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.

With the Oscars coming up in less than a month, it seems like the issue of “celebrity” trademarks is a hot topic in the media.  For example, many news outlets (such as here, here, here) are covering Meryl Streep’s application to register her name.  Her application (Serial No. 87765571) was submitted last month for a variety of services, including entertainment services, personal appearances, speaking engagements, and autograph signings.

It has become increasingly common for celebrities to seek federal trademark registrations for their names, often in connection with entertainment services, to provide greater protection and enforcement ability against authorized third-party uses.

Another recent example is Sean Connery’s application to register his name (Reg. No. 5015683), which was covered in the news over the past couple years.  He had to overcome some obstacles, including two Office Actions rejecting his specimens of use (here and here), but he was finally able to reach registration after submitting a third substitute specimen.

Interestingly, trademark rules and precedent allow registration of personal names as inherently distinctive, without the need to show “acquired distinctiveness” (i.e., evidence, such as longtime exclusive use, showing consumers recognize the mark as a unique source indicator).  This rule differs from the common law rule, in which acquired distinctiveness is required. Christopher Brooks, 93 U.S.P.Q.2d 1823 (TTAB 2009); McCarthy on Trademarks §13:2; TMEP § 1301.02(b).  It also differs from the bar against registering mere surnames (i.e., just the last name, rather than the full name), without acquired distinctiveness. TMEP §1211.01.

Nevertheless, it makes sense to take advantage of this unique rule for federal registration of personal names, if there is a good business reason for doing so–which there often is for celebrities.

What do you think about trademark registration for personal names?  Do you think celebrities have gone too far with trademark applications in connection with their name (see a list here)? For example, Taylor Swift has over 50 trademark registrations for her name or her initials.

Any predictions for the biggest winners at the Oscars? (I’m betting Shape of Water wins Best Picture and Best Director.)

Tis’ the season for football, not just on the gridiron, but also at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Shortly after the “Minneapolis Miracle,” as we reported this week, the Minnesota Vikings applied for registered marks on the phrase. And with the “big game” approaching, teams have titles on the mind–even those that aren’t in contention (ahem, Green Bay Packers).

Just one week ago, the Green Bay Packers initiated an opposition proceeding with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “TTAB”) against McClatchy U.S.A., a publishing company associated with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The dispute stems from the Star-Telegram‘s use of “Titletown, TX” as the title of a 20-short-video documentary series chronicling “the story of the 2016 Aledo [TX high school] Bearcats and their quest for a sixth state [football] title in eight years.”

Courtesy: PBS

The Packers have owned registered competing marks, such as “Titletown U.S.A.,” “Titletown,” and “Titletown Towel” since as early as 1993 (though, the Packers assert they have “made widespread and continuous use” of the marks since the 1960s). The Packers appear to have only begun policing the Titletown name at the TTAB since the start of this decade, however, filing five oppositions against related marks, such as “Title Town Talk Show” and “Titletown Brewing Co.”

The Titletown mark has acquired additional meaning and value to the Packers since the organization opened a development district by the same name outside Lambeau Field last year. The Packers invested almost $65M to complete the first phase of the district by this fall. The Titletown District includes a hotel, sports medicine clinic, ice skating rink, restaurant, and artificial tubing hill. And this summer, it got its own logo:

Courtesy: Twitter

The Packers allege that the “Titletown, TX” mark and use in the Texas video documentary series creates a likelihood of confusion and dilutes the “Titletown” and related marks. Why? Because the Star-Telegram uses the mark in connection with football. And that conflicts with the general public’s wide recognition of the mark “as being associated with a single source, and further recognizing the single source as [the Packers].” And the Packers allege that the Titletown name is distinctive with regard to entertainment, video, news, and commentary related to football such that it has acquired secondary meaning. Not only that, but the Packers consider the mark “famous and exclusively associated with [the Packers] in the mind of the consuming public.”

Setting aside the high likelihood that several fanbases and regions across the United States would likely dispute the Packers’ allegations as to fame and widespread recognition and acceptance, the primary questions before the TTAB are whether the use of the “Titletown, TX” mark in the short-video series is likely to cause confusion, mistake, and/or deception as to the source or origin of goods and services. And, further, whether use of the mark is likely to dilute the distinct quality of the Packers’ marks.

Generally, the strength of a mark depends on whether it is arbitrary or fanciful, suggestive, or descriptive. Because the Packers argue distinctiveness and secondary meaning, the organization appears to contend that the mark is descriptive (the lowest strength outside of generic), implying that the Packers are title winners. And historically, this is true; the Packers have been league champions a record 13 times (9 more than the nearest rival team, the Chicago Bears). And the Packers have won three consecutive NFL titles twice. Interestingly, though, the Aledo Bearcats have also won three consecutive state titles twice. This could set up a descriptive fair use defense for Star-Telegram.

When it comes to likelihood of confusion, the primary factors include: whether the use is related, the strength of the mark, proximity of the use, similarities of the marks, evidence of actual confusion, marketing channels employed, the degree of care likely to be exercised by consumers, the user’s intent in selecting the mark, and the likelihood of expansion of product/service lines. The Packers might have a case, but not a very strong one. Star-Telegram‘s use may be related to how the Packers use the Titletown mark in some contexts. But the Packers use the Titletown mark in multiple ways, only one of which relates to reporting about football. Indeed, the Packers are beginning to use the mark more in connection with the new Titletown District. Star-Telegram‘s use is in a very different market: Texas vs. primarily Wisconsin. The use relates to different football leagues: high school vs. the NFL. And the marketing channels are different: online newspaper vs. broadcasts. Ultimately, it seems unlikely that a typical consumer would confuse the two uses: think cheeseheads vs. longhorns.

When it comes to dilution, the primary inquiry is whether the use of a mark is likely to impair the mark’s distinctiveness or harm the reputation of the famous mark. The Packers allege that “[a] recent survey concluded the term TITLETOWN is known to virtually the entire population of consumers surveyed and a substantial majority of those who are aware of the term TITLETOWN, associate it specifically with the Green Bay Packers.” This may demonstrate distinctiveness. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how a short-video series on successful high school football teams in Texas would harm the Titletown mark’s distinctiveness as to the Packers and professional football or harm the reputation of the mark.

McClatchy has until February 26, 2017 to answer the Packers’s opposition. By then, there will be a new reigning NFL titleholder, much to the envy of the allegedly-undisputed Titletown team. But even more to the Packers’s envy, the new titletown (or place of the title game) will technically be Minneapolis.

It’s about that time of year, when you may be thinking about tax season. Tax day is still a few months away, but you may already have received your W-2, or 1099, (or other various assortments of mysterious numbers and letters), which will determine how much you’ll owe Uncle Sam (or perhaps a nice refund is on the way?). You might also be thinking about the possibility of an audit. Depending on your particular business or personal income situation, the chances of an audit may be quite small, but it’s hard not to think about.

What you’re probably not thinking about, however, is an audit by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), regarding any trademark registrations that you own. It can happen. Luckily, a trademark registration audit is not nearly as onerous or time-consuming as a tax audit. For any trademark owners or practitioners out there, who may receive an audit this year, here’s a quick overview and some tips.

In March of last year, following a two-year pilot program, the USPTO implemented new rules, establishing a random audit program for trademark registrations. The audit program is targeted at the required maintenance filings (“Declarations of Use”) for any registrations with more than one good or service per class. The goal of the audit program is to randomly request additional verification, that the registered mark is actually being used in commerce with the identified goods or services (which is required to maintain a valid trademark registration). Specifically, each year about 10% of all trademark registrations with recent maintenance filings will be randomly selected for an audit.

The rationale for the program is that under current rules, registration maintenance filings (every 5 years for the first 10 years, then every 10 years after that), only require the registrant to submit proof of use (a “specimen”) for one of the identified goods or services in each class, rather than all identified goods or services. Therefore, this can lead to invalid (or partially invalid) registrations sitting on the register for years (referred to as “deadwood” registrations), that identify goods or services for which the mark is no longer being used in commerce. The goal of the audit program, therefore, is to “to assess and promote the accuracy and integrity of the register” (Trademark Rule 2.161(h), as amended) by cleaning up the deadwood.

When a registration is randomly selected for an audit, the USPTO will issue a “Post-Registration Office Action,” stating, “Registration Selected for Audit.”  This Office Action will require the registrant to submit additional specimens for two goods or services, which are randomly selected among all the goods and services identified in the registration. Linked here is a sample of such an audit Office Action–this should look the same for everyone, other than the registration data.

The electronic response form is straightforward, which requires the registrant to submit acceptable specimens of use according to the applicable specimen rules (see TMEP §§ 904, 1301.04), and a verified statement of use. However, if it turns out that the registrant was not using the mark in commerce for the selected goods/services, the next step is to request deletion of those goods or services from the registration.  If deletion is requested, the USPTO, unfortunately, will then expand the audit to require specimens for all remaining goods or services identified in the registration.

Here are a few tips for dealing with the new audit system, for both trademark owners and practitioners:

  • Carefully Confirm Use for All Goods and Services; Amend Registration as Needed: When it comes time for filing the Declaration of Use, confirm use in commerce of the registered mark for all identified goods and services (even though only one specimen is required), and if use has ceased for any goods and services, they should be deleted from the registration. That way, there won’t be any hiccups when it comes time for an audit.
  • Get Ready for Expansion of the Audit if Deletion Is Requested: If you must delete any of the goods or services selected in the audit for non-use, the audit will expand to all goods or services identified.  Therefore, if any deletion is required, you should comb through all identified goods/services and make any necessary deletions at the same time–don’t just delete those currently selected in the audit. Otherwise, after the audit expands, it will further delay the process if you need to request more deletions.
  • File a Timely Response to the Post-Registration Audit, or Entire Registration will be Cancelled: There is a six-month deadline for responding to the audit issued in the Post-Registration Office Action. One might think that without a timely response, only the audited goods/services would be deleted by the USPTO. But unfortunately, the consequence is harsher than that–if a response is not submitted by the six-month deadline, the entire registration will be cancelled.

What do you think about the new audit process? Is it worth it having the deadwood registrations cleaned up, which can be beneficial from both a prosecution and enforcement perspective? Or are the benefits outweighed by the additional administrative time and cost associated with gathering more specimens and responding to these Office Actions? Perhaps that answer might depend on whether you fall within the audited 10% this year–so, good luck to all!

Another update on my series of posts following the trademark troubles of the NHL’s newest expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Most recently, I posted about the USPTO’s decision to maintain a refusal to register the team’s marks in connection with clothing, LAS VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS and VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS (Applicant Nos. 87147236, 87147265), based on likelihood of confusion with another registered mark, GOLDEN KNIGHTS THE COLLEGE OF SAINT ROSE & Design.  Those two applications are now suspended.

Now the team is facing another challenge, this time from the U.S. Army. Last week, the Army filed two Notices of Opposition (see here and here) against the team, opposing registration of both of the team’s marks in connection with its entertainment services, namely, professional ice hockey exhibitions (Application Nos. 87147269, 87147239).  (Technically, the applicant and defendant is the team’s business entity Black Knight Sports and Entertainment LLC, but I’ll just refer to “the team”). The Army alleges grounds of likelihood of confusion, dilution by blurring, and false suggestion of a connection, based primarily on the Army’s prior use of the GOLDEN KNIGHTS mark in connection with the Army’s parachute demonstration team.

Notably, the team’s owner, Bill Foley, was quite vocal about the Army inspiring the team name, since he had graduated from West Point. During the process of selecting his hockey team’s name, Mr. Foley had initially considered “Black Knights,” which is also the name of the hockey team at West Point. However, the team eventually landed on “Golden Knights,” and Mr. Foley implied on a radio show that the name was based on the “Golden Knights for the parachute team” at West Point. Mr. Foley also noted in a newspaper article that he had tried to have the Golden Knights parachute team make an appearance at the team’s name-announcement ceremony, but they “couldn’t make it work.” No wonder why, at this point.

Regarding the likelihood of confusion ground, the Army may have a difficult time establishing the necessary “relatedness” factor. Although both parties technically are offering types of “entertainment” services, it may be difficult to show that professional ice hockey exhibitions, and parachute demonstrations, are sufficiently related to cause likely confusion, despite the nearly identical mark. However, the Army’s ground of dilution and false suggestion of a connection do not require relatedness, although those grounds may also be difficult to establish, for other reasons. For one reason, regarding the dilution ground, the Army would need to establish that its mark is nationally famous, which is a high bar. Nevertheless, regardless of how this proceeding turns out, it will be another significant cost and delay in the team’s quest to register its name.

On the bright side, the hockey team itself is having a record-breaking inaugural season, currently with 29 wins and 11 losses, which puts the team in first place in the NHL’s Western Conference. The team also is the first in NHL history to have won eight of its fist nine games ever. I’m sure the team hopes that its success on the rink will follow through to these trademark proceedings, but that remains to be seen. Stay tuned for updates.

Simon Tam wasn’t the only one barred by the Lanham Act from reclaiming a historically derogatory term.

Dykes on Bikes is a nonprofit lesbian motorcycle organization.  According to their website, the group’s mission is to “support philanthropic endeavors in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and women’s communities, and to reach out to empower a community of diverse women through rides, charity events, Pride events, and education.”  In 2015, Dykes on Bikes tried to register their logo as a service mark for entertainment.  The application was put on hold pending the outcome of Matal v. Tam, as the Supreme Court considered whether Simon Tam could register his band name—The Slants.  In view of the Court’s landmark decision holding the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, Dykes on Bikes will move forward with its trademark application as well.

It was in 2003 when Dykes on Bikes first sought to register the name of their organization as a service mark for education and entertainment services.  Registration was refused on the basis that the mark was disparaging to lesbians.  The organization appealed to the TTAB, arguing that the word “dyke” had become a positive term and a symbol of pride and empowerment.  Dykes on Bikes won their appeal before the TTAB.  But when the mark was published for opposition, an individual named Michael McDermott filed an opposition claiming the mark was disparaging to men.  Ultimately, McDermott’s opposition was dismissed for lack of standing.  In particular, McDermott failed to show either (1) he possesses a trait or characteristic implicated by the proposed mark; or (2) others share the same belief of harm from the proposed mark.  The TTAB dismissed McDermott’s opposition and the Federal Circuit affirmed.  DIKES ON BIKES was successfully registered in 2007.

Because they had already won the disparagement battle for their first mark, Dykes on Bikes was surprised to face another disparagement refusal for a second mark.  In 2015, the group sought to register their logo as a service mark.  They sought review by the TTAB, and the case was put on hold pending the outcome of Matal v. Tam.  Dykes on Bikes also filed an amicus brief in the Tam case, arguing in favor of Tam’s position.  After the Supreme Court held in Tam that “the disparagement clause violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” the DYKES ON BIKES W M C logo was approved for publication.

Dykes on Bikes and The Slants had similar goals.  As Dykes on Bikes described in their amicus brief, both groups “have chosen to reclaim self-referential terms as trademarks for the benefit of the groups those terms refer to.”  They also drew a distinction with respect to a certain NFL team name: “the Washington Redskins have chosen a term that is unrelated to the people who identify as members of the football team and is commonly understood to be a slur which members of the identified group have not reclaimed.  Whatever the constitutionality of the PTO’s treatment of the Redskins mark, the team’s use of that name is immoral and Dykes on Bikes encourages the Washington Redskins to give up their trademarked name as a matter of respect and decency.”

While the Tam decision may have opened the proverbial flood gates of offensive trademark applications, it also allows for these positive trademark uses in reclaiming derogatory terms.

For the past couple years, General Mills has battled to register a yellow color mark in connection with its Cheerios® breakfast cereal.  More specifically, back in 2015, General Mills applied to register (Serial No. 86757390) the mark shown below, described as “the color yellow appearing as the predominant uniform background color on product packaging for the goods,” in connection with the goods “toroidal-shaped, oat-based breakfast cereal.”  (For those wondering, “toroidal-shaped” basically means doughnut-shaped.)  Below is the drawing of the mark:

The use of colors — even a single color alone — on a product or its packaging may be subject to trademark protection and federal registration. For example, in Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., 514 U.S. 159 (1995), the Court held that the greenish-gold color of dry cleaning press pads was protectable as a trademark. As another example, in Christian Louboutin, S.A. v. Yves Saint Laurent America Holding, Inc., 696 F.3d 206 (2d Cir. 2012), the Second Circuit recognized that the use of red lacquered outsoles on shoes is a protectable trademark (provided that such protection is limited to shoes in which there is contrast between the red outsole and the adjoining shoe, and does not extend to monochromatic red shoes).

However, there are relatively steep requirements to obtain a trademark registration for a color mark. To obtain a federal registration for a color mark on the Principal Register, it must be shown that the mark has acquired distinctiveness (also referred to as secondary meaning). This is so because the U.S. Supreme Court has held that color marks can never be inherently distinctive as a source indicator, and therefore the applicant must submit evidence establishing acquired distinctiveness. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 211-212 (2000) (citing Qualitex, 34 USPQ2d at 1162-63); see TMEP § 1202.05(a). Also, as with other types of marks, registration for a color mark will be refused if the mark is functional, such as where there is a utilitarian advantage (e.g., yellow or orange for safety signs), or where a certain color is more economical or competitively advantageous (e.g., where a certain color is a natural by-product of manufacturing, and using other colors would be more expensive). See TMEP § 1202.05(b).

A couple weeks ago, General Mills received some bad news from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), which affirmed a refusal to register the applied-for yellow color mark, shown above. In re General Mills IP Holdings II, LLC, Serial No. 86757390 (TTAB Aug. 22, 2017) (precedential). The Board recognized the extensive body of evidence submitted by General Mills, showing the company’s longtime, expansive efforts to create an association between the yellow product packaging and the Cheerios® brand cereal. See id., slip op. at 5-9. For example, numerous print and television advertisements focused on the yellow product packaging, or specifically referred to the phrase the “yellow box” or the “big yellow box.” Id. at 7. However, the Board emphasized that “no matter how hard a company attempts to make an inherently nondistinctive word or symbol serve as a unique source identifier, it is proof of results—that consumers so perceive the purported mark—that is the touchstone of our inquiry into acquired distinctiveness.” Id. at 8.

In the end, the primary basis for the Examining Attorney’s refusal, and the TTAB’s affirmance of that refusal, was the lack of substantially exclusive use of the color yellow by General Mills. Id. at 11-21. The record established that several competitors offered the same goods–toroidal-shaped, oat-based cereals–in yellow, rectangular packaging of similar proportions, such as the brands Trader Joe’s, Meijer, Wegmans, Nature’s Path, One Degree, Ralston, and Barbara’s. See below the product packaging for those cereals:

The TTAB reasoned that “Applicant is not alone in offering oat-based cereal, or even toroidal-shaped, oat-based cereal, in a yellow package,” and that “[t]he presence of products of this type in the marketplace interferes with the development among relevant customers of a perception that the color yellow on packaging indicates that Applicant is the source of the goods (or that there is any single source of such goods).” Id. at 16. The TTAB also referred to numerous other yellow boxes for various types of oat-based cereals that, even if not “toroidal-shaped,” which further detracted from any public perception of yellow packaging as a source-indicator for Applicant, as cereal manufacturers commonly offer many different brands and varieties of cereals side-by-side in stores. Id. at 17-18.

Therefore, the TTAB concluded that “the number and nature of third-party cereal products in yellow packaging in the marketplace [is] sufficient to convince us that consumers do not perceive the color yellow as having source-indicating significance for [Applicant’s goods].” Id. at 19.

What do you think about this decision? Separate and apart from the name “CHEERIOS” itself, do you associate predominantly yellow product packaging with General Mills and its (doughnut-shaped, oat-based) cereal?

A few months ago I posted about a trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Ornua, seller of Kerrygold® Pure Irish Butter, against Defendants Old World Creamery and Eurogold USA, who briefly sold Irish butter under the mark Irishgold. The court granted Ornua’s motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), concluding that Ornua had a reasonable likelihood of success on its trademark infringement claims, and that Ornua would suffer irreparable harm based on Defendants’ use of the Irishgold mark.

I concluded my post by suggesting that the grant of the TRO may push the parties to settlement. When a TRO is granted, it sends a strong signal to the parties about how the court may rule down the road at the summary judgment stage, because a key factor in granting the TRO is the court’s determination that the plaintiff has a “reasonable likelihood of success on the merits.”

Following the grant of the TRO, the parties indeed shifted to settlement talks and a mediation. Last month, the parties executed a settlement agreement and filed a stipulated motion for a consent judgment and permanent injunction, which was granted by the court.

Unsurprisingly, several terms of consent judgment and injunction focus on the IRISHGOLD mark, and generally require Defendants to cease use of that mark in connection with the sale of butter and other dairy products, and to expressly abandon the trademark application for IRISHGOLD. However, it is interesting that the consent judgment allows Defendants to continue using the mark “EURO GOLD” for butter, and to maintain the trademark application for EUROGOLD, provided that an amendment is entered with a space or hyphen (EURO GOLD or EURO-GOLD), and provided that the identification of goods “butter and butter blends” is amended to add the exclusionary language “but excluding Irish butter and Irish butter blends.”

I wonder if there is any wiggle room here for the Defendants to the extent there is ambiguity in the meaning of “Irish butter,” as suggested in my previous post. At one end, it seems clear that imported butter that is manufactured, graded and packaged in Ireland, from Irish cow’s milk, is “Irish butter.” But what about butter that is manufactured, graded and packaged entirely within the U.S., but includes milk from Ireland as an ingredient–which is essentially how the Defendants’ butter is made. What do you think?

Another update on my series of posts following the newest NHL expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, and the difficult time they’re having prosecuting their trademark applications. The applicant Black Knight Sports and Entertainment LLC (I’ll call applicant “the team”) applied to register LAS VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS and VEGAS GOLDEN NIGHTS in connection with “entertainment services, namely, professional ice hockey exhibitions” and various clothing goods (Application Nos. 87147236, 8714723987147265, and 87147269).

As explained in my most recent post, the USPTO issued an initial refusal of registration for all four applications on several grounds, the most significant being a likelihood of confusion (Lanham Act Section 2(d)) with another registered mark GOLDEN KNIGHTS THE COLLEGE OF SAINT ROSE & Design, Reg. No. 3188463, which identifies in relevant part, “entertainment services in the form of intercollegiate sports exhibitions,” as well as clothing of various types.

In June, the team responded with some amazingly hefty arguments against refusal. For the clothing goods applications, the argument was 41 pages, plus over 1,300 pages of exhibits. For the clothing goods applications, the argument was 51 pages, plus over 1,600 pages of exhibits.

Last week, the team received both good news and bad news. The Examining Attorney withdrew the refusal for the applications identifying entertainment services–therefore, those marks are now approved for publication. However, the refusal was maintained and continued for the applications identifying clothing goods–those applications are now suspended, due to a prior-pending application for LAS VEGAS BLACK NIGHTS (Serial No. 86526792). Unless the team submits further arguments against suspension (I bet they do), it could be many months or years before the suspension is resolved, as the prior-pending application leads to a chain of four other suspended applications.

Based on the similarity of the arguments in each, it is interesting that the Examining Attorney both maintained its likelihood-of-confusion refusal citing GOLDEN KNIGHTS THE COLLEGE OF SAINT ROSE & Design, Reg. No. 3188463, for clothing goods, but at the same time, was persuaded to withdraw the refusal citing the same registered mark for entertainment services. Perhaps it boiled down to the limitation provided by the identification of entertainment services for each, one being for “professional ice hockey exhibitions,” whereas the other identified “intercollegiate sports exhibitions.” On the other hand, the clothing goods are not so limited.  The Examining Attorney highlighted this point in its suspension letter for the clothing-goods applications, stating that “there is no limitation in the application or registration limiting the [clothing goods] to those sold in connection or support of hockey and/or college sports.”

One silver (golden?) lining is that the team’s design-only logo depicting a knight’s helmet (Serial Nos. 87243288, 87243293) was recently allowed by the USPTO and has not been opposed, meaning it should soon progress to registration once a statement of use is processed.

Thus, the team’s helmet-bearing branded merchandise will have at least some protection by a trademark registration.

What do you think about the Examining Attorney’s decisions so far on these applications? Do you agree?

Over the weekend, IPBiz reported that WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) has filed an application to register 3:16 as a trademark for clothing items.

A Google search confirms that 3:16 has religious significance as it is a common truncation that signifies one of the most widely quoted verses from the Bible, namely, John 3:16.

Despite other confusing media reports that the WWE has “trademarked” 3:16, IPBiz is correct that an intent to use trademark application was filed by WWE at the end of July.

While I could hazard a guess, technically it is presently uncertain whether WWE intends a religious meaning, at least from the application file, as no specimen of use is of record yet.

Ironically, our firm’s firewall leaves me to hazard a guess on WWE’s intended meaning too.

Yes, our sturdy firewall has deemed anything appearing on the WWE website to be “unsafe or unsuitable” for access, so we may need the kind assistance of our dear readers to assist in our understanding of the meaning intended by the WWE for this claimed mark.

Either way, it will be interesting to follow the USPTO’s examination of this application, given the newly minted Examination Guide 2-17 on “Merely Informational Matter,” which directly targets religious matter, among other matter (citations omitted from below quote):

Some proposed marks comprise direct quotations, passages, or citations from religious texts (e.g., JOHN 3:16 and I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME).  Religious texts are holy books or scriptures, such as the Bible, Quran, Torah, and Diamond Sutra, which the different religions or spiritual movements consider sacred or essential to their religious traditions and beliefs. Such quotations, passages, or citations are often used by the providers of goods/services (and by consumers) as an expression of affiliation with, support for, or endorsement of the ideals or concepts found in the religious texts in which the quotation, passage, or citation originated. Because consumers are accustomed to seeing such wording used in this manner in the marketplace, consumers are unlikely to perceive it as indicating source and instead would perceive the wording as conveying a merely informational message of religious affiliation, endorsement, or support for the messages in the texts.

Where a quotation, passage, or citation from a religious text serves as an indicator of support or affiliation and not of source, such wording fails to function as a mark.  The refusal applies regardless of whether the identified goods/services themselves are religious in nature.  However, the inclusion of religious goods/services further supports this refusal.  The following examples illustrate this point:

  • Mark is comprised, in its entirety, of a direct quotation/passage and/or citation from a religious text (e.g., Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth The Qur’an, Surah An-Nur 24:35; I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH AND THE LIGHT.  NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME; or MATTHEW 19:26).  The entire mark must be refused registration because the matter fails to function as a mark.

  • Mark is comprised, in part, of a direct quotation/passage and/or citation from a religious text and registrable matter (e.g., Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one and the image of the Earth being held in a pair of hands; ROMANS 8:28 and an image of a teddy bear).  The direct quotation/passage and/or citation must be disclaimed because they fail to function as marks.

Do you think the WWE will be wrestling with USPTO over the meaning of 3:16 soon?

If so, how might the USPTO explain the issuance of these registrations: 3:16, Studio 3:16, and 3:16 Lure Co?

And, finally, might the newly minted examination guide conflict with the recent Supreme Court decision in Tam, holding that the USPTO’s refusal of federal trademark registration based on viewpoint violates Freedom of Speech?