yogurts.

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:

 

 

Suspended high above Chelsea Market in New York City are these eye-catching ads for OWYN:

That’s a new brand for me, I’m unsure how to pronounce it (Own, Owen or Oh Win), but OWYN apparently stands for Only What You Need — for dietary supplement protein products that “use nutritious, plant-based ingredients and leave out inflammatory animal products and allergens.”

Meanwhile, another kind of suspension has occured deep within the bowels of the USPTO, where the OWYN federal trademark application is presently suspended, because of a prior-filed pending intent-to-use application for EWYN, covering overlapping goods, including dietary supplements.

Fortunately for OWYN, it had filed an even earlier intent-to-use application for the spelled-out mark OWYN ONLY WHAT YOU NEED, beating the EWYN filing date by six months, giving OWYN the ability/leverage to file a Notice of Opposition against registration of the blocking EWYN application.

Actually though, had the OWYN application been filed when the earlier OWYN ONLY WHAT YOU NEED application was, the suspension and ITU log jam at the USPTO could have been avoided.

As it stands now, the OWYN application is suspended pending the outcome of the prior-filed EWYN application, which in turn is suspended pending the outcome of the opposition against it, which is suspended while the parties attempt to settle the conflict and discuss likelihood of confusion.

In the Opposition, OWYN contends there is likelihood of confusion between EWYN and OWYN ONLY WHAT YOU NEED, which is a bit dangerous to allege. If it loses that argument, it won’t be able to knock out the blocking EWYN application, making it difficult to then convincingly say there is no likelihood of confusion between the more similar OWYN and EWYN marks, for the same goods.

Working backwards, and as a practical matter, unless the parties are able to reach an agreement as to peaceful coexistence, the OWYN application likely will remain suspended unless and until the prior-filed EWYN application is knocked out of the way or otherwise abandoned.

This train of suspensions is a good reminder to file all pertinent intent-to-use applications sooner than later, once a bona fide intention exists to make commercial use of the mark in commerce.

It also illustrates how important intent-to-use application filing dates can be in determining priority, especially when there is a long period of time that elapses before actual use is made.

On a lighter and less technical note, and for any Lord of the Rings fans out there, do any of the marks in this discussion remind you of EOWYN (pronounced A-O-WIN)?

How, if at all, might you rely on the existence of EOWYN to argue either side of the likelihood of confusion argument between EWYN and OWYN?