Articles Posted in Trademarks

Vienna, Virginia-based Immersonal, Inc., a consumer software and technology services company, has been sued for trademark infringement and related claims in Virginia federal court. Radio and Podcast personality, Ira Glass, and Chicago Public Media say Immersonal’s new “This American Startup” podcast infringes on their award-winning “This American Life” radio and podcast programs. The suit includes counts for trademark infringement and dilution, unfair competition and fraud, and violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

According to the complaint, Mr. Glass has produced, aired, promoted and distributed the radio show, “This American Life,” since 1996. The show is part of the lineup of Chicago Public Media, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, which has owned and operated a radio station since 1990. “This American Life” is a Peabody award-winning syndicated program on contemporary American culture, including fiction and nonfiction and original monologues, mini-dramas, documentaries, music and interviews. It is also available on the internet as a podcast and is downloaded about 700,000 times per week. In many weeks, it is the ThisAmericanLife.jpgmost popular podcast in the country. The program was turned into a television show between 2006 and 2008 and garnered several Emmy awards.

The plaintiffs allege further that the mark, “This American Life,” has been in continuous use since 1996 in entertainment and in connection with the audio program. The plaintiffs co-own this and related marks and have expended significant money and air time to promote and advertise their marks in various media. They say these efforts, combined with quality programming, have led consumers to associate “This American Life” with quality service. In turn, this acceptance and good will has opened the door to additional business opportunities associated with the marks. The plaintiffs claim the mark is famous given its duration of use, reach, extensive consumption and recognition.

The Newsboys, a Christian rock music group, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the New Boyz rap duo, claiming that despite the contrasts in musical styles and lyrics, the similarity in the bands’ names will cause confusion among its fans. Sounds legit, right?

Actually, as ill-advised as this lawsuit may seem at first, the Newsboys may have a valid concern. To their credit, they registered “Newsboys” as a trademark in 1994 and have used the name continuously since then. According to the complaint, the Newsboys have had 28 number-one singles and produced four albums since 2008. One of their earlier albums was entitled, “Boys will be Boyz.”

In 2011, Warner Brothers began promoting New Boyz. In contrast to the wholesome lyrics favored by the Newsboys on tracks such as “He Reigns” and “In Christ Alone,” the New Boyz favor a raunchier style, rapping lyrics like “You’re a jerk! Jerk Jerk Jerk!” and “Tell all the homies she got bunz, bunz, bunz.”

Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc. (Midwestern) applied for a trademark on its dog treat product, WAGGIN’ STRIPS. The Societe des Produits Nestle S.A. (Nestle), which holds the trademark on a similar dog treat, BEGGIN’ STRIPS, challenged the application, claiming Midwestern’s proposed mark would infringe on its mark. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found Nestle failed to prove its BEGGIN’ STRIPS mark was famous enough that the WAGGIN’ STRIPS mark would dilute it. But it found the proposed WAGGIN’ STRIPS mark would likely confuse consumers because “the goods are identical, the channels of trade and classes of purchasers are the same, and the marks are similar in appearance, sound, connotation and commercial impression.” It denied the application.

Midwestern appealed on several bases. It argued that Nestle should not have been allowed to introduce evidence of the BEGGIN’ STRIPS mark’s fame that postdated the WAGGIN’ STRIP’s application because such evidence must predate an applicant’s filing date to be used to analyze the likelihood of confusion. The Federal Circuit rejected this assertion as a misreading of the law.

Though not relevant to the question of dilution, evidence of post-application fame is relevant when considering likelihood of confusion. To show dilution, Nestle had to show its mark was famous before Midwestern filed its intent-to-use application. Failing that, however, Nestle could still use evidence of the BEGGIN’ STRIPS mark’s strength in showing likelihood of confusion, even if that strength (fame) occurred later.

Judge Leonie M. Brinkema was not impressed with the trademark infringement case filed by Wag’N Enterprises, a pet-safety company based in Herndon, Virginia, against a California nonprofit known as Redrover. Entering summary judgment in favor of Redrover, she essentially found that no reasonable jury could find that Wag’N’s mark, “Wag’N Rover Respond’R” was confusingly similar to RedRover’s “RedRover Responder.”

Trademark infringement exists where a valid and protectable mark is used by the defendant in a way that causes a likelihood of confusion in consumers. If the plaintiff does not hold a federally registered trademark, a valid and protectable mark may still exist where “the mark is used in commerce and is distinctive.” In determining the likelihood of confusion, some factors that a court may consider are: (1) the strength or distinctiveness of the mark (i.e., whether it is generic, descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary, or fanciful); (2) the similarity of the marks; (3) the similarity of the goods/services the marks identify; (4) the similarity of the facilities the two parties use in their businesses; (5) the similarity of the advertising used by the two parties; (6) the defendant’s intent; and (7) actual confusion.

The court found that although Wag’N held valid and protectable marks in the registered name Wag’N Rover Respond’R and the unregistered but distinctive mark Rover Respond’R, there was no evidence that the RedRover Responders actually confused weakling.jpgconsumers. Specifically rejecting the Plaintiff’s argument that RedRover’s product “incorporates the essential essence” of its mark, the court noted that the marks do not share any identical words, the marks are not similar in meaning, and the companies have completely different logos with different typefaces, designs, and emphasis. Even if the names are similar, the court found, consumers do not see them in the same contexts, since Wag’N Rover Respond’R only has its name on its emergency kits and the mark RedRover Responders is found only on volunteer t-shirts and a brochure explaining the program.

As noted previously on this blog, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”) permits litigation to be filed against an infringing domain name itself, not just against the owner of the domain name. Which entity should file responsive pleadings in such a case, the domain name or its owner? In Sauikit LLC v., the Eastern District of Virginia opined that form should not prevail over substance.

Saurikit brought an action against the domain name alleging violations of the ACPA. Defendant’s Answer stated that Cykon Technology (“Cykon”) owned the domain name, but the defendant’s attorney signed the answer “Counsel for” instead of “Counsel for Cykon.” Saurikit moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that there was no answer on file by a claimant since the property rather than the owner of the property filed the Answer.

A successful judgment on the pleadings requires the moving party to demonstrate that no issues of material fact exist and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In deciding a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, courts view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.

The Navajo Nation has sued retailer Urban Outfitters and its subsidiaries for trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and related claims. In the suit, filed in the District of New Mexico, the tribe seeks monetary damages and an injunction against using the “Navajo” and “Navaho” names in connection with marketing goods that compete directly with Navajo Nation’s products.

According to the Complaint, Urban Outfitters has been using “Navajo” and “Navaho” on a line of clothing and accessories that competes directly with products offered by Navajo Nation. One of the tribe’s most valuable assets is its NAVAJO trademark which it has used to market such products for a century and a half. That trademark has been registered for over sixty years. The Complaint alleges that through its retail stores, online stores and catalog, Urban Outfitters has sold over twenty “Navajo” products, using geometric patterns similar to ones the Navajo Nation has created over the years, ranging from earrings and tunics to undergarments and liquor flasks. The Navajo Nation takes particular exception to the marketing of flasks bearing the tribe’s name, mark and design, because the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited on the Navajo reservation.

Navajo Nation asserts that Urban Outfitters’ actions are “designed to convey to consumers a false association or affiliation with the Navajo Nation, and to unfairly trade off of the fame, reputation, and goodwill of the Navajo Nation’s name and trademarks.” HipsterPanty.pngLawyers for the tribe argue that consumers are being led to believe that Urban Outfitters has contracted with the tribe to sell its products under one of its registered trademark names but that, in fact, Urban Outfitters has no license or sponsorship relationship with the tribe that would permit the company and its subsidiaries to use any of these trademarks. The trademark case includes claims that Urban Outfitters has been diluting the NAVAJO mark’s distinctiveness (dilution by blurring) and harming the mark’s reputation (dilution by tarnishment). The tribe also asserts the company has violated the Indian Arts and Crafts Act by displaying and marketing the products so as to suggest they are authentic Indian-made products.

Chanel, Inc., which like many other luxury-goods companies has been constantly plagued by counterfeiters, has taken its legal fight against unauthorized knock-offs to a whole new level. On November 14, 2011, acting at Chanel’s request, U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson of the District of Nevada signed an order that not only prohibits hundreds of alleged trademark infringers from manufacturing or selling fake Chanel handbags, wallets, shoes, and the like – but also orders the defendants’ domain names seized and transferred to the Web hosting company GoDaddy, which would direct them to a page describing the seizure. The temporary restraining order also orders that the counterfeiters’ domain names be “de-indexed” by Google, Bing, Yahoo, and all social media websites, specifically mentioning Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Chanel, Inc. had filed suit against several websites for selling counterfeit versions of its merchandise. Chanel hired an investigative firm to purchase several items from three of the websites named as defendants in the lawsuit. The investigators then sent those items to a Chanel consultant who determined that the merchandise was not genuine Chanel. The consultant also examined other merchandise offered for sale on these websites and determined that none of the items offered were authentic Chanel products. The defendant websites were not authorized dealers of Chanel products and therefore were in direct violation of Chanel’s trademark rights.

Chanel’s trademark lawyers obtained this injunctive relief by, among other things, pointing out that counterfeiters use search engine optimization (SEO) just as legitimate companies do, and that it was necessary for the court to shut down their ability to use the Web to compete unfairly with Chanel. “Chanel does contend that it has the right to fairly compete for such search Index.jpgengine results space unfettered by unfair competition stemming from an illegal use of Chanel’s trademarks,” Chanel’s lawyers wrote in the underlying motion.

If a blog is successful and gains name recognition among the public, with whom is the brand associated in the minds of readers, the publisher or the primary author of the blog? Apparently not a lot of thought has gone into this interesting question, as the New York Times did not apply for a trademark for its popular “Motherlode” parenting blog until its primary author, Lisa Belkin, left the Times to create “Parentlode” at The Huffington Post. Now it will be up to the courts to determine whether the Times has exclusive trademark rights to the “Motherlode” name and similar-sounding derivatives.

The New York Times Co. sued the Huffington Post and AOL, its parent company, on November 4, 2011, in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, seeking both injunctive relief and damages. NYT’s trademark lawyers argue in the complaint that the mark “Parentlode” is “clearly derived” from the Times’ established “Motherlode” trademark and that it was “intended to create an association with Ms. Belkin’s prior work” at the Times. According to the complaint, there is evidence that confusion already exists in readers’ minds between the “Motherlode” blog, which the Times is continuing to publish, and the new “Parentlode” blog at the Huffington Post. On Twitter, for example, someone wrote (incorrectly, the Times argues) that “The NYT’s Motherlode becomes HuffPo’s Parentlode.”

In her first “Parentlode” blog entry, Belkin referred to “Parentlode” as a “new name” that in a nonsexist manner includes fathers as well as mothers. The Times seized upon this statement and wrote that Belkin “clearly intended to create an association in the minds of readers between the two competing blogs, and further, [Belkin’s] reference to the ‘new name’ was a deliberateMommyBaby.jpg attempt to mislead readers into mistakenly believing it was the same blog, albeit with a slightly different name and location.”

Oleg Cassini was a French-born American fashion designer who created a wardrobe for Jacqueline Kennedy. Now, the company that he founded, Oleg Cassini Inc., finds itself embroiled in trademark litigation with Serta, Inc., over Serta’s decision to name a particular mattress model the “Cassini.”

The dispute arose when Serta unveiled a line of mattresses, to be sold exclusively at J.C. Penney stores, with names that were related to outer space. Among them were Gemini, Eclipse, Taurus, Moonscape, Nebula – and Cassini. Serta claimed that the name was inspired by Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625-1712), an Italian-French astronomer and mathematician who was the first person to observe four of Saturn’s moons. When the Oleg Cassini company found out about the existence of products such as the “Serta Perfect Day Cassini Firm Twin Mattress Set,” it sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Serta company, declaring that it was “amazed” to see the Cassini name on the J.C. Penney website and stating that the mattress company does not have the right to use the “Cassini or Oleg Cassini” trademarks.

Serta responded by discontinuing the model immediately, but this was not enough for Cassini, the complaint contends. Cassini proceeded to demand that J.C. Penney ensure that no floor models (including close-outs) be sold under the Cassini name. In Saturn.jpgaddition, Cassini threatened to sue for infringement if it did not receive “a reasonable offer of damages and a detailed plan for correcting the improper usage of the Cassini mark.” Instead of offering to pay damages, Serta filed a declaratory judgment complaint in the Northern District of Illinois seeking a judicial ruling of non-infringement.

Timelines, Inc., a small Chicago-based Internet company, has lost the first round of its legal efforts to obtain a court finding that Facebook infringed on its “Timelines” trademark when it announced its much-ballyhooed new feature, “Timeline.”

On Sept. 22, 2011, Facebook announced the “Timeline” feature, which will allow users to store and share their life events in chronological order on the site. Timelines, Inc., quickly filed a trademark infringement suit against Facebook, noting that it already has a registered trademark for the term “Timelines.” This mark refers, among other things, to a website that allows users to record and share events and contribute descriptions, photos, videos, geographic locations, and links related to events and people.

Arguing that there was a significant likelihood of confusion between its existing online product and the one just announced by Facebook, Timelines filed its lawsuit in order to avoid, in the words of the complaint, “being rolled over and quite possibly eliminated by the unlawful action of the world’s largest and most powerful social media company.”

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