As I mentioned last week, Apple’s present iPhone Xs billboard advertising campaign is ubiquitous at the moment, especially this image, totally flooding the Minneapolis skyway system, and beyond:

Putting aside whether the unique lighting and reflective nature of the indoor billboards do justice to the art of the iPhone Xs ad, I’m also questioning whether the Xs repetition might be, excessive?

See what I mean? Above and especially below, with stretches of hundreds of feet — in the frozen tundra of our Minneapolis skyway,  nothing in sight, but the same, glaring and reflective Xs ad:

A few questions come to mind. Repetition in branding, yes it’s important, but are there no limits?

In other words, we know Apple can afford to dominate our skyway billboard space, but should it?

And, if so, with what? Apple’s user-generated content campaign was welcome, brilliant and unique.

But, what is the end goal of covering the Minneapolis skyway, with a train of identical Xs boxcars?

Isn’t the art of the ad lost when it is the only thing in front of you, or should I say Outfront of you?

A boring train of Xs boxcar ads builds no momentum to a destination, like Wall Drug ads on I-90.

Where is this train of repetitive ads supposed to take us, online to drive more holiday unit sales?

That seems doubtful, the ad doesn’t explain why one should replace an earlier version with the Xs.

Ironically, Apple’s current struggle is distancing itself from the stock market’s focus on unit sales.

Billboard advertising is said to be effective for brand awareness, but Apple hardly struggles there.

I’m not seeing the point of this ad, and repetition won’t solve the problem of a saturated market.

I’m just left feeling like I paid too much for my Xs, because Apple wasted too much on these ads.

Aren’t digital advertising billboards amazing? My iPhone captured this rolling series of images just yesterday, for a health care organization using the Google trademark in the Minneapolis skyway:

My questions, permission, co-branding, no permission, but classic or nominative fair use?

Is Google flattered? Free advertising? Do they care? Should they care?

Discuss, to quote John Welch, on another subject.

For a few months now, the Minneapolis skyway system has been flooded with a variety of fresh, creative, eye-popping advertising to promote Pepsi’s new bubly sparkling water collection:

Although not a lie (the bottles I’ve seen clearly reference Pepsi), you’d never know from this ad or the trademark registration that Pepsi is behind bubly, since an Irish entity located in Bermuda owns the mark.

Thoughts about Pepsi’s line of reasoning for having ownership rest with an Irish entity located in Bermuda? Taxes maybe?

Yet, it is clear the market knows this is a Pepsi launch, wonder what Coke, owner of Tab, thinks?

Sipping a bubbly drink, like sparkling water, necessarily has bubbles, explaining why the USPTO required a disclaimer of the word “bubbly,” even though the mark includes bubly, not bubbly.

Although it might be nice to own a standard character registration for the misspelled and un-disclaimed wording bubly, that hasn’t been attempted, as the misspelling is likely not distinctive.

Holding a word only registration for bubly doesn’t appear possible any time soon, since the double entendre is only apparent from the stylized bubly sparkling water mark, not bubly standing alone.

Double entendre? Yes, the description of the stylized mark notes the “u” in “bubly” is “depicted as a smile,” which ties into the additional meaning of “bubbly” — lively, cheerful and talks a lot.

If the words “bubbly” and “bubly” can’t be owned here, may that inspire a truncation to bub, especially given this pending intent-to-use trademark applications for bub and Bub Sparkling Water?

Remember this North Memorial Health billboard ad — sporting a plain and literal Google reference — that we wrote about a few months ago, where nominative fair use was pretty clear to me?

Well, a new set of North Memorial billboard ads rolled into to the Minneapolis skyway system, just in time for Super Bowl LII, with essentially the same message, but without a Google mention.

Do you think Google was behind North Memorial’s move away from the Google reference, or was it part of the original plan to grab attention, then migrate to a more generic online search mention?

Does North Memorial showing it is able to communicate essentially the same idea without Google’s help impact the nominative fair use analysis? So, how do you come down on this one?

In case you’re wondering why I’m not writing about Super Bowl LII and the television commercials, as has been typical here on the day after, let’s say I’m still letting it sink in, so stay tuned.

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 . . . .

Ron, you’re so vain, you probably think this post is about you, don’t you, don’t you — actually, it is, or, let’s say, more about your recent in-actions — still, I hope you enjoy this cute little melody.

By the way, before fully discussing how you walk into a party or onto a yacht, do I detect a hint of apricot in the color of your stylish Likelihood of Confusion garb, might there be a matching scarf?

The week before last, walking through the Minneapolis skyway system, while reading our good friend Ron Coleman’s explanation of “why I let my trademark registration lapse,” I kid you not, a second and more physical spectacle emerged right before my eyes when crossing over 5th Street:

Ron, do I need to connect the dots for you on the striking parallels of the mysterious energy that you generated when you gave away the thing you (once) loved? Like the total eclipse of the sun?

Yes Ron, love you like my own brother, but if you were Dave, I’d help him back on the tracks, and remind him of what less than 12 cents a day buys, for those incontestable and powerful standard-character federally-registered rights over a second ten-year term. Remember, sword and shield.

The decisive inaction in allowing the lapse, reminds me of the forgotten and invisible value of deterrence. And, while I’m on board with much of the irreverent tone you can display from time to time, are you now suggesting that other brand owners turn their circle ®s upside down too?

I won’t put words in your mouth, but are you advocating for unilateral registration disarmament? Even if not, I’m left wondering, are the children or watchful brand owners likely to be confused?

After all, chalking up the original ten year old decision to federally-register your blog’s namesake as a senseless and unnecessary goof, today, because you haven’t (yet) found an occasion to enforce it, requires the omnipresent convergence of 20/20 hindsight and a flawless crystal ball for the future, all in one moment. Again, deterrence my friend, it’s beautiful and invisible.

And, as to the question of vanity, far be it for me to question yours, but isn’t tossing your circle ® in the trash, a little like saying to the world, “look mom, no hands,” after learning to ride a bike, and then daring unwise children, to knock you off? Pun and double-meaning, fully intended.

Now Ron, I know you relish a formidable challenge, like when you went (not to Saratoga), but to Washington, D.C., and your client (not horse), naturally won, the trademark case of the year. But, before leaving the question of vanity though, just wondering, after reading the favorable Tam decision, tell me, did you have one eye in the mirror, as you watched yourself gavotte?

Still Ron, don’t you think the modest investment of less than 12 cents a day is worth putting the USPTO in the position to, and give it, the statutory charge to do your enforcement bidding for you? Don’t you? Even if someone, as you seem to invite, tries something? Don’t you, don’t you?

And here’s an underworld spy question for you Ron, is there no room for the Easy Button, in your commercial litigator’s toolbox, just in case you need it, let’s say, down the road in a few?

Ron, please don’t look at me that way! When you have your hat strategically dipped below one eye, I’m left with the feeling you think I’m either still quite naïve, or full of it, nothing in between.

By the way, have you actually verified that your Likelihood of Confusion® registration never formed a bar to others at the USPTO? There are tools for that, courtesy of Towergate Software.

What we do know for certain is, it will no more, if it ever did. And, if you ever want to avoid the need for a formal opposition at some distant point in the future, if the USPTO doesn’t agree with your assessment that someone had their sights on messing with you, without your ®, you can kiss the Letter of Protest tool goodbye, as this little guy — ™ — doesn’t cut it.

Please let’s be honest Ron, it’s always easier to hang on to something and hold it in your hands than discard it and try to get it back later. I realize you’re feeling confidence in letting it go in this moment, but what if the facts or your mind change down the road?

Dumpster diving is a messy proposition. What the USPTO granted yesterday doesn’t always come as easy, if at all, tomorrow or the next day. As we all know, the USPTO is not impervious to changing its mind on how it views certain things, especially when it comes to judging the line between trademark suggestiveness and descriptiveness.

Who am I to judge your calculation of value? But let’s not forget, Ron we’ve all seen your fancy Likelihood of Confusion branded apparel. By the way, will we see those fancy threads in Seattle? Or, are they about to become a collectors item on eBay?

Let me just say, had you presented your apricot hat in hand in Orlando, and passed it around the room, I’m thinking you’d have collected more than the price of another ten year term, given the enormous and generous contributions you’ve made to our guild over the last few decades.

Ron, don’t get me wrong, I fully realize that you’re where you should be all the time, and I completely admire your sensitivity to the evil constructs of vanity, but I fear that the little voice whispering in your ear has spilled some clouds in your coffee on this one. What about the children who may be watching? Aren’t you concerned about the implication of what you seem to be saying, simply just TM it instead?

Ron, having said all that, I hope we can still be friends, as I have no doubt, there a plenty of others still dreaming that they’d be your partner:

Last, but not least, Ron, will you need reminding that yet another price of purging your vanity is that you’ll need to remove all those fancy trademark registration symbols from your blog?

North Memorial Health must be spending significant advertising dollars at the moment, with a variety of ads appearing all over the Minneapolis skyway system, above is one current example.

In addition, there are a series of humorous and sarcastic TV ads that were designed to poke the bear of our broken health care system, congrats to Brandfire on their creative work here.

The current ad campaign follows the health system’s rebrand and slight truncation earlier this year, from North Memorial Health Care to North Memorial Health:

“The brand campaign consists of TV, out of home, digital and print advertisements. It pokes fun at the industry by showing experiences of customers and attitudes of healthcare that are universally frustrating.  The print and outdoor advertisements also demonstrate that North Memorial Health accepts its share of the blame, but commits to working harder to deliver an unmatched experience for the customer.”

So, I guess, if patients admit to having Googled their symptons prior to their appointment, they will no longer be scolded for doing so by doctors, nurses, and other health care providers, right?

But, what about the glaring Google reference in the above skyway ad, did North Memorial Health need permission from Google for the gratuitous reference?

You may recall, a few years back I wrote about Google surviving a genericness challenge (Tucker and Jessica have provided updates), drawing attention to possible meanings of the word Google:

“The word google has four possible meanings in this case: (1) a trademark designating the Google search engine; (2) a verb referring to the act of searching on the internet using the Google search engine; (3) a verb referring to the act of searching on the internet using any search engine; and (4) a common descriptive term for search engines in general.”

Seems to me, in the North Memorial Health ad shown above, Google could be understood as the verb meanings in both (2) and (3), as the capitalization doesn’t point uniquely to Google.

There is little doubt that no Google permission is required for the ad, because nominative fair use ought to apply, given the plausible, but not required meaning of the above definition in (2).

More interesting to me though, is the question of whether classic fair use could apply as well to the Google use, given the plausible, but not required meaning of Google in definition (3) above.

If so, I’m not sure I’ve encountered an example or case before where both classic and nominative fair use applied, perhaps this is a first, so what do you really think, without Googling it, of course?

We’ve written quite a bit over the years about the Spectrum of Distinctiveness for trademarks, and the all-important difference between suggestive marks and merely descriptive ones, with only the former being allowed immediate rights based on first use.

Creativity is what separates the power of suggestion from the weakness and limbo of descriptiveness. Remember the floating feather example and all the silly guesses as to what it might suggest? And, those who persist in smashing an otherwise suggestive brand?

One of my favorite local examples of a great suggestive mark is Murray’s famous Silver Butter Knife trademark for steak. With all the long lines for salad places in the skyway system here in Minneapolis, Murray’s appears to have stepped up its advertising campaign.

But, I’m left wondering, is Silver Butter Knife only a trademark? Or, does it not also function as a service mark too? After all, the steak is prepared in the kitchen and then carved at table-side, Murray’s certainly touts the “experience,” which seems to point to the service.

What’s more, in terms of scope of rights, if Silver Butter Knife had also been registered for restaurant services, do you suppose the USPTO might have done some heavy lifting for Murray’s and refused registration of BUTTERKNIFE WINES for wine?

Oh well, either way, it looks like BUTTER brand wine is going to stand in the way of BUTTERKNIFE WINES instead of the USPTO, and perhaps do Murray’s bidding for them.

By the way, would anyone like a serrated knife to cut through all this trademark clutter?

There are at least two kinds of buzz converging at the moment (perhaps three), especially for fashion forward and fit oriented trademark types here in Minneapolis.

On the one hand, with the holidays upon us it’s hard to avoid the barrage of billboard ads in the Minneapolis skyway promoting the first brick and mortar entry of Bonobos into the Minnesota marketplace, strategically located in the buzzing North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis:

BonobosBillboard

On the other hand (or pant leg), are the increasingly vexing trademark specimen of use and Lanham Act use in commerce requirements administered by the USPTO that limit how a brand owner is able to properly demonstrate evidence of use that will effectively support trademark and service mark registration and the ongoing maintenance of those registrations.

Yes, there has been quite a buzz in the trademark community about these vexing trademark specimen and use in commerce requirements (TTABlog, Likelihood of Confusion, and DuetsBlog). Happily, Strafford Publications has assembled a panel of trademark types (Linda, Jonathan, and yours truly) to address these issues in a live webinar on Tuesday January 31, 2017, stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you’d like to attend this webinar free of charge, be one of the first three to post a comment to this blog post. Perhaps you’ll learn how to overcome the pending USPTO specimen of use refusal that Bonobos is currently facing in a USPTO refusal, linked here.

Of course, one of the understandable common desires of a retail clothing store brand owner is to not only own registered service mark rights for its retail store name, but also trademark rights for the clothing and related items sold in its store or stores. And, one of the common desires of shoppers this time of year is to obtain two for one deals.

Leave it to a trademark type to blend the concepts. Life is so much easier for all involved in the trademark registration process when a single specimen of use is able to satisfy both trademark and service mark use; a bogo, killing two birds with one stone, a twofer, you get the idea, right?

Generally, an advertisement that promotes a brand’s retail store services is suitable for demonstrating use of the mark in connection with those services, but the advertisement won’t be appropriate for demonstrating use in connection with the clothing items sold there, unless the advertisement also “includes a photograph of the applied-for mark appearing on the goods or on packaging for the goods.” TMEP 904.04(b).

Armed and legged with that twofer knowledge, would the following floor to ceiling Bonobos advertisement displayed in the Minneapolis skyway system demonstrate both trademark and service mark use (if the full ad were shown along with a close up image of the button — adorned with the Bonobos name  — on the khakis, and trust me, it is fully legible in person)?

BonobosFloorCeiling

Is it still a twofer, if you need to submit two images to the USPTO for the same advertisement?

Last week, we discussed Caribou Coffee’s billboard ad referencing transparency — this week another installment from Caribou’s current Minneapolis skyway billboard campaign:

CaribouPronounce

That one made me think of this one, a post from a few months back about Kind nutritional bars and their Ingredients You Can See And Pronounce tagline and trademark:

IngredientsTagline

Marketing types, if you were a brand manager for Kind, would you want to extend that feeling toward Caribou’s advertising use of: “INGREDIENTS — you can — ACTUALLY PRONOUNCE”?

Trademark types, what say you? Does the omission of the word SEE make a material difference? Does the addition of ACTUALLY make a material difference? Actually?

How significant would it be to you that Kind appears to have extended that feeling, directly or indirectly, by not opposing, to a salad dressing brand using Handcrafted With Ingredients You Can Pronounce?

Or, has the phrase “ingredients you can pronounce” just become too common any longer to have a meaningful scope of protection from a trademark perspective?

Last, as to the subject of trademark pronunciation, have you forgotten about these little gems from the archives?