Yeah, we usually mean this Apple, when we spill digital ink, not today, instead the edible varieties:

Hat tip to Erik Pelton who tweeted about the federal registration of LUDACRISP for fresh apples.

We know something about non-ludicrous trademark protection for apples > First Kiss and Rave.

They are newly minted brands for the MN55 Apple, a cross between HoneyCrisp and MonArk.

As it turns out, Honeycrisp might have been a trademark, but for its inclusion in a plant patent.

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, does that include juris doctors who are into trademarks?

Or, would it be ludicrous for Apple, you know the iPhone XS one, to name a device Honeycrisp?

If only Honeycrisp could be a University of Minnesota apple trademark; Apple still has a chance.

To grasp lessons learned from the Honeycrisp story, and fully digest the Best Buy brand refresh, join us in Minneapolis on Thursday, a few seats remain for our Creative Brand Protection II event:

Winthrop & Weinstine’s Trademark and Brand Protection practice group will host a few hours of trademark and brand protection education, food and drink, and networking!

For the educational portion of the evening, we’ll share valuable insights and guidance for those who love brands and want to learn creative strategies for maximizing their value.

Yours truly, will moderate a panel discussion joined by:

  • Karen Brennan, Senior Director, Intellectual Property, Best Buy
  • Anne Hall, Technology Strategy Manager-Life Sciences, University of Minnesota
  • Aaron Keller, Co-Author: The Physics of Brand; Co-Founder Capsule Design
  • Tim Sitzmann, Trademark and Brand Protection Attorney, Winthrop & Weinstine

The panel will share best practices and creative approaches to both launching new brands and refreshing a mature brand. The panel will develop a robust discussion using the University of Minnesota’s MN55 apple launch and Best Buy’s brand refresh to explore the following themes:

  • Transforming a commodity into a valuable brand
  • Strategies for selecting and owning names and marks
  • Carving a path for global trademark and brand protection
  • Legal considerations for refreshing a brand’s visual identity

Reserve your spot now, space is limited. We hope you will join this lively and informative event!

And, I’ll say it again, if only Honeycrisp was an apple trademark, or an Apple trademark . . . .

In the meantime, since Honeycrisp is generic for fresh edible apples, is this stylization distinctive?

Nope, the pedestrian style is not striking enough to be trademark ownable, contrast Miller’s Lite.

We’ve been writing about the COKE ZERO trademark for nearly a decade now, noting in 2014:

“[I]t will be worth watching to see whether the [TTAB] finds that ‘ZERO’ primarily means Coke or just a soft drink having ‘no calories, you know, a drink about nothing . . . .’”

Turns out, in May 2016, Coke obtained a favorable decision from the TTAB, ruling that ZERO is not generic for a soft drink category, instead it is descriptive and Coke has secondary meaning in it.

With that victory in hand, we then questioned Coke’s thinking in launching obvious generic use of ZERO, welcoming Coke Zero to the Genericide Watch, given this categorical and non-brand use:

Then, two months ago, the CAFC decided — on appeal — that the TTAB got it wrong, ruling it:

“[F]ailed to consider whether consumers would consider the term ZERO to be generic for a subcategory of the claimed genus of beverages – i.e., the subcategory of the claimed beverages encompassing the specialty beverage categories of drinks with few or no calories or few or no carbohydrates.”

We’re now back to the question we asked in 2014: “[I]s ZERO like LIGHT for beer, STONE OVEN for pizza — basically denoting the name of a product category instead of a source identifier?”

As to the next steps, the CAFC sent the case back to the TTAB, instructing it to “examine whether the term ZERO, when appended to a beverage mark, refers to a key aspect of the genus.”

TM types, is Professor McCarthy right that the CAFC ruling makes it too easy to find genericness?

I’m left wondering, given the floodgates that have opened up to other beverage brands also using ZERO as a generic category term for “no calories” or “no sugar” — is fighting for ZERO worth it?

 

 


 

 


Will Coke continue to fight for ZERO as a trademark? Or, should it make better soda instead?

How can The Coca-Cola Company even keep the trademark pursuit of ZERO going, when it already appears to have made the choice of making a better soda through its independent unit, Honest?


You never really need to wonder where the beef empanadas are, inside the display case, at least at Whole Foods, given the literal “beef” branding — visible on the edge of each outer dough shell.

This is a good example of a word appearing on a product that does not function as a trademark, as it does not satisfy the 3 elements of: identifying, distinguishing, and indicating a product’s source.

Instead, the word “beef” above connotes what’s inside, the primary ingredient of each empanada — you might say, it is merely informational, incapable of serving a trademark or brand purpose.

While “beef” could be a perfectly suitable and suggestive trademark for something not containing that meat, like clothing (assuming it’s available); as it is above, it’s simply a generic designation.

I’m thinking Whole Foods is missing out on an opportunity to also imprint on its empanadas a symbol that designates where they came from, who put them out, their source, don’t you think?

Marketing types and legal types who review labels, be well advised to choose words used carefully.

In other words, if you believe you own rights in Pretzel Crisps as a trademark, it’s not wise to use the number of so-called “Crisps” as the serving size, especially with no trademark notice symbol.

Frito-Lay’s successful 2014 generic challenge (pretzel crisps = pretzel crackers), was appealed to the Federal Circuit by the claimed trademark owner Princeton Vanguard, now Snyder’s Lance.

We followed this case up to the Federal Circuit appeal, then watched on the sidelines for a while:

Our friend, John Welch, over at the TTABlog, did a nice job summarizing the Federal Circuit’s decision vacating the Board’s genericness decision, sending it back for another and closer look.

John also nicely summarized the Board’s second look too, once again ordering cancellation of the Supplemental Registration and sustaining the Principal Register opposition on genericness grounds.

I’d like to remind our faithful readers again about the danger of self-inflicted wounds that can kill a trademark, one example being generic use in the Serving Size portion of the Nutrition Facts labels:

Makes it hard to avoid admitting during the litigation “that ‘crisps’ can be used as a term” for “pretzel crackers,” and that “packages for its PRETZEL CRISPS products provide nutrition facts for a serving size of a stated number of ‘crisps.’” These admissions proved helpful to Frito-Lay.

Another danger, it appears, is the lower case lettering use by others in mentioning the “pretzel crisps” product, a multitude of references apparently unpoliced by the claimed mark owner:

“[W]e note that there are many instances in the record where the term ‘pretzel crisps’ is set forth in lower case, with no apparent reference to the term as a brand, or to Defendant, indicating an understanding by the relevant public that the term ‘pretzel crisps’ refers to a product rather than to a single producer thereof. We note that many of these excerpts, from business as well as industry publications, are the work of authors who indicate an understanding that a brand is referenced by use of uppercase letters. Yet they use lower case letters to spell ‘pretzel crisps’ . . .”

Does that focus validate trademark counsel’s desire to steer away from using lower case branding, given the Board’s focus on type style? Or, if carefully managed, might the ills still be avoided?

Stay tuned on Princeton Vanguard’s next move following this loss, will it appeal again? If so, as John rightly asks, which appeal route makes the most sense, Federal Circuit again, or federal district court this time?

What’s more, Princeton Vanguard has been busy at the U.S. Trademark Office, apparently planning for a worst case scenario if it were to lose all protection for the bare wording “pretzel crisps” for “pretzel crackers,” which is where things stand for the moment. It has filed two new standard character word marks for slightly different goods, instead of “pretzel crackers”: “Peanut butter-covered pretzel snacks,” and “Chocolate-covered pretzel snacks.” And, this script for bare-bones “pretzel crackers”:

What say you, are the different goods descriptions enough to avoid genericness, and is the above shown script unique enough to permit exclusive ownership of a generic set of words?

Or, is it a little too light in the creativity department to infuse exclusive ownership potential into generic wording?

These questions will decided at some point along the line, since Frito-Lay has opposed these applications too.

My daughter captured some artsy pics from our beautiful Fall weekend, can you guess where we were? I’ll give you three visual hints:

GiantsRidge1

GiantsRidge2

GiantsRidge3Those clues weren’t all that helpful, I suppose, so how about these souvenirs and brand sighting?

GiantsRidgeHatsBut, what brand sighting is this really, are there actually two here, one overlaid on the other?

And, are our hats about to become limited edition collectors items, given these preexisting ones?

MillerHighLifeMillerHighLifeHatAlthough I couldn’t locate any non-verbal, non-traditional trademark registrations for the design carrying the words Miller High Life, the entire composite is registered for beer. A search of federal trademark applications and registrations owned by MillerCoors surprisingly shows a pretty small number of non-verbal trademarks, given the size of the portfolio. There is this one though, but I think you may need to click on this link to know what brand typically appears inside of it:

MillerLiteOutline

If you had to choose, which non-verbal design would you consider more unique, distinctive, and worth protecting? The pictures above provide my answer, what’s yours?

Unless you have created a highly stylized, distinctive, graphic representation of a generic designation, perhaps something like the Miller Lite script, don’t bother trying to own or enforce it:

 

Most likely, you’ll end up regretting the decision to enforce, when the court of public opinion weighs in, after the social media shame-wagon flogs it as another example of trademark bullying.

Lagunitas Brewing filed this complaint in federal district court for trademark infringement against Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter IPA, because the generic acronym IPA (standing for India Pale Ale) appeared in black all capital letters (perhaps the lowest common denominator for stylization):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lagunitas claimed: “This proposed design uses all capital, large, bold, black ‘IPA’ lettering in a font selection that is remarkably similar to the iconic Lagunitas design and, indeed, is the central and most prominent feature of the new Sierra Nevada design, emulating the iconic Lagunitas family of IPA trademarks. . . . ”

The thing is, Lagunitas probably has the potential for a very, very narrow trademark right in its stylization of the IPA graphic, but I’d hardly call Sierra Nevada’s version “remarkably similar” — moreover, I’d suggest that near identity and probably other similar trade dress elements would be needed to have a plausible likelihood of confusion claim.

Lagunitas seems to have forgotten how it explained in far more detail — in paragraph 16 of its complaint — the claimed distinctiveness of its graphic representation of the generic IPA acronym on product packaging:

“The unique ‘IPA’ lettering used in the Lagunitas ‘IPA’ Family of Trademarks has a distinctive serif font, distinctive kerning (or letter spacing), between the ‘P’ and the ‘A’, slightly aged or weathered look, with uneven areas on each of the letters, and the elimination of any periods between the letters. These elements together are unique to the iconic design of the Lagunitas IPA. The overall effect of these factors (the all-capital, large, bold, black serif lettering style, and the placement with respect to other wording and design elements) creates a unique, iconic design that is associated with and signifies Lagunitas and its associated reputation for excellence in the craft brew industry and among consumers.”

Assuming for the moment that Lagunitas has a narrow trademark right in its graphic representation of the generic IPA acronym, the problem remains, all the claimed elements aren’t present in the Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA package design.

Probably the most unique aspects of the visual identity (the “slightly aged or weathered look, with uneven areas on each of the letters”) are not present in the Sierra Nevada design, putting aside the fact that the HOP HUNTER trademark obliterates at least a quarter of the IPA lettering.

It’s kind of like complaining about the use of the words “Eat More Kale” when the words are spelled correctly without dripping black “Eat Mor Chikin” ink from cows with poor grammar and penmanship, or perhaps it’s also like targeting a monochrome red shoe when the non-traditional red color trademark covers only the red sole portion of the shoe as a contrasting color.

Let’s face it, Lagunitas is another painful reminder to brand owners that selecting appropriate trademark enforcement targets is no less important when narrow as opposed to strong trademark rights are claimed. Yes, the Lagunitas overreach reminds me of the ill-advised enforcement targets pursued by both Chic-fil-A and Christian Louboutin.

Having said all that, we remain hopeful this all ends well for Lagunitas.  Hopefully the wisdom of the Lagunitas’ apology and the almost immediate withdrawal of the lawsuit permits the brand to get back to business and avoid years worth of legal fees and further media flogging.

Legal types, would you have brought the Lagunitas’ trademark infringement claim?

Marketing types, how would you grade the Lagunitas’ apology in terms of content and timing?

MillerCoors is currently running this Lite Beer ad, promoting the limited edition original can, and taking credit for inventing the light beer category, way back in 1973.

It is a great reminder that despite Miller’s determined and long-protracted litigation over its attempt to own the word LITE as a trademark for beer, in the end, it was unsuccessful because the misspelled word LITE was found generic — along with the correctly-spelled word LIGHT — for a type or category of beer, namely, low calorie beer.

What MillerCoors does own — as a federally-registered trademark — is the visual representation of the word LITE in the unique script to the right (with the generic word LITE disclaimed):

With the phonetically identical words LITE and LIGHT generic for low calorie beer, and part of the public domain for anyone to use, it isn’t surprising that others have gotten into the market with their own federally-registered versions of the misspelled LITE category term for beer: Falstaff Lite, Lite My Fire, Mike’s Lite, Arctic Lite, Lite is Good, and Duff Lite.

So, if you can’t legally own the category term, maybe you can take credit for inventing it.

Marketing types, I ask you, how much is that credit worth to a brand?

Enough to make your main competitor spell the word correctly?

Trademark types, can you think of other similar examples?

Launched a few months ago, it’s called the bowtie can, because it appears to emulate Budweiser’s well-known bowtie brand icon, but the formal description of the Anheuser-Busch beer can at the USPTO is a bit more clumsy and technical:

“The mark consists of packaging for the goods, namely, beverage package for the goods consisting of a three dimensional shape of a beverage package that is generally cylindrical in shape but where the sides of the package are indented approaching the center of the package with a curve at the bottom of the sides of the can design.”

Here is a link to the black/white drawing of the mark. The application claims ownership of these related registrations: U.S. Reg. Nos. 1544754, 3757001, and 4144329, all bowtie related marks, so it is curious that the formal description of the mark does not reference the relationship to this recognized and inherently distinctive trademark shape.

The beer can shape initially was approved as a non-traditional trademark for publication at the USPTO, but as of a few weeks ago, the application was “returned to the Examining Attorney for further review,” so stay tuned on how this one turns out.

Speaking of beer containers, with the substantial investment of advertising dollars in promoting the New Miller Lite Beer Bottle (voluminous billboard and television ads), I would have expected MillerCoors to seek registration of the bottle shape as a trademark, but my search for any pending application came up dry. Do you suppose this has anything to do with the fact that the new bottle design apparently “adds a contoured grip to make it easier to hold“?

Or perhaps this YouTube video didn’t help either, in which consumers comment on the “new look” of the “toned up” Miller Lite bottle as “awesome,” “unique and innovative,” “sexy and sleek,” and “re-energizing of the brand” — all good so far, but then unfortunately, the arguably functional comments about the improved “grip” were not edited. Some things are better left unsaid (if one wants to preserve non-traditional trademark protection), as we’ve said before.

Although I haven’t handled Budweiser’s bowtie can yet, I’m thinking it’s probably easier to grip too, but no point going there if you’re Anheuser-Busch, why risk the danger of making grip a selling point, especially if you want to keep your non-traditional trademark options open?

Although I haven’t seen the ads in question, one blogger wrote back in May about the bowtie cans: “They are, as advertised, ‘easy to grip,’ with a good feel in your hand.” And, surprisingly Anhuser-Busch references grip as a selling point in this press release:

“This can is certainly a conversation starter: eye-catching, easy-to-grip, trendy and – according to our research – very appealing to young adults,” McGauley said.  “It’s a beer can like no other.”

So, stay tuned to see whether a functionality refusal rears a clydesdale’s head at the USPTO, upon “further review.”