Louis Vuitton is no stranger to trademark disputes. As a a manufacturer of handbags, wallets, and other luxury goods, the company has its hands full just addressing counterfeit products. However, like any other company, there is concern not just with “fakes,” but other products and services that may otherwise infringe or dilute Louis Vuitton’s trademark
As you may recall, last September we wrote about Coca-Cola’s Significant Interest in Zero Marks, discussing Coca-Cola’s defense of a trademark infringement suit brought by an individual named Mirza Baig, who claimed rights in “Naturally Zero” for Canadian natural spring water, and Coca-Cola’s contrasting attempts to own and federally-register various marks containing the term…
Coca-Cola just announced it is introducing Coke Zero in India, which will make it the sub-brand’s 149th market in the world, a truly remarkable reach.
As the popular Coke Zero brand is approaching its tenth anniversary in the U.S., it seems like a good time to explore Coca-Cola’s trademark position in COKE ZERO and COCA-COLA…
Still, because ten days ago, the federal district court in the Southern District of New York rejected BBW’s attempt to have the trademark infringement and dilution claims …
Boys baseball occupied a fair portion of my evenings last week and this past weekend, a game where almost everyone has at least heard: The tie goes to the runner (when it comes to running the bases anyway — because when it comes to the final score the game continues until someone wins, even if…
–Dan Kelly, Attorney
A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court that had held that the federally registered trademark “WOULD YOU RATHER . . . ?” was merely descriptive as applied to books and games. (PDF of appellate opinion here.) Briefly, the facts are that Falls Media owns the aforementioned trademark registration, which has priority to July 1997, and Zobmondo Entertainment, who publishes books and games under the identical mark as a subtitle, has challenged Falls Media’s trademark rights in court. The appellate opinion gives a fairly succinct overview of the sordid details — it sounds like these parties have been feuding in one way or another about this trademark for more than ten years — almost as long as Falls Media’s rights in the mark. Identical marks and goods usually makes for good spectating.
This case fascinates me for a few reasons. First, the appellate opinion is quite good, and treats well issues related to the fuzzy border between descriptive and suggestive trademarks, particularly in the context of the sometimes nerdy procedural legal issue of summary judgment. It also contains some excellent evidentiary analysis. Second, there is something morbidly interesting about parties that have been feuding for more than ten years. This is like the Hatfields and McCoys. Third, and perhaps most interesting, is that the entire dispute centers around two parties that are both experiencing commercial success exploiting a game that I think has existed as some form of a parlor or car game since long before 1997. Calls to mind a trite phrase about the rate at which suckers are born.
For now, the WOULD YOU RATHER . . . ? trademark has survived its first challenge, but the case now returns to the District Court for further proceedings, or maybe settlement, if the parties would rather . . . but probably not.
P.S. On an unrelated note, does the Zobmondo “Would Your Rather” game box remind you of anything? My answer after the jump . . .
As a trademark type, something struck me as odd about the Best Buy logo image appearing on the brand new outdoor baseball scoreboard at Target Field, during the Minnesota Twins recent home opener against the Boston Red Sox, so I captured a photograph to discuss it here on DuetsBlog.
What caught my eye was the curious placement of the …
Texas Toast is the generic name for a type of bread, you know, the big thick double-cut slices. Anyone can call their bread Texas Toast if that is what they are selling, and, by the way, it doesn’t have to be toasted for the name to fit.
But, what if you’re selling a product made from bread, say, croutons? Can Texas Toast be owned and registered as a trademark for croutons? What if they are big, thick croutons, with a "Texas Toast" cut? And, if you market your croutons as "New York " brand, "The Original Texas Toast" croutons, does that not imply, if not admit, that others are free to compete by selling their own brand of, perhaps, non-original "Texas Toast" croutons? What if you didn’t start using a TM designation until after you noticed your competition selling Texas Toast croutons? Interesting questions, no doubt.
Well, ten days ago, a federal district judge in Ohio denied cross-motions for summary judgment in a trademark infringement case over an Ohio company’s claimed common law unregistered rights in "Texas Toast" for croutons and a Grand Rapids, Michigan company’s claimed descriptive fair use of "Texas Toast" also in connection with croutons. As an aside, having spent two years in school there, when I think of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and bread, sorry, all that comes to mind for me, are the wonderfully and perfectly steamed hot dog buns at the world famous Yesterdog.
In any event, back to Texas Toast, here is a pdf of the decision in T. Marzetti Co. v. Roskam Baking Co. , indicating that it is too early to decide the Texas Toast trademark infringement case because there are several disputed issues of fact, including, among others, the meaning and the term’s placement on the all-important Spectrum of Distinctiveness, i.e., whether "Texas Toast" is generic, descriptive, or suggestive for croutons.
Now, since the case wasn’t cut short and decided on summary judgment with a limited record, we’ll have to wait and see how the evidence shapes up and whose claim ends up being, eh, toasted, but I’ll have to say, at this point, "Texas Toast" sounds to me like a category of croutons — those cut from texas toast style bread; like Lite and Light is to beer, and Brick Oven is to pizza — each are generic terms that are not own-able for those goods, because they designate a category of goods, not the origin or source of the goods. By the way, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first to use a generic term, if found generic, it is available for use by all, even direct competitors.
So, this is probably one of those trademark cases where who wins will come down to the proper placement of the claimed mark on the Spectrum of Distinctiveness. If generic, case over, defendant wins. If suggestive, plaintiff acquired rights based on its first use, two years prior to defendant’s use, and will likely win, provided a likelihood of confusion can be shown. If descriptive, plaintiff will be in the difficult position of proving that it acquired distinctiveness in "Texas Toast" prior to defendant’s first use, so within a short two-year period of time. If so, good luck with that.
No doubt, when it comes time for trial (or perhaps another summary judgment motion prior to trial), the plaintiff will make the most of the fact that the Trademark Office did not issue a descriptiveness or a genericness refusal on TEXAS TOAST for croutons, see the USPTO details here. Seems like an oversight to me, at least with respect to descriptiveness, after all, the plaintiff has the number one selling brand of texas toast style garlic bread, and it now has expanded that use into the field of croutons.
Ironically, to put its TEXAS TOAST trademark application in condition for publication by the U.S. Trademark Office Marzetti had to argue, and did so successfully, that it wasn’t likely to be confused with the prior federally-registered TEXTOAST trademark for bakery products. In doing so, it narrowed its description of goods from "croutons" to "croutons sold in a salad toppings section of grocery stores and supermarkets." Given that Marzetti’s mark will now be published for opposition, it is probably safe to assume that Roskam Baking will now oppose registration of Marzetti’s claimed TEXAS TOAST mark for croutons, so it doesn’t become registered prior to trial, but we’ll see.
So, what do you think about the critical Spectrum of Distinctiveness questions?
- Is Texas Toast generic for a category of croutons made from texas toast style cuts of bread?
- Is Texas Toast merely descriptive of croutons because it immediately describes a feature, characteristic, or attribute of croutons? or
- Is Texas Toast suggestive of croutons, because, a consumer’s imagination is required to understand the connection between the mark and the goods, or as plaintiff argues, "everything is bigger in Texas."
Is plaintiff Marzetti’s suggestiveness argument all hat and no cattle?
Now, vote again, after reading plaintiff’s own description of its croutons below the jump.