Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TTAB Denies Motion to Strike Late-Filed Final Brief

In TTAB proceedings, the defendant sometimes gets confused as to when to file its brief at final hearing. Rule 2.128 says that the defendant's brief is due to be filed "not later than thirty days after the due date of the first brief." The first brief (i.e., plaintiff's brief) is due 60-days after the date set for the close of rebuttal testimony. If plaintiff's brief is served by mail, does defendant get an extra five days to file its brief under Rule 2.119(c)? No. Rule 2.119(c) is inapplicable to briefing deadlines. This point came to play in a recently ruling in Promark Brands Inc. and H.J. Heinz Company v. GFA Brands, Inc., Opposition No. 91194974. The Board, in this order, set a side the interlocutory attorney's order that had stricken defendant GFA's trial brief because it was filed six days late.


GFA mistakenly believed that Rule 2.119(c) applied, giving it five extra days to file its brief. Then it ran into problems e-filing its brief. It filed the brief at 11:10 p.m. Central Time, which was 12:10 a.m. Eastern Time. [ESTTA filing are subject to Eastern Time].

The interlocutory attorney granted Promark's motion to strike GFA's brief. GFA petitioned to the Director, which kicked the matter back to the Board for reconsideration of the interlocutory attorney's ruling. Meanwhile, GFA had requested oral argument and, in light of the order striking its brief, had asked for an extra 15 minutes to argue its case. [The case is set for oral argument at the Fordham IP Institute on April 25th (here)].

The Board noted that the time for filing GFA's brief was set by operation of Rule 2.128 and not by the date of service of Promark's brief, and so Rule 2.119(c) did not apply.

The Board looked to the Supreme Court's Pioneer decision (Pioneer Inv. Serv. Co. v. Brunswick Assoc. Ltd., 507 U.S. 380 (1993)), a five-to-four ruling, "which underscores that the question whether neglect of a matter is excusable is not easily or predictably answered." Such questions "necessarily must be left to resolution by exercise of the discretion of the Board."

The Board found no clear error in the interlocutory attorney's weighing the third Pioneer factor (the reason for the delay and whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant) heavily against GFA. Nor was there error in weighing the second factor (the length of the delay) "somewhat" against GFA.

Nonetheless, the Board may exercise its discretion to considered the additional circumstances that are "significant" in this case. The Board warned, however, that its ruling here is "based solely on the particular facts of the case, and should not be taken as an indication that a similar result would be attainable in another case that differs in any particular fact or circumstance."

The Board observed that having a full set of briefs prior to oral argument enhances the quality of the argument and may suggest issues that the Board panel should consider in its deliberations. Another factor concerned GFA's mistaken reliance on Rule 2.119(c). Similar mistaken reliance has occurred in other Board cases. The Board noted that the TBMP, in the section concerning the time for filing defendant's main brief, makes no reference to the inapplicability of Rule 2.119(c). [The Board suggested that a change to the Rules be considered, to incorporate clarifying language or cross-referencing regarding the interplay of these two Rules].

The Board therefore set aside the order striking Defendant GFA's brief. It denied the request for additional time for argument as moot.

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog note:  Recently, in Pepsico, Inc. v. Jay Pirincci, Opposition No. 91187023 (April 14, 2014) [not precedential], the Board denied opposer's motion to strike applicant's brief that was filed one day late. Although the delay was unjustified, it was minimal in duration, caused no prejudice to opposer, had little impact on the proceeding, and apparently was not the result of bad faith.

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Machine Stand Configuration Lacked Acquired Distinctiveness, Says TTAB

The Board affirmed a refusal to register the product configuration shown below, for stands for industrial stirring machines, finding that applicant had failed to establish acquired distinctiveness under Section 2(f). The lack of "look-for" advertising calling attention to the "Z" shape was a major factor in the Board's decision. Netzsch-Feinmahltechnik GmbH, Serial No. 79100238 (March 25, 2014) [not precedential].


We know from Wal-Mart v. Samara Bros. that a product configuration cannot be inherently distinctive. To merit registration, the purported mark must have achieved acquired distinctiveness. In support of its Section 2(f) claim, applicant submitted marketing materials, advertisements and articles from trade publications, a declaration from a company representative, ten customer statements, and a copy of its registration for the mark ZETA.

The Board observed that, when prompted to look for the "Z" shape in applicant's design, one can recognize it, but nothing in applicant's marketing materials calls attention to the letter "Z" in any explicit way. The company declaration averred that the configuration had been in use since January 1997, and that applicant's products garnered a 35 to 40 percent share of the relevant market. But applicant's evidence did not show promotion of the specific stand configuration embodied in the applied-for mark, as opposed to touting the superiority of applicant's products in general.

The customer's declarations stated that they associated the alleged mark with applicant, but the declarations were insufficient in number to support a finding that the configuration serves as a trademark, particularly in view of the lack of look-for advertising. In short, the Board was "simply not persuaded by these statements that applicant has managed to create consumer recognition of this design as a source indicator."

The trade articles established that applicant is an industry leader, but lacking was any mention of the configuration of the goods, or that consumers associated the Z-shaped stand with applicant's products. These publications gave the Board no reason to conclude that applicant or its competitors use their product shapes as trademarks.

Finally, applicant's ownership of a registration for the word mark ZETA was of no help. Nothing in the record would lead one to conclude that the mark ZETA represents the same source indicator as the "fairly obscure, largely unmentioned shape of [applicant's] industrial milling stand."

Concluding that applicant had failed to establish acquired distinctiveness, the Board affirmed the refusal to register under Sections 1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act.

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog comment:  Zzzzzzzzzzzz! Actually, this opinion was not that soporific. Only one Z.

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Precedential No. 18: Identity of One Party's Trial Witnesses Cannot Be Kept Secret from Other Party

Finding that Opposer Hunter Industries had established prior common-law rights in the mark PRECISION DISTRIBUTION CONTROL for irrigation sprinklers, the Board sustained its opposition to registration of the mark PRECISION for landscape irrigation nozzles and sensors on the ground of likelihood of confusion under Section 2(d). Perhaps more interesting than the Section 2(d) analysis were the Board's rulings on several evidentiary issues. Hunter Industries, Inc. v. The Toro Company, Opposition No. 91203612 (March 31, 2014) [precedential].


Evidentiary rulings: Hunter successfully moved to strike certain testimony and exhibits proffered by Applicant Toro. First, the Board excluded Toro's exhibits that were submitted on a flash drive because Rule 2.126 does not permit such submissions. The documents should have been submitted on paper or electronically via ESTTA. A CD-ROM containing two video files submitted by Toro was in acceptable form, since ESTTA is currently unable to accept video files. See, generally, TBMP Section 106.03.

However, the Board rejected the two video files because they had not been produced to Opposer Hunter during discovery. Toro did not dispute that the two videos fell withing at least one of Hunter's production requests. Toro claimed that it produced the documents as soon as it discovered them, but it offered no reason why the videos were not found sooner.

Toro submitted seven declarations from distributors of irrigation equipment [the parties' ACR agreement permitted submission of testimony by way of affidavits or declarations]. Portions of the declarations were designated "Trade Secret/Business Confidential" under the Board's Standard Protective Order, as modified by the ACR agreement. Hunter moved to strike these declarations on the ground that Toro had over-designated as confidential the identifying information for the declarants. The Board agreed with Hunter.

A party’s right to confront an adverse witness is significantly impaired when it is prevented from knowing the name, employer and location of the witness. Although opposer’s counsel was privy to the redacted information, opposer itself practices in the relevant industry and likely is familiar with some or all of the witnesses or their employers. That kind of information may be critical when considering adverse testimony, and it generally should not be kept from a party.

Such identifying information may be protectable during discovery, but not when the individual is to be named as a witness. In short, when a party chooses to rely on the testimony of a witness at trial, that party has waived the protection provided by the Protective Order to trade secret/commercially sensitive information. The Board therefore struck the seven declarations from the record.

Priority: Applicant Toro relied on the filing date of its application, June 21, 2010, as its (constructive) first use date. Toro argued that its own mark PRECISION is suggestive, but that Hunter's mark is merely descriptive. However, the record did not sufficiently support a finding that Hunter's mark, in its entirety, is merely descriptive. In any case, Hunter presented ample evidence to show that the mark had acquired distinctiveness prior to June 21, 2010. It submitted proof of continuous use of the mark for its goods since 1992, and its sales figures and marketing expenditures were "appreciable."

Likelihood of Confusion: The Board found the word "PRECISION" to be the dominant and most significant feature of Hunter's mark, since "DISTRIBUTION CONTROL" clearly describes a precise feature of the sprinklers. Toro's mark PRECISION, the Board opined, would appear to prospective customers as a shortened version of Hunter's mark. Therefore the Board found the marks to be similar in sound, appearance, connotation, and commercial impression.

The Board found the goods to be identical in part, since the parties use their respective marks on rotating nozzles for irrigating lawns. The opposed application did not contain any limitation as to channels of trade or classes of customers, and so the Board assumed that Toro's goods moved in all the normal channels, and to all classes of purchasers, for those goods. Toro's channels necessarily overlapped with those of Hunter for its nozzles.

Hunter's mark PRECISION DISTRIBUTION CONTROL may be conceptually weak, but in light of Hunter's long use, sales, and promotion of the mark, the Board found that it is entitled to protection against registration of PRECISION for overlapping and closely related goods.

The Board recognized that purchasers for the involved goods are landscape contractors who will exercise a degree of care and deliberation in deciding to make a purchase. However, even sophisticated buyers are likely to view the subjects marks as indicating a single source when they are used on identical or closely related goods.

Balancing the relevant duPont factors, the Board found confusion likely, and so it sustained the opposition.

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog comment:  I'm guessing that this opinion was deemed precedential because of the evidentiary rulings, rather than the rather straightforward Section 2(d) analysis. What do you think?

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Affirming Refusal, TTAB Says "HOURS OF ENERGY NOW" Not Being Used as a Trademark

The Board affirmed a refusal to register the applied-for mark HOURS OF ENERGY NOW for dietary supplements and "energy shots," because the phrase as it appears on applicant's specimens of use, fails to function as a trademark. In re Innovation Ventures, LLC, Serial No. 85637294 (March 25, 2014) [not precedential].


Of course, a phrase or slogan is not per se unregistrable, but it must serve as a source indicator to qualify as a trademark or service mark. The critical question is how the public perceives the purported mark.

Examining Attorney Won Teak Oh contended that consumers will not see the phrase as a trademark because it appears only in conjunction with other phrases touting the characteristics of the product.

The Board scrutinized applicant's specimens of use, observing that in two of them the phrase "Hours of energy now" appears as one of a series of "bullet points" providing informational text, in less prominent position than the mark 5-HOUR ENERGY. Third-party advertising evidence confirmed that consumers understand the phrase as providing information that the product is fast acting and long lasting. Contrary to applicant's argument, the PTO need not show that the phrase is in common, everyday use.

Applicant argued that, because the Examining Attorney had withdrawn a Section 2(e)(1) mere descriptiveness refusal, the phrase must be a merely suggestive mark. But that was a nonsequitur because the phrase was not functioning as a mark at all.

In sum, the Board found that the proposed mark, as used by applicant, "merely informs prospective purchasers that applicant’s products will provide an immediate boost of energy upon consumption and that the increased levels of energy will last for several hours." It is therefore "incapable of functioning as a trademark." [Incapable? Maybe not, if used in a proper manner - ed.].

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog comment: The phrase on the specimen above has an asterisk at the end. What if that were a "TM"?

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

TTAB Tosses Out Fraud Claim - Insufficient Proof of Intent to Deceive the USPTO

In this cancellation proceeding, petitioner claimed that respondent had committed fraud on the USPTO when if filed its Sections 8, 9, and 15 declarations in connection with its registration for the mark shown below (translated loosely as "lucky old wang"). The declarations were signed by one Kevin Zhang as "Owner," despite the fact that he did not own the registration. Petitioner, however, did not take the testimony of Mr. Zhang or anyone else, and it failed to prove that Zhang intended to deceive the USPTO. Consequently, the Board denied the petition for cancellation. Multi Access Limited v. Wang Lao Ji Food & Beverage subsidiary, Yangcheng Pharmaceutical Stock Corp. Ltd of Guangzhou, Cancellation No. 92054959 (April 4, 2014) [not precedential].

The Board observed, once again, that fraud must be proven "to the hilt." Proof of subjective intent to deceive, although difficult to obtain, is an indispensable element of the claim. Such intent may be inferred from indirect or circumstantial evidence, but the evidence must be clear and convincing.

Mr. Zhang, an attorney who worked in California for a Chinese law firm, was Respondent's domestic representative but was not authorized to practice before the USPTO. Petitioner's theory was that Zhang knew he was not the owner of the registration and knew that he was not authorized to sign the declaration on behalf of respondent. Therefore, Respondent urged, Zheng intended to deceive the USPTO into accepting the maintenance declarations. Petitioner did not question that the mark was in use; its only claim was fraud based on Mr. Zhang's calling himself "Owner."

The Board found that the record evidence "falls short of establishing that respondent is guilty of fraud."

In response to interrogatories, Respondent stated that it did not know why Zheng had called himself "Owner." Zhang had first-hand knowledge of use of the mark in the USA. Respondent had instructed Zhang's law firm to filed the combined Section 8 & 9 document, and had fixed its seal (equivalent to a signature in China).  Respondent believed that by placing the seal on the document it was giving proper authority to the signatory. As to the Section 15 declaration, Respondent responded similarly. Petitioner provided no evidence to dispute these assertions.

The Board pointed out that a person who is authorized to verify facts on behalf of a registration owner may sign such declarations. That person may also serve as domestic representative. The fact that Mr. Zhang was not authorized to practice before the USPTO does not disqualify him from signing a verification on behalf of the registrant.

The Board agreed with Respondent that Petitioner's fraud claim was "based on inferences that are too speculative." Although his statement that he was the "Owner" of the registration was false, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Zhang intended to deceive the USPTO. The Board noted that the "owner" section of each declaration listed Respondent as the owner of the registration.

The Board therefore denied the petition for cancellation.

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog note:  I don't understand how Petitioner possibly thought it could prove fraud given the evidence and the current state of fraud jurisprudence. So this is a WYHP?

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Precedential No. 17: Is PERKS Generic For Volume Discount Buying Services? Merely Descriptive?

In a somewhat complicated, yet enervating brouhaha, Coach/Braunsdorf petitioned for cancellation of a registration for the mark PERKSPOT for discount buying program services, claiming likelihood of confusion with its registered marks PERKS, Perks, and PERKSCARD for volume discount buying services. Respondent counterclaimed for cancellation of the first and third of Petitioner's pleaded registrations on the grounds of genericness, and cancellation of the second on the ground of mere descriptiveness. In a 57-page opinion that seemed much longer, the Board denied the genericness counterclaim, upheld the mere descriptiveness counterclaim, and dismissed Petitioner's likelihood of confusion claim. Coach/Braunsdorf Affinity, Inc. v. 12 Interactive, LLC, Cancellation No. 92051006 (March 24, 2014) [precedential].


Genericness counterclaim: The Board found the genus of Petitioner's services to be volume discount buying services. The relevant public comprised companies that purchase volume discount buying services for customers and employees, as well as individuals who join organizations offering volume discount buying services.

In determining how the relevant purchasers perceive the marks PERKS and PERKSCARD, the Board considered dictionary definitions, Petitioner's own use of the marks, and third-party use of the word "perks," including third-party registrations.

The dictionary evidence showed that a "perk" is an employee benefit that is additional to salary. Third-party use showed that the term "perks" has been extended to describe benefits provided to a person in order to induce him or her to enter into a commercial relationship, or provided as a reward to build loyalty.

A volume discount buying service is not, by its nature, a "perk." Neither PERKS nor PERKSCARD is the generic name of such a service. Although a volume discount buying service may be a "perk," not all volume discount buying services are "perks." For example, such a service may offered to a customer other than as compensation for employment or as an inducement to enter into some other commercial relationship.

And so the Board dismissed the genericness counterclaim. [Note that at page 3 of the decision, the Board said that all three pleaded registrations were the subject of this counterclaim - ed.].

Mere Descriptiveness Counterclaim: Petitioner's registration for the mark Perks had already been cancelled for failure to file the Section 8 declaration of use, but because the parties had briefed the mere descriptiveness issue, the Board decided it.

The Board noted that Petitioner's registration for the mark PERKS was more than five years old when the petition for cancellation was filed, and so that registration cannot be cancelled on the ground of mere descriptiveness (See Section 14 of the Trademark Act). The marks found the marks Perks and PERKS to be legal equivalents, and the services in each registration substantially equivalent.

Petitioner asserted that the counterclaim to cancel the Perks registration was an improper collateral attack on its "incontestable" PERKS registration. The Board agreed that it appeared illogical to cancel the Perks registration while the PERKS registration cannot be attacked for mere descriptiveness. However, the Board pointed out, the "prior registration" or Morehouse defense is an equitable defense that is not available against a claim of mere descriptiveness. The public interest demands that registrations for marks that are merely descriptive be cancelled. Petitioner's prior registration would remain viable, but the newer registration, with a newer filing date and less than five years of existence, was not immune to a mere descriptiveness attack.

The Board then found that the term "perks" directly conveys information concerning a characteristic of Petitioner's services because the services are administered as "perks" programs. Consequently, judgment was entered in favor of Respondent on this counterclaim.

Likelihood of Confusion:  The Board next considered the likelihood of confusion issue vis-a-vis Petitioners' two remaining pleaded registrations, for PERKS and PERKSCARD. It found the involved services to be legally identical, and it therefore presumed that the channels of trade and classes of purchasers are the same.

As to the strength of the pleaded marks, the Board found that in terms of conceptual strength, PERKS is descriptive. The fact that the PERKS registration is "incontestable" means only that it cannot be challenged as invalid on the ground of mere descriptiveness. However, for purposes of a likelihood of confusion analysis, the mark can be considered descriptive.

The mark PERKSCARD is likewise descriptive because it describes a card used to obtain perks or benefits.

Given the weakness of the term "perks" in Petitioner's marks, the Board concluded that Respondent's mark PERKSPOT is sufficiently different from the marks PERKS and PERKSCARD to avoid a likelihood of confusion. And so the Board denied the petition for cancellation of the PERKSCARD registration.

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog note:  Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Precedential No. 16: TTAB Orders Cancellation of Registration - Applicant not Owner of Underlying Foreign Registration

Petitioner SARL Corexco moved for summary judgment in this proceeding seeking cancellation of a registration for the mark BEARWW for "Internet based social networking and introduction services ...." Corexco claimed likelihood of confusion with its registered mark BEARWWW for "online social networking services," and further claimed that the application for the challenged registration was void ab initio because the original applicant (Respondent Webid's predecessor-in-interest) did not own a foreign registration which could have served as a Section 44(e) basis for issuance of the registration. The Board summarily granted the petition on the second ground. SARL Corexco v. Webid Consulting Ltd., Cancellation No. 92056456 (March 27, 2014) [precedential].


Webid's Effective Admissions: Corexco's summary judgment motion hinged in part on Applicant Webid's effective admissions resulting from its failure to timely respond to Corexco's admission requests. Webid filed a cross-motion for leave to substitute its actual (belated) responses to petitioner’s requests. Webid pointed out that the parties were discussing settlement at the time Webid served its responses four days late. The Board exercised its discretion under FRCP 36(b) to allow Webid to substitute its responses to the requests for admission for the effective admissions.

Clearly, the parties’ settlement discussions contributed to the respondent’s delay in timely serving its answers. As noted above, there is a two-prong test for allowing withdrawal or amendment of admissions: The presentation of the merits of the action will be subserved thereby, and the party who obtained the admission fails to satisfy the court that withdrawal or amendment will prejudice that party in maintaining the action on the merits.

The Board concluded that the merits of the action will be subserved by allowing the amendment, since the effective admissions largely formed the basis for petitioner’s motion for summary
judgment. And Corexco will suffer no recognizable prejudice, since the case was still in the pre-trial stage and any potential prejudice could be mitigated by extending the discovery period.

Likelihood of Confusion: Corexco's motion for summary judgment on the ground of likelihood of confusion was based solely on Webid's admissions by default. Because Webid's responses were deemed amended, the Board denied the motion as to the Section 2(d) claim.

Lack of Proper Section 44(d) Basis: The original applicant (Respondent’s predecessor-in-interest, Ms. Leclercq), filed an application to register the BEARWW mark under Section 1(a) of the Trademark Act. On August 11, 2011, she  amended the filing basis to Section 44(e), relying on a Canadian registration for the mark.

In Webid's amended admission responses, however, it admitted that Ms.Leclercq never owned the Canadian registration, that on August 11, 2011, Webid was the owner of the Canadian registration, and that on that date Webid was not the owner of the U.S. trademark application.The Board pointed out that:

If an application is filed based on Section 1(a) or Section 1(b), and the applicant later amends the application to add or substitute Section 44 as a basis, the applicant must be the owner of the foreign application or registration as of the filing date of the amendment adding or substituting a Section 44 claim of priority or basis for registration. 

Webid admitted that Ms. Leclercq was not the owner of the Canadian registration at the time the amendment was made to the Section 44(e)basis. Therefore the application was deemed void ab initio, and the Board granted Corexco's motion for summary judgment on that ground.

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog note:  I found the Board's reasoning and citations on the last issue to be very difficult to follow. Is this a case of first impression? I think it is, but it's hard to tell from the confusing citations. The Board cites to Rule 35(b)(1) as if it covered the situation, but that rule doesn't say much of anything.

What is the significance, if any, of the fact that Ms. LeClercq did not own the Canadian registration at the time the challenged registration issued? If she had owned it then, would that have solved the problem or would the application still have been void ab initio?

I found particularly unhelpful the use of the "cf." citation signal on pages 8 and 9 without adequate explanation of what point was being made.

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Precedential No. 15: TTAB Dismisses Opposition Under Rule 2.132(a) For Failure To Prosecute

In a less than scintillating but precedential ruling, the Board granted applicant Romance's Rule 2.132(a) motion to dismiss this opposition because Opposer Sterling Jewelers failed to prosecute the case. Sterling relied on its prior registration for the mark HEARTS DESIRE for fine jewelry, in claiming that the applied-for mark WHAT YOUR HEART DESIRES for jewelry was likely to cause confusion under Section 2(d). But Sterling took no testimony and offered no evidence other than a photocopy of its registration attached to the notice of opposition. Sterling Jewelers Inc. v. Romance & Co., Inc., Opposition No. 91207312 (March 27, 2014) [precedential].


Applicant Romance contended that Sterling's registration was not submitted in compliance with Rule 2.122 because it did not show the current status and title of the registration. Sterling maintained that Romance admitted in its Answer that Sterling is the "listed owner of record" for its pleaded registration, and consequently that Opposer Sterling may rest upon the prima facie case established by the registration. Alternatively, Sterling requested that the Board grant it leave to file "further evidence of the current status and title of its pleaded registration and provide any further evidence, as appropriate." [Fat chance of that! - ed.].

Romance argued that it did not admit that Sterling is the owner of the pleaded registration or that the registration is valid and subsisting, but only that Sterling is the "listed owner of record."

The Board promptly denied Sterling's request to submit further evidence, since it had "failed to argue or demonstrate that its failure to submit any evidence or take any testimony during its assigned testimony period was the result of excusable neglect." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b),

As to the motion to dismiss, Trademark Rule 2.132(a) provides that "[i]f the time for taking testimony by any party in the position of plaintiff has expired and that party has not taken testimony or offered any other evidence, any party in the position of defendant may … move for dismissal on the ground of the failure of the plaintiff to prosecute."

The first question, then, was whether Sterling had proffered any evidence: i.e., whether its registration was properly placed into evidence. Rule 2.122(d) provides for the submission of a registration via several alternative routes, but attaching a mere photocopy of the registration to the notice of opposition is not one of them.

But what about the admission in Romance's Answer that Sterling is the "listed owner" of the registration? The Board refused to construe that admission as establishing Sterling’s current ownership of the registration. "[I]nstead, we view the admission, albeit somewhat ambiguous, as merely establishing that opposer is identified as the owner of the registration in the photocopy of the registration attached as an exhibit to the notice of opposition."

Because Sterling did not properly submit any evidence in support of its Section 2(d) claim, and did not establish that its registration is currently owned by it and is valid and subsisting, Sterling "failed to demonstrate its standing or that it is entitled to any relief under its asserted claim of likelihood of confusion."

And so the Board granted the motion to dismiss.

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog note:  Somebody should have been reading the TTABlog!! The standing hurdle is so low that you have to work at tripping over it.

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

USPTO Roundtable, April 11: Amendments to Identifications of Goods and Services Due to Technology Evolution

From the USPTO website: "As part of the Trademark Operation’s continuing series of roundtable discussions to gather stakeholder views on important issues, a roundtable discussion about USPTO’s practice regarding amendments to identifications of goods and services due to technology evolution will be held on Friday, April 11, from 2 - 3 pm. The session will be open to the public and webcast. The event will take place in the Madison Auditorium at the USPTO offices, located at 600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314." Details here.

Friday, April 04, 2014

CITIAIR for Travel Agency Confusable With Famous "CITI" Family of Marks, Says TTAB

Making a rare finding that a party had established a family of marks, the Board sustained an opposition to registration of the mark CITIAIR & Design (shown below) for "travel booking agencies," finding it likely to cause confusion with Citigroup's family of "CITI" marks for banking, credit card, and related services. Citigroup Inc. v. Citiair, LLC, Opposition No. 91201920 (March 31, 2014) [not precedential]


Opposer relied on 23 CITI-formative marks,including CITITRAVEL, CITIRAIL, CITI, CITIBANK, CITIGROUP. It also claimed common law rights in the marks CITI SPECIALS, CITI CARDS, CITIBANK ONLINE, and CITI MILES (in design form). It alleged use of CITI marks in connection with certain third-party credit cards, and asserted ownership of thirteen vanity telephone numbers that included CITI.

Family of Marks: A family of marks is a group of marks having a common characteristic, that have been used in such a way that the public associates the common term (or "master") with the mark owner. Using a series of similar marks does not necessarily create a family. There must be recognition by the purchasing public that the common term indicates a common origin for the goods or services.

Citigroup contended that it has a family of CITI marks "in the sense that the 'master' mark CITI or another key family mark (e.g., CITIBANK) is used along with one or more CITI Marks in association with each other." The Board agreed. For example, a 2008 internet advertisement showed the word marks CITI, CITIBANK, CITIMANAGER, CITIDIRECT, and the CITI logo mark. A 1999 brochure displayed CITIGOLD, CITICORP, CITIBANK, CITICARD, and THE CITI NEVER SLEEPS. The Board found that opposer had used and advertised numerous CITI-formative marks in a manner to create common exposure and recognition. [So all you have to do is display all the marks on one page? That creates a family? - ed.].

Fame: Citigroup's revenues figures were staggering: for example, $13 billion for 2011. Its advertising expenditures were "extremely impressive." Brand-tracking studies showed high brand awareness. Media references indicated extensive public recognition and renown of the CITI and CITBANK brands. The Board concluded that the family of CITI marks [the entire family? - ed.] is famous for Section 2(d) purposes.

The marks: Applicant's mark "conforms to the format of opposer's demonstrated family of marks." The word "air" is at least highly descriptive of applicant's services and the design portion is "very highly suggestive" of same, and so the "Citi" portion is dominant in the applied-for mark. The Board concluded that this duPont factor favored a finding of likely confusion.

The services: Opposer's CITITRAVEL registration covers travel planning services and, and opposer offers discounts on airfare, hotels, and dining to its customers. Its credit card services have "numerous points of contact with travel services," including co-branding with airlines and hotels. The Board noted that opposer is not a travel agent, but these cross-marketing efforts have exposed consumers to many of the CITI marks in the context of travel services. Therefore, the Board found a "significant commercial relationship between opposer's business and applicant's identified services."

Other factors: The Board found that the ordinary channels of trade for "travel booking" services overlap substantially with opposer's advertising channels. As to customers, applicant argued that its target audience consists of "cost-conscious Indian consumers" who want "cheap airfare" between India and this country. That was irrelevant, however, since there were no such restrictions in the opposed application. Finally the Board found the potential for confusion to be substantial in view of the large scope of opposer's business.

Balancing the relevant duPont factors, the Board found confusion likely, and it sustained the opposition. It declined to reach Citigroup's dilution claim.

Read comments and post your comment here.

TTABlog note: Hardly a fair fight. Once Citigroup got the "fame" label, it was all over.

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.