Trademark Registrations

We have been following the truncation trend to single-letter branding symbols for some time now.

Visa appears to be heading in this direction with the relatively new V logo:

                                                                            

Based on trademark filings at the USPTO, it appears Visa began using this single-letter V logo by itself back in 2008 with the launch of

—Linda McCulloch, President, Design That Works Communications Inc.

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away… OK, seriously, back in 1999, I decided to make a quantum leap from successful freelance graphic designer to a REAL COMPANY. I began working with the Small Business Development Services advisors and formed a plan. I would incorporate

Who says that being a large corporate trademark owner is one of the prerequisites to earning the emotionally-charged, pejorative, and ill-defined label “trademark bully“?

Well, the original directive to the USPTO appears to assume that “trademark bullying” is a one-way street, disfavoring only large corporate trademark owners, and ignoring the possibility

Laurel Sutton, Principal of Catchword Brand Name Development

Back in December, Racebrook Marketing Concepts held a Brand Name Auction during which "150 Timeless Trademarks and Domains" were offered for sale. But the auction was more bust than boom: only about 50 people showed up, with a few more bidders participating online. The prices, too, were disappointing, with the highest bid coming in at $45,000 for Shearson, $23,500 for Meister Brau, and $30,000 for Handi-Wrap. Collier’s, a magazine brand with a long history, sold for $2000, to someone acting as a third-party representative for a publishing company, according to AdAge.

Part of the reason for the low turnout, and low returns, was likely confusion over just what one got for the winning bid. The folks who bought the iconic record label Victrola for $1000 got the rights to an intent-to-use trademark application for a wide variety of goods and services in Class 9, including CDs, televisions, computer hardware and software, calculators, printers, amps, speakers, and cell phones. The catch is that since the ITU was filed in 2006 and published for opposition in 2008, the new owners have very little time to verify actual use and submit a specimen of use. Many of the other brands sold were on the basis of ITUs, although a few, like Handi-Wrap for plastic wrap, were actual registered trademarks.

Now this kind of intellectual property dealing is familiar territory to trademark attorneys, but to the average marketing exec or start-up entrepreneur, it’s rough going. The distinction between trademark and brand is something that naming companies like my own, Catchword, have to explain to the majority of new clients. And a "brand name auction" certainly sound like you’d be getting more than just a trademark application; it could imply a logo, collateral, advertising, or even patents to a product. Perhaps it’s not deliberately misleading, but it’s certainly overpromising.

From a brand perspective, the important question is whether you can repurpose a brand name. This is a different matter than the revival of a brand, as was the case with TaB. Coke never stopped making TaB, but the brand suffered a deep decline in popularity when Diet Coke was introduced. But some people remained fans, and the brand continues to be produced; it’s even gained something of a cult status with celebrities, and has a whole fan-site devoted to its no-cal goodness (ILoveTaB.com). TaB never died. It just took a little breather.

But take one of the unsold brand names from the auction, Annie Hall. The trademark for this name is specifically for clothing, and the name itself is obviously derived from the 1977 Woody Allen movie. I’m not surprised it didn’t sell; speaking as a consumer, the last time I dressed like Annie Hall was in, oh, 1978. Annie Hall as a character is iconic because of the way she dressed. The influence of that style – vintage, layered menswear – has been strong and persistent, and women’s style is better for it. But the name, and the brand, say "1977" and "slightly crazy" much louder than they say "fashionable". Reviving the brand and trying to invest it with a modern feel seems implausible, if not impossible. Perhaps someone will buy it just to print t-shirts that say "Annie Hall" on them.


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Last October, as you may recall, I wrote this in a post entitled “The Mark of a Real Trademark Bully“:

[T]he U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is currently seeking information about various litigation tactics, including whether “you think trademark “bullies” are currently a problem for trademark owners, and if so, how

Seems as though any trademark owner who sends a cease and desist letter is bound to be called a trademark bully by someone. In fact, the USPTO has extended the period for comments by a month with a new deadline of February 7, 2011.

If you had started selling shirts, pants, and  under the trademark and brand KAKATOO, and you received a cease and desist letter from someone selling shoes under the trademark and brand DELICIOUS, would you not be crying foul and/or applying the ever-popular label “trademark bully”?

Obviously, I don’t believe the USPTO is a trademark bully, but asking the question, and discussing some recent likelihood of confusion refusals issued by Examining Attorneys at the USPTO, I believe, helps put in perspective the recent flurry of discussion and concern of trademark bullying. It also reinforces the power of federal trademark registrations.

This is how the Examining Attorney at the USPTO initially refused registration of KAKATOO for clothing, based on a prior registration for DELICIOUS for shoes:

Applicant’s mark KAKATOO is confusingly similar to the registered mark DELICIOUS because KAKATOO is the foreign equivalent of “delicious.”

Under the doctrine of foreign equivalents, a mark in a foreign language and a mark that is its English equivalent may be held to be confusingly similar. TMEP §1207.01(b)(vi); see, e.g., In re Thomas, 79 USPQ2d 1021, 1025 (TTAB 2006); In re Hub Distrib., Inc., 218 USPQ 284 (TTAB 1983). Therefore, marks comprised of foreign words are translated into English to determine similarity in meaning and connotation with English word marks. See Palm Bay Imps., Inc. v. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Maison Fondee en 1772,396 F.3d 1369, 1377, 73 USPQ2d 1689, 1696 (Fed. Cir. 2005). Equivalence in meaning and connotation can be sufficient to find such marks confusingly similar. See In re Thomas, 79 USPQ2d at 1025.

The support for this refusal is below the jump.


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There are many things that serious trademark owners do throughout the lifecycle of a trademark to mitigate risk, protect the valuable goodwill in their underlying brand, and preserve their valuable investment in this important intellectual property asset. Here is a fairly extensive, but certainly not exhaustive, and often forgotten, list of those things:

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