Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Federal Circuit ruling on website-based trademark specimens

In a mundane but useful decision, the Federal Circuit recently overturned the PTO’s “bright-line rule that a trademark specimen of use taken from a website must contain a picture.”

In In re Sones, No. 2009-1140 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 23, 2009), the specimen consisted of two webpage print-outs. One was a page from a website advertising a “charity bracelet” under the asserted mark "ONE NATION UNDER GOD™." There was no picture of the bracelet on the webpage, only a placeholder icon stating “Photo not available.” This webpage appeared to allow the user to click on an “Add to Cart” icon, indicating that the item could be ordered right off the website. The applicant also provided a sample webpage order form with the bracelet in the "cart."

The test that the Federal Circuit articulated in lieu of the website-picture requirement is that the website specimen “must in some way evince that the mark is ‘associated’ with the goods and serves as an indicator of source.” The court noted that while a picture is “an important consideration,” all relevant factors should be assessed, including whether the webpage specimen has a “point of sale nature,” whether the actual or inherent features of the product are recognizable from the textual description, and the use of the “™” symbol.

While the Court rejected the PTO’s “website-picture” requirement, the Court did not approve the specimen at issue, but instead remanded for a determination whether the specimen met the newly-articulated test.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

2d Circuit Federal Trademark Dilution Act decision in Starbucks v. Charbucks dispute

The Second Circuit today revived Starbucks' Federal Trademark Dilution Act (FTDA) claim against the mark CHARBUCKS, but affirmed a judgment, entered after a bench trial, dismissing Starbucks' federal infringement and New York state dilution claims.

In Starbucks Corp. v. Wolfe's Borough Coffee, Inc., No. 08-3331-cv (Dec. 3, 2009), the Second Circuit found that the district court erred in ruling against Starbucks on the FTDA claim when it held that the "similarity" factor in the FTDA claim requires that the accused mark be "substantially similar." Rather, the latest version of the FTDA (which was amended in 2005 to address the Supreme Court's interpretation of the FTDA in Moseley v. V Secret Catalogue, Inc., 537 U.S. 418 (2003)), contains no such requirement, providing only that the courts assess only "the degree of similarity."

The Second Circuit's opinion contained a few more interesting statements, including:
  • "intent to capitalize on [the senior user's] reputation" is irrelevant to a federal infringement claim; only "intent to deceive" or "mislead" the public is relevant;
  • intent to create an association is the relevant type of intent for FTDA claims;
  • even if a product name sounds pejorative, that isn't necessarily a "tarnishing" use if the mark isn't marketed as a pejorative and the product is of high quality;
  • Unlike the current FTDA, New York dilution law does require "substantial similarity"; and
  • "Charbucks" was not a protected parody but an (unprotected) "subtle satire."