Monday, April 17, 2006

Coupla Trademark Decisions (1st and 5th Circuits)

The First and Fifth Circuit recently handed down trademark decisions.

In Borinquen Biscuit Corp. v. M.V. Trading Corp., No. 05-2591 (1st Cir. Apr. 4, 2006), the First Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction against an accused infringer. In so doing, the court spent considerable time discussing the parties' respective burdens on the issue of the distinctiveness as to an unregistered, registered but not yet incontestable mark, and a registered and incontestable mark. In an interesting side issue, the defendant tried to show that the plaintiff's mark was weak because the PTO had issued several registrations including the mark. The First Circuit turned this against the defendant on the issue of whether the mark was inherently distinctive, observing that the PTO wouldn't have issued so many registrations for the mark without requiring 2(f) showings of secondary meaning if the mark wasn't inherently distinctive. I wouldn't have seen that boomerang effect coming, but now we're all forewarned (at least in the First Circuit).

In Icee Distributors Inc. v. J & J Snack Foods Corp., No. 04-30060 (5th Cir. Apr. 11, 2006), the Fifth Circuit rejected trademark infringement claims by one licensee against another licensee. Essentially, the court decided that the plaintiff licensee had no claim under the Lanham Act because the licensor (also a defendant) had validly licensed the defendant licensee. Since the licensor couldn't have sued the defendant licensee for infringement, neither could the other licensee, whose rights were only as great as the licensor's. There were also some other side issues in play, but that's the core trademark holding.

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