Saturday, August 19, 2006

3d Circuit decision on whether a TTAB decision collaterally estops a later infringement case

The Third Circuit recently decided that a district court infringement case was properly dismissed on grounds of collateral estoppel based on a prior TTAB cancellation proceeding between the parties on the same mark. The case was more notable -- at least from a trademark standpoint -- for what it DIDN'T discuss, rather than what it did discuss.

The 3d Circuit's decision in Jean Alexander Cosmetics v. L'Oreal USA, Inc., No. 05-4321 (3d Cir. Aug. 14, 2006), focused primarily on the element of collateral estoppel that requires that the issue on which collateral estoppel is sought have been "necessary to the decision" in the earlier litigation. Because the TTAB decision was based on alternative holdings, either one of which would have supported the ultimate decision, the Third Circuit engaged in an extended discussion of this issue, trying to figure out whether it preferred the position of the First Restatement of Judgments (alternative holdings can result in preclusion) or the Second Restatement (neither of alternative holdings can result in preclusion). It chose the First Restatement's position.

Oddly, the Third Circuit didn't even raise the issue of whether the TTAB decision on likelihood of confusion was identical to the issue of likelihood of confusion to be litigated in the district court infringement action. You might recall that the Second Circuit held nine years ago that there sometimes are substantial differences in the factors and facts that the TTAB considers in its cases (the TTAB does not always assess what is actually going on in the marketplace and frequently limits its analysis to what is stated on a registration or application) and what district courts consider in infringement cases (district courts, at least in the 2d Circuit, are supposed to look at what is going on in the "entire marketplace context"). See, e.g., Levy v. Kosher Overseers Ass'n of Amer., Inc., 104 F.3d 38 (2d Cir. 1997) (sorry, no link). The Levy court refused to apply collateral estoppel where the TTAB's decision didn't assess those marketplace factors.

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