Trademark

Supreme Court Will Decide if “generic.com” Trademarks Are Entitled to Trademark Protection

Have you ever used the website booking.com to make a hotel reservation? If you are familiar with this site and I asked whether you thought BOOKING.COM is a brand name or a generic term, what would you say? Odds are you’d say it is a brand name – 75% of people surveyed thought so.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (the USPTO) doesn’t challenge those survey results. However, it doesn’t think BOOKING.COM is entitled to trademark registration. It concluded that BOOKING is generic for an online hotel reservation service, and adding a top-level domain name (“.com” in this case) doesn’t change that, irrespective of survey results showing that consumers view it as a brand.

The owner of the trademark, Booking.com B.V. (“Booking”), appealed, and after grinding its way through the USPTO and the courts for eight years this dispute has arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue presented to the Court is this: you can’t register (or enforce) a generic trademark.Read the full article

Supreme Court To Decide Whether Trademark License Can Be Rejected In Bankruptcy

The U.S. Supreme Court decides very few intellectual property cases. And, it accepts review of few cases from the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston (my circuit). So, when the Supreme Court accepts an IP case appealing a decision from the First Circuit, as it has now, I pay attention.

The case under appeal involves a narrow but important legal issue that is of interest to both the intellectual property licensing and bankruptcy communities. Here is a brief summary of what’s at issue.

The decision on appeal is Mission Product Holdings Inc. v. Tempnology LLC (1st Cir. January 12, 2018), and the issue is a mashup of trademark and bankruptcy law.

When a company files for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, the trustee or the debtor-in-possession (the “debtor”) may secure court approval to “reject” any executory contracts to which the debtor is a party. An example would be a distribution agreement for a specific term (say five years) that has not run its course.… Read the full article

Federal Circuit: Disparagement Provision of Trademark Statute is Unconstitutional

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) has issued a typically fractured en banc decision (12 judges, 5 opinions) holding that the 70 year old disparagement provision of § 2(a) of the Lanham Act (the federal trademark statute) is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

This law states, in relevant part:

No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it—

(a) Consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute …. (emphasis added)

The background of this decision is straightforward.  Simon Shiao Tam named his band, “The Slants”, and attempted to register it as a trademark.  Tam asserted that he had chosen this name to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in the United States, and by chosing this name his band sought to “reclaim” or “take ownership” of Asian stereotypes.… Read the full article

Initial Interest Confusion – It’s Back

by Lee Gesmer on July 31, 2015

Initial Interest Confusion - It's Back

[Note: The decision discussed below turned out to be short-lived.  On October 21, 2015, less than three months after its publication dated, the decision was withdrawn and a new opinion was issued, upholding the district court’s ruling that Amazon’s search results did not violate the Lanham Act. ]

In an unusual decision the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the Amazon search results page for an “MTM Special Ops” watch — a product Amazon does not sell — has the potential to violate the Lanham Act. The Ninth Circuit reversed a decision holding to the contrary by the Federal District Court for the Central District of California, and remanded the case for trial.

MTM’s dealer agreements prohibit them from selling to Amazon, and MTM does not sell to Amazon directly. However, at issue were Amazon search engine results obtained when consumers searched for MTM’s Special Ops watch on Amazon.… Read the full article