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

Twitter seems to be going strong, despite early questions about whether it would ever shed the notion of being a waste of time, as evidenced by this currently running billboard ad:

To the extent this billboard looks familiar (admittedly a more diminutive glass here), you might recall my questions about it three years ago: Marketing

Brand owners and managers may wonder, is a trademark license required when another’s unregistered color scheme is used? Depending on the facts, it may very well be.

About four years ago brand owners scored a major victory in LSU v. Smack Apparel, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to the existence and

Absorbing all the television commercials in between football action on the field can be as much fun on Super Bowl Sunday as the actual game itself, at least for trademark and marketing types, especially when your favorite team isn’t even on the field.

One of my personal favorites from this past weekend’s Super

So, tomorrow is the big day, the big game, or whatever else other intimidated advertisers might call it. I just want to find the best deal on a flat screen television today!

But, more to Mike Masnick’s point on Techdirt about the NFL’s reputation as a “trademark bully,” and his challenge to

Guys and gals on the street waiving orange flags aren’t the only parking lot lures in Twins Territory:

We’ve talked before about how some of those doing business or advertising in close proximity to Minneapolis’ brand new Target Field — home to the Minnesota Twins — appear to see advantage in using the Twins name (and now

We’ve talked a lot about the nominative fair use of trademarks.

Remember the Cars.com billboard that used the Minnesota Twins name as brand bait?

We had some discussion in the comments, where I said this about the Cars.com ad:

Although the billboard doesn’t use the Twins script or logo, I still believe the

The newest fare at the Minnesota State Fair is not Camel-on-a-Stick, Buffalo-on-a-Stick, or any other kind of Food-on-a-Stick, but rather, Trademark-on-a-Stick.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota State Fair (owned and operated by the Minnesota State Agricultural Society, a Minnesota State Agency) was hot to skewer the unauthorized use of its nearly three-decade-old and more recently trademarked logo, by incumbent Republican U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, in a political ad targeting DFL challenger Tarryl Clark’s record on tax policy.

This trademark objection has generated quite a bit of publicity, with coverage being reporting by MinnPost, The Minnesota Independent, the New York Times (blog), Politics Daily, MPR News, TPM, and Politico. The Bachmann ad referenced the MN State Fair and used its official logo while suggesting that Clark has voted to increase taxes on what foodies covet at the fair, including their favorite corn dogs, deep fried bacon, and beer.

Central in the debate over the lawfulness of the Bachmann campaign’s use of the logo is a question we have pondered on DuetsBlog before (e.g., here, here, and here), namely, whether the use of another’s logo crosses the legal line and is likely to cause confusion as to sponsorship, affiliation, approval, or endorsement, or whether it may constitute lawful nominative fair use. So, it should be no surprise to readers of DuetsBlog, that in the end, it is consumer understanding of the use in the ad that controls whether or not it is lawful.

The Minnesota State Fair’s objection certainly is not frivolous and is rooted in a common and traditional trademark concern over likelihood of confusion. Bachmann for Congress political ads begin with the statement: "I am Michele Bachmann and I approve this message." According to Minnesota State Fair officials, Bachmann’s use of the above Minnesota State Fair logo is likely to lead viewers to incorrectly believe that the Minnesota State Fair approves Congresswoman Bachmann’s message or has endorsed her campaign. What do you think, is that what viewers will believe?

Bachmann’s campaign denies that the logo use was unlawful, but without explaining why no confusion is likely and without specifically articulating what would likely be a nominative fair use defense, it voluntarily has decided to drop use of the official logo and instead opted to switch to a more "generic" image. Apparently what the campaign means by "generic" is not that it lacks the look of a trademark and/or logo, but rather is one not specifically used or owned by the Minnesota State Agricultural Society.

Bachmann for Congress’ revised television advertisement may be viewed here, showing no use of the trademarked official logo, but I’d hardly call the use "generic" — it remains a  logo use, even if it is a fake one that swaps fireworks for a ferris wheel, and alters the color scheme and typeface. Do you think that consumers will notice or recognize the fake logo as being fake or just believe it is an additional logo used by the MN State Fair that they haven’t seen before?

Interestingly, the change may not be enough to satisfy the MN State Fair. Apparently, it continues to have concerns about the revised Bachmann ad, and it has asked the Attorney General to look into the question of whether the change is sufficient to avoid confusion as to endorsement of the Bachmann campaign. Having said that, with only a few more days left before the close of the 2010 MN State Fair, one must wonder whether the campaign will move on and moot this lingering concern too, leaving the State Fair ads behind, as it continues to run new ads down the final stretch of the campaign.

Stay tuned, tomorrow I’ll attempt to make the case for why the State of Minnesota needs to hire an experienced trademark attorney.

Bonus political speech consideration below the jump:

Continue Reading Fair Logo, Fair Use & Fair Politics? The Minnesota State Fair’s Trademark-on-a-Stick

–Dan Kelly, Attorney

Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in the case of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. v. Tabari that asked whether the domain names buy-a-lexus.com and buyorleaselexus.com used in connection with automobile brokerage services infringed Toyota’s trademark rights in LEXUS.

Conventional legal wisdom is that only the owner of a trademark has a right to use its trademark in a domain name in connection with related goods or services.  The back-of-the-envelope legal calculus is not difficult:  the domain names incorporate LEXUS in its entirety, and they are used in connection with auto brokerage services–services that are closely related to automobiles.  There is only one catch:  the brokers legally deal in genuine LEXUS vehicles.  Astute readers will recognize this fact as raising the issue of nominative fair use.

The Court articulated its nominative fair use test this way:

In cases where a nominative fair use defense is raised, we ask whether (1) the product was “readily identifiable” without use of the mark; (2) defendant used more of the mark than necessary; or (3) defendant falsely suggested he was sponsored or endorsed by the trademark holder.

While correct, I prefer how Steve has articulated the nominative fair use defense, which is established when:

  1. The product cannot be readily identified without using the trademark;
  2. Only so much of the trademark is used as is necessary for the identification; and
  3. No sponsorship or endorsement of the trademark owner is suggested by the use.

I bring this up, because the Court’s analysis began “by asking whether the Tabari’s use of the mark was ‘necessary’ to describe their business.”  In my initial read, I thought that the Court was beginning with the second element of the test, keying off of the word “necessary,” but this is a restatement of the first element, which addresses the issue of necessity in using the mark.  The second element, while using the word “necessary,” really addresses the scope of the use.

The Court recognized that it was not necessary in an absolute philosophical sense for the Tabaris to use buy-a-lexus.com or buyorleaselexus.com; it observed that they could have just as easily used autobroker.com or fastimports.com (Fast Imports being the Tabaris’ d/b/a).  But here’s the clincher:  “One way or the other, the Tabaris need to let consumers know that they are brokers of Lexus cars, and that’s nearly impossible to do without mentioning Lexus, . . . be it via domain name, metatag, radio jingle, telephone solicitation or blimp.”  (It is fair to characterize this last quip as dicta.)

Lawyers and fans of legal minutiae can read after the jump for one other legal issue raised by this case that has me puzzled.

Continue Reading Nominative Fair Use of Trademarks in Domain Names