There’s been a major update in the trademark infringement lawsuit brought by the Museum of Modern Art (“MoMA”) against the cafe and art gallery, MoMaCha in New York City.

MoMA’s motion for a preliminary injunction was recently granted by Judge Louis Stanton of the Southern District of New York. As we discussed previously, the infringement allegations by MoMA were compelling, and it appears the court agrees that MoMA is likely to succeed on its claims, based primarily on the similarity of the marks and the relatedness of the parties’ goods/services in the same city (both parties display works of art along with offering cafe services). The court was particularly persuaded by the similarity of the vertical use of “MoMaCha,” as seen on the coffee cup above, with MoMA’s similar vertical use on the museum building signage above. (See Order at p. 18.)

The court’s preliminary injunction bars MoMaCha from continuing to use its name, logo, and the momacha.com domain name, at least while the legal proceedings are pending. As of today, the previous website, www.momacha.com is no longer accessible.

Instead, it appears that MoMaCha has already rebranded to a slightly different name, by changing one letter: MaMaCha, with a new website already available here: www.mamacha.nyc

Unfortunately, that probably won’t be sufficient to satisfy MoMA’s trademark infringement concerns. Indeed, the New York Times reported that MoMA has already sent a letter to “MaMaCha” regarding the new name and demanding that they cease use. The demand letter closes by stating:

Changing the ‘O’ in MOMACHA to an ‘A’ merely indicates your clients’ continued contempt for MoMA’s trademark rights. Your clients’ decision to change to a mark of such an infringing nature will be done at their peril.

As discussed in my last post, in the midst of trademark infringement allegations, extra caution is warranted. Just as one should be cautious with business expansion under an alleged infringing mark to mitigate damages, extra care is also warranted in selecting a new or modified mark (whether voluntarily or by court order) to avoid similar or further infringement claims, as there will be extra scrutiny and potentially over-aggressive enforcement by the opponent in the present dispute.

And as a practical matter, if one has to expend the effort and resources to re-brand, it may be more cost-effective to make a more significant, lower-risk change, rather than pushing boundaries with a minor change that may again be challenged, instigating further litigation expense, and requiring another re-brand. In many cases, simply changing one letter may not sufficient. Based on these developments thus far, I’m sure there will be interesting updates to come, so stay tuned.

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.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, commonly known as “MoMA,” has sued a cafe and art gallery, MoMaCha, also located in New York City. A couple months ago, MoMA filed a complaint in federal court against MoMaCha, asserting claims of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition. A few days after filing the complaint, MoMA also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. The case is The Museum of Modern Art v. MoMaCha IP LLC et al., No. 18-cv-03364-LLS (S.D.N.Y.)

MoMaCha’s cafe and art gallery offers matcha green tea along with displays of modern and contemporary art. Similarly, MoMA is a museum that displays works of art, and also offers cafe services, in the same area of New York City. The complaint asserts that the parties’ marks are “extremely similar” because they both share the “MOMA” letters, they are both displayed in black-and-white text, and have similar capitalization, in that the “o” is lowercase and the second “M” is uppercase. Shown below are the parties’ stylized/design marks.In response to MoMA’s motion for preliminary injunction, MoMaCha argued that its name is not similar in look or meaning to MoMA’s name; rather, it is a combination of the words “mo” and “matcha” tea, creatively suggesting “more tea.” Furthermore, after the filing of the lawsuit, MoMaCha asserted that it would reduce any possibility of confusion by changing the style of its name to be all capital letters, “MOMACHA,” and by adding a disclaimer to its doors, menus, and website stating, “We have no affiliation with the Museum of Modern Art or any Museum.” (Their current website already shows these changes.) Additionally, MoMaCha argues that MoMA’s mark is weak and therefore entitled to only narrow protection, because it is simply “four letters written in black and white” which are nearly identical to “the commonly used Franklin Gothic font.”

MoMaCha’s arguments, and its voluntary re-design and disclaimer, are creative. But courts have held that disclaimers are not necessarily sufficient to avoid a likelihood of confusion–and sometimes disclaimers can even add to confusion. MoMA might have a difficult time winning a preliminary injunction, based on the high standards that are applicable. Nevertheless, the allegations of the complaint are compelling, based on the similarity of the marks and the relatedness of the parties’ goods/services that are offered in the same city.

How do you think this one will turn out? The briefing on MoMA’s preliminary injunction motion was completed last week. The court denied MoMA’s request for an oral argument, so a decision could be issued at any time, perhaps within the next month or two. Stay tuned for updates.

 

A couple months ago, I posted about the contentious trademark battle involving Stone Brewing Co., a craft brewery based in California, who filed a trademark infringement complaint against giant beer conglomerate MillerCoors LLC and Molson Coors Brewing Co. (“MillerCoors”). The complaint is based on the recent rebranding of the MillerCoors “Keystone” beer, which separates and places greater emphasis on the word “STONE.”  Stone Brewing alleged that this rebranded packaging infringed its registered trademark “STONE” mark for beer.

A couple days ago, MillerCoors submitted an 84-page filing for its answer and counterclaims. Typically, an answer is relatively short, consisting of concise admissions or denials. But the answer here consists of 50 pages, with numerous paragraphs providing narrative, argumentative retorts aimed at Stone Brewing. Additionally, MillerCoors alleged four counterclaims, seeking declaratory judgment: (1) of MillerCoors’ right to use STONE to advertise Keystone beer; (2) of the unenforceability of the STONE mark against MillerCoors due to laches; (3) of MillerCoors’ non-infringement; and (4) of MillerCoors’ exclusive right to use the STONE mark.

MillerCoors emphasizes that its rebranded packaging does not use or infringe Stone Brewing’s “STONE” mark; rather, the full “KEYSTONE” mark is always used, and Stone Brewing’s complaint relied on “misleading images” that “misrepresent the look of Keystone cans and outer packaging,” to unduly isolate the “STONE” portion of the mark.

Furthermore, MillerCoors alleges that it made prior use of “STONE” as a nickname for its Keystone beer in its advertising since at least 1995, whereas Stone Brewing did not begin selling its STONE-branded beer until 1996.

MillerCoors also contends that Stone Brewing should not be allowed to enforce its STONE mark against MillerCoors after unreasonably waiting eight years to file this lawsuit, following a demand letter sent by Stone Brewing back in 2010, after which Stone Brewing took no further action.

Beyond the relevant legal points, MillerCoors also offers several rhetorical attacks, in an attempt to counteract the big-beer vs. small-brewing narrative of the complaint. MillerCoors contends that Stone Brewing’s “grandiose” allegations are “misleading and ultimately meritless,” and that the lawsuit is merely a “publicity stunt and a platform to market its beer.” MillerCoors suggests that the lawsuit was really about “Stone Brewing’s struggle with its new identity as a global mega-craft beer manufacturer. Gone is the small Stone Brewing of old. Today, Stone Brewing is one of the largest breweries in the United States and its beer is sold on five continents…. What does a company that was built around its opposition to ‘Big Beer’ do when it becomes ‘Big Beer?’ Stone Brewing’s solution appears to be to file this meritless lawsuit against MillerCoors.”

That may sound harsh, but then again, this pushback shouldn’t be a surprise in light of the aggressive criticism throughout Stone Brewing’s complaint, as discussed in my previous post.

For all of MillerCoors’ attacks of Stone Brewing’s “publicity stunt,” the same label could be applied to the answer and counterclaims, which appear to focus on developing a counter-narrative and managing public perception, in light of the extensive rhetoric, some of which isn’t necessary or particularly relevant to the legal claims.

How do you think this one will turn out? With both sides so clearly invested in this lawsuit being about public relations, marketing, and/or a “publicity stunt,” I wouldn’t be surprised if this lawsuit settles without going very far, to avoid the significant risks of negative PR on both sides. Stay tuned for updates.

Last year I posted about the trademark infringement complaint by PayPal against Pandora, based on Pandora’s rebranded “P” logo that was introduced in October 2016.  See a comparison below of PayPal’s blue “PP” design mark (left) with Pandora’s blue “P” design mark (right).

Last November, the parties reached a written settlement agreement and stipulated to dismissal of the lawsuit.  There was some media coverage of the settlement, but no details of the settlement were discussed in the media nor in any comments from the parties. A spokesperson for PayPal commented only that “we have resolved this matter amicably.” Thus it appears the terms of the settlement were confidential.

Despite such confidentiality, it has seemed, at least for the past few months, that Pandora was on the winning side of the dispute, as it continued using its blue “P” logo without any changes. Nevertheless, since my post last year, I’ve kept an eye on the logo, as it’s relatively common for settlement agreements in trademark disputes to have extended “phase-out” periods, in which a party is given some time period (such as three months) to phase-out an infringing mark and switch to a rebranded mark.

Last week (roughly three months since the date of settlement), I noticed the Pandora logo on my iPhone app had suddenly changed, see below.

 

After some (very brief) searching, I could not find any announcement or mention of the new logo on Pandora’s website or blog, nor on Pandora’s Twitter feed. Nor have I found any other significant media or online discussion of the new logo, yet. This is a bit surprising in light of the extensive marketing and announcements surrounding the previous rebrand.

I believe the logo change occurred about a week ago, based on when my iPhone app updated, but I can’t be sure. Perhaps this is just a temporary or seasonal logo change for other reasons, but I can’t think of a reason why. Nor does it appear to be limited to the iPhone app–the new logo also appears in the Google Play store, on Amazon, on Pandora’s official Twitter account, and its YouTube channel.

Just a wild guess, but perhaps the written settlement agreement required Pandora to change its logo within three months, and also required both parties to remain silent and refrain from any announcements of the new logo? And just another guess, if that’s the case, perhaps Pandora requested confidentiality, and silence regarding the rebrand, to avoid any suggestion that PayPal’s claims were meritorious (i.e., that Pandora’s logo infringed or diluted PayPal’s logo), or that Pandora was on the losing end of the settlement.

What do you think? As I only searched briefly, let me know, have you found any other discussion or media coverage yet of the new logo? Also, what do you think of the new logo from a branding perspective? Not sure I like the contrasting color combinations, but I could get used to it.

Stone Brewing Co., an independent craft brewery based in California, has filed a trademark infringement complaint against MillerCoors LLC and Molson Coors Brewing Co. (collectively “MillerCoors”). The complaint is based on the recent rebranding of the MillerCoors “Keystone” beer. The rebranded packaging separates “Keystone” into two words, with the smaller word “KEY” on a separate line, above the larger word “STONE.” See the photograph below of the rebranded can (Stone Brewing’s co-founder Greg Koch is in the background, looking displeased).

See also the external packaging of the 30-packs, which further emphasize the word “STONE” on the cans:

Stone Brewing owns an incontestable federal trademark registration for STONE (typeset) for “beers and ales” (Reg. No. 2168093).  When MillerCoors rebranded last year, it appears it may have known about Stone Brewing’s registered rights in the STONE mark. MillerCoors had already filed an application to register “STONES” for beer back in 2007, but was refused registration by the Trademark Office, based on likelihood of confusion with Stone Brewing’s STONE registration. After that refusal, MillerCoors abandoned its STONES application.

Nevertheless, when MillerCoors announced its rebranded packaging for Keystone last year, it emphasized that the rebranded can “plays up the ‘Stone’ nickname” for the beer, and further noted that with this rebranding effort, “Keystone Light is grabbing 2017 by the ‘Stones.”

Stone Brewing’s complaint is aggressive and persuasive, but it also includes some playful and humorous language, along with frequent criticism of MillerCoors, including digs at the quality of its beer (or lack thereof), and its decline in recent years as one of the “Beers Americans No Longer Drink.”  Below are a few of my favorite lines (note that “Gargoyle” is a nickname/emblematic self-reference to Stone Brewing)

  • “Since 1996, the incontestable STONE® mark has represented a promise to beer lovers that each STONE® beer, brewed under the Gargoyle’s watchful eye, is devoted to craft and quality. Like all Gargoyles, it is slow to anger and seeks a respectful, live-and-let-live relationship with peers and colleagues – even those purveying beers akin to watered-down mineral spirits. But Stone and the Gargoyle cannot abide MillerCoors’s efforts to mislead beer drinkers and sully (or steal) what STONE® stands for.”
  • “The Gargoyle does not countenance such misdirection of consumers; nor does it support those who would disavow their own Colorado mountain heritage to misappropriate another’s ancestry. Stone accordingly brings this action to help usher Keystone back to the Rockies. Should Keystone not willingly return, Stone intends to seek expedited discovery in aid of a preliminary injunction”

Stone Brewing’s co-founder Greg Koch recently posted a video regarding the dispute, and MillerCoors issued the following public response:

  • “This lawsuit is a clever publicity stunt with a multi-camera, tightly-scripted video featuring Stone’s founder Greg Koch. Since Keystone’s debut in 1989, prior to the founding of Stone Brewing in 1996, our consumers have commonly used ‘Stone’ to refer to the Keystone brand, and we will let the facts speak for themselves in the legal process”

What do you think about this dispute? In my view, it’s more than a publicity stunt. The MillerCoors response about how some consumers may refer to “Stone” for Keystone beer is less relevant than the marks actually used in commerce by MillerCoors. Based on the rebranded packaging’s emphasis of “STONE,” and Stone Brewing’s incontestable registration for STONE for beer, this appears to be a relatively strong complaint. MillerCoors may be rolling a stone uphill on this one. But we’ll have to wait to see its answer and any defenses. Stay tuned for updates.

A few weeks ago, a Mexican restaurant in Fort Collins, Colorado, named “Dam Good Tacos,” agreed to change its name based on a settlement in a trademark dispute with another Mexican restaurant, Torchy’s Tacos.

Torchy’s Tacos owns a federal trademark registration for the mark “DAMN GOOD TACOS” (Reg. No. 4835497) for restaurant services. After learning of the Dam Good Tacos restaurant, Torchy’s filed a complaint in federal court, asserting trademark infringement based on the nearly identical use of its mark, for related restaurant services.

The re-branded name of Dam Good Tacos is now DGT, an acronym for its previous name. Some Coloradans are unhappy with the name change, and Torchy’s is facing some significant backlash on social media for initiating this trademark dispute.

For example, one social media user states that she “kinda hates” Torchy’s for suing DGT, and another stated “shame on Tochy’s” regarding its “frivolous lawsuit,” which makes them “look foolish.”

However, the lawsuit is hardly frivolous. The parties’ marks and restaurant services are nearly identical, and Tochy’s appears to have priority, in addition to all the legal presumptions that come with its federal registration. Also, the parties’ businesses are in the same market, with a Tochy’s Tacos location just a couple miles away from DGT. And before suing, Tochy’s offered DGT financial assistance with a name change, but DGT refused.

Nevertheless, the social media backlash is a reminder that, no matter how strong the case for infringement, trademark “bullying” is a prevalent topic, and it’s important to be cognizant of the potential for negative PR in any enforcement efforts, particularly when there is a significant disparity in the size and resources of the parties, and/or when either party is popular or well-known in a particular market.

There have been several recent examples in this context, where large well-known companies initiated enforcement efforts against smaller parties, but have done so in creative, friendly, and humorous ways, which not only avoided criticism, but also benefited all parties involved, with a supportive public reaction and widespread media coverage.

Two of my favorite, recent examples of this, are the Netflix “Stranger Things” demand letter (we blogged about it here), and Bud Light’s Dilly Dilly demand scroll — which was read aloud by a medieval character at the alleged infringer’s brewery (see our blog post here). Rather than face any backlash or claims of bullying, the reactions to these enforcement efforts were positive, with both companies receiving significant praise, such as “funny,” “cool,” and “super classy.”  That’s quite a feat, as those words are quite rarely applicable to legal demand letters.

What do you think about Torchy’s approach here? Do you have any favorite examples of successful enforcement efforts from a public-relations perspective?

While it is true that not responding to a trademark cease and desist letter is always an available option, I tend to believe it is rarely a good choice. The strategy of silence seldom makes the issue go away, it often ends up costing the recipient more money to resolve the issue, and it is more likely to place the trademark enforcement target in a less favorable business and legal position in the end.

So, it is surprising to me how many recipients of trademark demand letters actually ignore or seriously consider ignoring the cease and desist letter and doing nothing. Perhaps more surprising is when I hear about lawyers recommending silence as a serious option, apparently hoping that the trademark owner isn’t serious, that it won’t smell blood in the water, that it will get tired of chasing the enforcement target, lose interest, and/or not follow through on its “trademark bullying” demands.

Instead, a more plausible reaction to the silent treatment comes from a now highly agitated and frustrated trademark owner who files a federal district court trademark infringement complaint, who may then obtain a default judgment, permanent injunction, order to pay damages, order to pay the attorneys fees of the trademark enforcer, and even seek a contempt of court order for failure to honor the previous court orders.

Of course, one of the serious pitfalls of choosing silence is that it forces others (both adversaries and the court) to fill in the blanks, and it actually can speak volumes, perhaps communicating incorrect and/or very unintended messages to the trademark enforcer:

  1. I will both run and hide from facing responsibility for my actions;
  2. I can’t be trusted and I don’t operate a reputable business;
  3. OK, I’m guilty and I have no valid defense to your trademark infringement claims;
  4. I actually intended to confuse consumers and benefit from that confusion;
  5. In fact, I’m profiting nicely from my actions while unfairly trading on your goodwill;
  6. I don’t care if my silence ends up costing you more time, effort, and expense;
  7. I’ll call your bluff and simply dare you to sue me;
  8. If you sue me, I’ll ignore that too; and
  9. Maybe I can’t or won’t afford to respond or defend myself or my company.

While the last listed possible message above may, in fact, be the only truly correct interpretation of the silence, unfortunately, communicating it tends to mimic blood in the water with a nearby circling shark. Far better to leave your resources a mystery while conveying an intelligent, serious, and direct written response (assuming there is a valid defense to the demands). Doing so will go a long way toward dispelling anyone’s reasonable belief of the other possible eight messages.

While there is no doubt that sole business owners and entrepreneurs can have limited budgets, it is hard to believe they are unable to afford at least one intelligent response by an experienced trademark attorney.

In my experience, nothing beats a prompt and intelligent response that details the weakness or baseless nature of the trademark infringement claims asserted in the demand letter. But, I’ll save for another day my thoughts about the actual anatomy of an intelligent trademark response letter.

In the meantime, where do you stand on the issue, do you favor and/or recommend silence or a detailed response to trademark cease and desist letters?

Last Friday Twin Cities Business and the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on 3M’s recent trademark infringement case filed against online retailer Shoplet.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is a pdf of the complaint.

It asserts a variety of violations of 3M’s exclusive rights in the federally-registered POST-IT trademark, including federal trademark infringement, false designation of origin, federal dilution of a famous mark, dilution under Minnesota law, deceptive trade practices under Minnesota law, unfair trade practices under Minnesota law, various common law claims, and unjust enrichment.

According to the complaint:

"Shoplet operates a website, www.Shoplet.com, offering for sale office supplies made by a variety of manufacturers. This website has a search function allowing consumers to search for products."

"Searches of the Shoplet.com website for the mark "Post-it" consistently return repositionable notes manufactured by Universal, a 3M competitor, as the first results, labeled "featured" products . . . ."

"These competing products are displayed under the POST-IT Mark, which appears near the top of the page in large red type. 3M’s POST-IT products often are not included anywhere on the first page of results under the POST-IT Mark although the default search results are represented as sorted according to relevance."

"On information and belief, Shoplet asks manufacturers to pay for ‘featured’ and/or otherwise prominent placement of its products in results for searches for the manufacturers’ trademarks, but does not inform consumers that results of searches of its site include paid advertisements."

One might wonder, a week later now, if Shoplet would have stopped having Universal brand notes appear more prominently than the obviously more relevant 3M POST-IT notes upon a search for "Post-it" — but, not so.

It makes me wonder whether Shoplet is positioning itself to stick it out and defend Google-style, or whether it will decide to reposition its website search results upon further reflection.

What do you think about 3M’s lawsuit?

Likelihood of confusion? Likelihood of dilution? Blurring? Tarnishment? All to the left?

 

To closely examine Sears’ most recent trademark infringement and dilution law suit and complaint concerning the DIEHARD brand against the maker of DieHard Spray ("a numbing agent for male genitalia"), check out Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Rockhard Laboratories, Inc., venued in the Northern District of Illinois (Complaint) (Exhibit 1) (Exhibit 2).  

I’m left wondering, might Bruce Willis make a cameo appearance in this trademark fight?

    

By the way, it appears that Sears is not the only affected trademark owner, Twentieth Century Fox owns the DIE HARD trademark for a "series of motion picture films," a "computer game and CD Roms," and a service mark for "entertainment services." Also, check out the red/white/black trade dress.

Do you suppose they flipped a coin or arm-wrestled to decide who would do the honors?