Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Two (relatively) recent TM decisions

I'm a little behind because of vacation, etc., but here are two interesting appeals court decisions from the last few weeks.

11th Circuit "Fair Use" Decision -- In International Stamp Art, Inc. v. United States Postal Service, No. 05-13492 (11th Cir. July 18, 2006), the plaintiff owned a registration for a perforated border (like on a stamp) in connection with a line of "stamp art" cards and postcards. The USPS had previously licensed certain of its stamp designs to the plaintiff for use on these cards, but then went into business for itself selling them (with the obligatory "perforated border"). The plaintiff sued and the USPS raised the "fair use" defense, arguing that it didn't use the perforated border as a mark, but that the border simply descriptively depicted a portion of the stamp that was reproduced on the card.

The only issue on appeal was whether the USPS acted in "good faith." The 11th Circuit held that good faith means only that the defendant did NOT "intend to trade on the goodwill of the trademark owner by creating confusion as to the source of the goods or services." The 11th Circuit found that the USPS satisfied this standard, in part because there was no evidence of bad faith and in part because the USPS "provided affirmative evidence of good faith in showing that it prominently places its own familiar Eagle trademark on the backs of its stamp art products thereby identifying them as Postal Service products rather than the products of anyone else in the marketplace."

An explicit holding that use of a house mark supports a showing of good faith is a useful precedent to remember.

9th Circuit Decision Warning About Promiscuous Use of Ex Parte TROs -- In Reno Air Racing Association v. McCord, No. 04-16001 (9th Cir. July 7, 2008), the 9th Circuit went on a rant about how important it is for district court to remember that Rule 65(b) has stringent requirement that must be met before a court can issue a TRO without notice. Essentially, the 9th Circuit said that ex parte TROs are appropriate only where (a) it is impossible for the plaintiff to find the defendant; or (b) the defendant can be found, but the plaintiff can make a SPECIFIC showing that the defendant would disregard a direct court order AND would hide or dispose of the goods before the hearing could take place. The specific showing must either be of the defendant's past activities or of activities of similarly situated persons.

The court also talked a bit about what language to use to properly describe the enjoined trademark in an injunctive order.

Having been bushwhacked (twice) by too-casually-issued ex parte TROs, I'm going to tuck this one away for future use.

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