A Generic.com Term is Not Per Se Generic

Author: Julia Whitelock

A generic term combined with a non-source-identifying term is just a generic term, right?  In United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V., Case No. 19-46, 2020 U.S. LEXIS 3517, 591 U.S. ___ (June 30, 2020), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a sweeping rule that the combination of a generic word with “.com” is automatically generic and, therefore, unregistrable per se.

Procedural History

Booking.com, a digital travel company that provides travel-related services under the brand “Booking.com,” filed applications to register the mark “Booking.com.”  A USPTO examining attorney and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) concluded that the term “Booking.com” was generic for the services offered and denied registration.  According to the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (“TMEP”) (Oct. 2018), “[portions of the uniform resource locator (‘URL’), including the beginning, (‘http://www.’) and the top-level Internet domain name (“TLD”) (e.g., “.com,” “.org,” “.edu,”) indicate an address on the World Wide Web, and therefore generally serve no source-indicating function.”  TMEP § 1209.03(m).  Because “.com” “generally indicate[s] the type of entity using a given domain name, and therefore serves no source-indicating function, their addition to an otherwise unregistrable mark typically cannot render it registrable.”  Id.  TTAB found that “booking” was a generic term for “making travel reservations” and “.com” only served to identify a commercial website.  It therefore concluded that “Booking.com” is unregistrable because it is generic or, in the alternative, descriptive and lacking secondary meaning.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit disagreed with the PTO.  Generic terms are the “common name of a product or service itself.”  Sara Lee Corp. v. Kayser-Roth Corp., 81 F.3d 455, 464 (4th Cir. 1996).  The District Court, relying on Booking.com’s new evidence of consumer perception, concluded that the compound term “Booking.com,” as opposed to “Booking,” is not generic.  Instead, consumer perception evidence indicated that “Booking.com” is descriptive and had acquired secondary meaning as to hotel-reservation services.  The USPTO appealed only the District Court’s ruling on genericness.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s determination that “Booking.com” is not generic, finding no error in its assessment of consumer perception and rejecting the USPTO’s contention that combining a generic term with “.com” is “necessarily generic.”  The Fourth Circuit applied the three-step test for genericness: “(1) identify the class of product or service to which use of the mark is relevant; (2) identify the relevant consuming public; and (3) determine whether the primary significance of the mark to the relevant public is as an indication of the nature of the class of the product or services to which the mark relates, which suggests that it is generic, or an indication of the source or brand, which suggests that it is not generic.”  Booking.com B.V. v. United States Patent and Trademark Office, 915 F.3d 171, 180 (4th Cir. 2019) (citing Glover v. Ampak, Inc., 74 F.3d 57, 59 (4th Cir. 1996)).

The Supreme Court’s Ruling Reaffirms the Primary Significance Test for Analyzing Genericness

The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit, concluding that “Booking.com” is not generic.  The Court held, “[w]hether any given ‘generic.com’ term is generic…depends on whether consumers in fact perceive that term as the name of a class or, instead, as a term capable of distinguishing among members of the class.”  2020 U.S. LEXIS 3517, *16.  The Supreme Court’s ruling rejected the USPTO’s assertion of a blanket rule that deemed all “generic.com” terms as generic.

The Booking.com Court’s holding does not materially change the test for genericness as announced in Kellogg Co. v. Nat’l Biscuit Co., 305 U.S. 111, 118, 83 L. Ed. 73, 59 S. Ct. 109 (1938).  In Kellogg, the Supreme Court stated that the owner of the mark “must show that the primary significance of the term in the minds of the consuming public is not the product but the producer.”  Id.  In Booking.com, the Supreme Court held that the owner of the mark must show that “consumers in fact perceive that term…as a term capable of distinguishing among members of the class.”  Accordingly, the Booking.com opinion reinforces the primary significance test in determining whether a mark is generic or descriptive in the context of a generic.com term.  To do so, the Court necessarily had to reject the USPTO’s position that a generic term combined with a generic corporate designation (in this case “.com”) is basically per se an unregistrable generic term.    

In Goodyear’s India Rubber Glove Mfg. Co. v. Goodyear Rubber Co., the Court held that “Goodyear Rubber Company” was not “capable of exclusive appropriation.”  128 U.S. 598, 602, 32 L. Ed. 535, 9 S. Ct. 166 (1889).  “Goodyear Rubber” was a class of goods and the combination of a generic term with “Company” “only indicates that parties have formed an association or partnership to deal in such goods.”  Id.  In Booking.com, however, unlike a generic term combined with “company,” a generic term combined with “.com” refers to a specific entity due to the exclusivity of domain name ownership.  2020 U.S. LEXIS 3517, *14.  Therefore, “consumers could understand a given ‘generic.com’ term to describe the corresponding website or to identify the website’s proprietor.”  Id. *15.  The Booking.com Court clarified Goodyear’s principles, in conjunction with the subsequent enactment of the Lanham Act, as “A compound of generic elements is generic if the combination yields no additional meaning to consumers capable of distinguishing the goods or services.”  Id. *15-16.  However, “[a] ‘generic.com’ term might also convey to consumers a source-identifying characteristic: an association with a particular website.”  Booking.com, 2020 U.S. LEXIS 3517, *14.  The point is that a court must look at consumer perception to determine whether the combined “generic.com” term identifies a class of goods or a particular producer. 

Impact

The decision may increase the cost of trademark prosecution.  The ruling seemingly opens the gates for an onslaught of generic.com applications.  However, applicants will need to show consumer perception that the generic.com term identifies a brand, not a class of goods.  The Booking.com Court provided a non-exhaustive list of support for consumer perception of a term’s meaning, to include: “consumer surveys, but also dictionaries, usage by consumers and competitors, and any other source of evidence bearing on how consumers perceive a term’s meaning.”  2020 U.S. LEXIS 3517, *16 n.6.  Compiling such evidence may be costly to trademark applicants seeking to register facially generic terms.

The decision may create a path for federal registration for other combination generic terms and non-source-identifying terms.  The Booking.com Court’s holding specifically identifies the factual circumstances for which to apply its rule – when analyzing whether a “generic.com” term is generic.  However, the analysis could likely be extended to other generic terms that lack a source-identifying term (such as other TLDs like “.org” or “.net”, or # or HASHTAG).

While a generic.com mark may be registrable (assuming proof of the mark’s primary significance as source to consumers), Booking.com does not alter the tenets of trademark law – likelihood of confusion and fair use.  “[E]ven where some consumer confusion exists, the doctrine known as classic fair use, [4 McCarthy] § 11:45, protects from liability anyone who uses a descriptive term, ‘fairly and in good faith’ and ‘otherwise than as a mark,’ merely to describe her own goods.”  2020 U.S. LEXIS 3517, *18 (citing 15 U.S.C. §1115(b)(4); KP Permanent Make-Up, Inc. v. Lasting Impression I, Inc., 543 U.S. 111, 122-23, 125 S. Ct. 542, 160 L. Ed. 2d 440 (2004)).   

However, the decision may ultimately increase the instance of trademark bullying.  Even though a generic.com mark is registrable, as the Court explains and Booking.com concedes, the mark is a weak descriptive mark with a more difficult path to showing likelihood of confusion.  First, Booking.com concedes that “Booking.com” is a weak mark and as a descriptive mark, it is “harder…to show a likelihood of confusion.”  2020 U.S. LEXIS 3517, *18 (quoting Tr. of Oral Arg. 42-43, 66).  Second, Booking.com accepts that close variations of “Booking.com” are unlikely to infringe.  Id.  And finally, the federal trademark registration of “Booking.com” “would not prevent competitors from using the word ‘booking’ to describe their own services.”  Id.  However, it is conceivable that a generic.com trademark owner could and would use its federal registration to scare users of the generic term into ceasing use for fear of a costly, protracted legal battle.

About the author: Julia Whitelock is a partner in Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani’s Intellectual Property and Commercial Litigation Practice Groups.  Her practice focuses on litigating matters involving trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, commercial disputes, and consumer claims, and advertising & e-commerce law.

Trademark Battle Heats Up Over Fizzy Way To Cool Down

Author: Tessa Carberry

In the past few years, cooling off with a hard seltzer on a hot summer day has become increasingly popular. While the two biggest players in the market, White Claw and Truly, enjoy the lion’s share of the market, many other companies are looking to capitalize in the hard seltzer market. And, as the Summer of 2020 begins to heat up, so does the trademark battle between two of these companies: Future Proof Brands, LLC (“Future Proof”) and Molson Coors.1

The Products and the Marks

On September 1, 2019, Future Proof launched “Brizzy,” a seltzer cocktail offering consumers a refreshing alcoholic beverage with only 100 calories, 2 carbs, 1 gram of sugar and 5% alcohol by volume. Brizzy flavors include Watermelon Mule, Strawberry Rose, and Mixed Berry Mojito. Future Proof applied to register the Brizzy mark with the USPTO in November 2018. Originating in Austin, Texas, the products can now be found in over 1,000 retail locations in four states with plans to expand into more states this year.

Molson Coors’s hard seltzer, “Vizzy,” is advertised as “the only hard seltzer with antioxidant Vitamin C.”2 It similarly offers 100 calories, 2 carbs, 1 gram of sugar and 5% alcohol by volume. In September 2019, Molson Coors filed an application to register the Vizzy trademark. Vizzy flavors include “hint of” pineapple mango, black cherry lime, blueberry pomegranate, and strawberry kiwi.

Future Proof Attempts to Protect Brizzy

In February 2020, after filing an action for trademark infringement, Future Proof filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction prohibiting Molson Coors from selling and marketing Vizzy on the grounds that Vizzy was confusingly similar to Brizzy.3 Future Proof sought to enjoin Molson Coors from: (1) advertising or selling alcoholic beverages with Vizzy or any other confusingly similar mark to Brizzy; and (2) using, registering, or applying to register the Vizzy mark or any variation thereof.

However, the court refused to grant the preliminary injunction finding Future Proof did not meet its burden on the first requirement of the Rule 65 standard—namely, that it was likely to succeed on the trademark infringement claim. The court held that Future Proof failed to show it would succeed on the merits of the claim because there was not a likelihood of confusion between the marks – one of the two elements of infringement. The court examined the eight factors for confusion, discussed below, before concluding that, taken as a whole, there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits.

The strength of the mark allegedly infringed

While Future Proof asserted that Brizzy was a strong mark, the court disagreed for two reasons. First, relying on precedent, the court reasoned that because the two marks share in the common root word “fizzy,” “which is certainly an adjective that a customer looking for a flavored, alcoholic seltzer product would desire…Plaintiff cannot realistically hope that by obtaining a mark based on and characterized dominantly by one word…it can prevent competitors from doing the same.” Second, the court points out there is a “plethora of competing products humorously close to [Future Proof’s] mark” such as Malibu’s Fizzy, Izzie Beverages, and Bizzy Cold Brew, among others. For these reasons, the court weighed this factor strongly in favor of denying the injunction.

The similarity between the two marks

Here, the court considered the similarity of the two marks by looking at their appearance, sound, and meaning. The court acknowledged that the letter “B” and “V” are easily confused4, but agreed with Molson Coors that the “logos, font, coloring, cans and packing could not be more different.” Since this factor is considered through the lens of how the customer perceives the marks, the court did not believe there was a high likelihood a customer would think the marks are similar, favoring denial of the injunction.

The similarity of the products or services, identity of the retail outlets and purchaser, and the advertising media used

The court considered these elements together and, with relatively minimal discussion, concluded they weigh in favor of granting the injunction.

The defendant’s intent

The court focused its inquiry on whether Molson Coors intended to derive benefits from Future Proof’s reputation. Future Proof presented no evidenced that Molson Coors intended to derive such a benefit and the court noted Molson came up with Vizzy months before Brizzy hit the market. This factor weighed in favor of denying the injunction.

The evidence of actual consumer confusion

Future Proof offered one instance of actual confusion wherein a wholesaler asked a Future Proof employee to talk about “Vizzy” when referring to the Future Proof product. However, the court drew the distinction that this was not consumer confusion, but wholesaler confusion and added this was a “fleeting mix-up of names.” Again, the court weighed this factor in favor of denying the injunction.

The degree of care exercised by potential purchasers

The court did not spend much time on this factor, stating “given the low cost of the products at issue, this factor provides little or no relevance to the court’s determination.”

Future Proof Refuses to let its Argument Fall Flat

On April 20, 2020, Future Proof filed a notice of interlocutory appeal of the court’s denial of the preliminary injunction motion. On June 10, 2020, Future Proof, refusing to let its argument fall flat, filed its 54-page brief opening brief on appeal, raising the overarching question of whether the “trial court erred in applying the factors…for evaluating a likelihood of confusion.”5 Future Proof asserted that Molson Coor’s use of Vizzy is “textbook trademark infringement” and focused its argument on four of the eight confusion factors: strength of the mark; similarity of marks; actual confusion between marks; and consumers’ degree of care and Molson Coor’s intent.

Strength of the Mark

Future Proof argues the trial court erred in finding Brizzy is a “weak” mark because it misapplied precedent by: (1) ignoring the presumption of distinctiveness enjoyed by a trademark holder and; (2) ignoring the tests adopted by the 5th Circuit to assess descriptiveness. Future Proof asserts that “a trademark is presumed to be inherently distinctive where, as here, the PTO registered the mark without requiring evidence of secondary meaning,”6 while also acknowledging this is a rebuttable presumption. Future Proof claims the only evidence Molson Coors has offered is an empty assertion that Brizzy comes from the word fizzy. Future Proof also challenges the court’s descriptiveness analysis, arguing that the court did not consider any of the four applicable tests under 5th Circuit precedent, under which Future Proof asserts its mark is not descriptive.

Mark Similarity

Similarly, Future Proof asserts the trial court erred in two distinct ways by: (1) focusing on certain visual differences in product packaging instead of the marks; and (2) ignoring the aural similarities between the marks. Future Proof relies on 5th Circuit authority stating the words should be the focus of the analysis, not the product packaging. Further, Future Proof states that the rhyming and audible difficulty in distinguishing between the “V” and “BR” consonants when spoken establishes similarity. Future Proof raises an interesting point in that sound in this case is particularly important as alcoholic beverages are likely to be ordered orally at a restaurant or bar.

Actual Confusion

Future Proof relies on authority suggesting that actual confusion is the best evidence of a likelihood of confusion and that “testimony of a single known incident of actual confusion by a consumer has been found to be sufficient evidence to support the district court’s finding of actual confusion.”7 Future Proof refuted the trial court’s distinction between a wholesaler and a consumer, citing 5th Circuit authority to support the proposition that a retailer or distributor’s confusion is consumer confusion.

Degree of Care and Intent

Future Proof argues that the trial court failed to give due weight to these two factors. Concerning the degree of care consumers use in selecting the products, Future Proof asserted that in the hard seltzer market, with a relatively low price point, consumers are making quick decisions among a “crowded array” of products in fast-paced environments, tilting this factor in its favor. Finally, Future Proof asserted that Molson Coors did have the intent to infringe based on a Molson Coors executive’s awareness of Brizzy before launching its media blitz for Vizzy.

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While we await a ruling from the 5th Circuit to determine whether there is a likelihood of confusion between Brizzy and Vizzy, let the arguments of each side percolate and bubble as you come to your own conclusion.

About the author: Tessa Carberry is a litigation associate in the Denver office of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani and a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. With a background in biology and mathematics, and as a former emergency medical technician, Ms. Carberry’s interests include the overlap between healthcare and IP law.
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1 Molson Coors refers collectively to both named defendants in the lawsuit: Molson Coors Beverage Company F/K/A Molson Coors Brewing Company and MillerCoors, LLC.
2 https://www.vizzyhardseltzer.com/#about-us
3 Future Proof Brands, LLC v. Molson Coors Beverage Company, et al., No. 1:20-cv-00144-JRN (W.D. Tex. Feb. 6, 2020).
4 Examining Krim-Ko Corp. (Krim-Ko Div., Nat. Sugar Ref. Co.) v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York, 390 F.2d 728, 731-32 (C.C.P.A. 1968)
5 Future Proof Brands, LLC v. Molson Coors Beverage Company, et al., 5th Cir. Court of Appeals Case No. 20-50323, Appellant’s Opening Brief.
6 Alliance for Good Gov’t v. Coalition for Better Gov’t, 901 F.3d 498, 507- 508, 510 (5th Cir. 2018).
7 Streamline Prod. Sys. v. Streamline Mfg., 851 F.3d 440, 457 (5th Cir. 2017)

SCOTUS: Willfulness Not Required for Trademark Infringement Plaintiff to Recover Defendant’s Profits

Author: Patrick Mulkern

On April 23, 2020, the Supreme Court resolved a long-standing circuit split regarding whether a trademark infringement plaintiff must show willfulness as a prerequisite to recovery of the defendant’s profits. In Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc., Case No. 18-1233 (Apr. 23, 2020),1 a near-unanimous Court2 lowered the bar for half the country, announcing: no, a trademark holder need not show willfulness before it can recover the accused infringer’s profits.

Summary of Underlying Dispute

Petitioner Romag Fasteners, Inc. (“Romag”) sells magnetic snap fasteners for use with leather goods, while Respondent Fossil, Inc. (“Fossil”) sells fashion accessories. The parties entered an agreement under which Fossil would use Romag’s fasteners in Fossil’s handbags. Eventually, Romag learned that Fossil’s manufacturer was using counterfeit fasteners instead of authentic Romag products.

At trial, the jury agreed with Romag, finding that Fossil had infringed and acted “in callous disregard” of Romag’s rights—but ultimately rejected the contention that Fossil had acted “willfully” as that term had been defined by the judge. Therefore, pursuant to then-applicable Second Circuit precedent under which a trademark plaintiff must first prove the infringement was willful, Romag could not recover Fossil’s profits. A well-defined split among the circuit courts on this issue led to the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari.

Court’s Decision

The Court’s decision can be broken down into three sections: a statutory interpretation portion, a historical analysis portion, and a policy argument portion.

The statutory interpretation segment began with the language of the Lanham Act, noting the only limitation on recovery under Section 1117(a) (including “defendant’s profits”) was “subject to the principles of equity.” The Court explained why this limitation was significant, as the Lanham Act does explicitly require willfulness as a precondition for profits under Section 1125(c) (governing dilution)—but Romag had proceeded under Section 1125(a) (relating to false or misleading use of trademarks). The Court identified a slew of instances in which the Lanham Act clearly required specific mental states,3 and concluded that “this court [does not] usually read into statutes words that aren’t there. It’s a temptation we are doubly careful to avoid when Congress has (as here) included the term in question elsewhere in the very same statutory provision.”

The Court then reviewed Fossil’s argument that “principles of equity” provided a historical basis for requiring willfulness—an argument that the Court characterized as a “curious suggestion.” Citing first to Black’s Law Dictionary, then treatises from the 1800s, as well as several of the Supreme Court’s own decisions, the Court held “principles of equity” is a “trans-substantive” concept and does not relate or call to mind any trademark-specific requirements. Even if the Court were to assume the Lanham Act sought to incorporate common law principles, it was “far from clear whether trademark law historically required a showing of willfulness before allowing a profits remedy.” On this point, the Court acknowledged competing authority—with Fossil’s cases seeming requiring willfulness, and the fact that “Romag cites other cases that expressly rejected any such rule”—and then reiterated “the ordinary, trans-substantive principle that a defendant’s mental state is relevant to assigning an appropriate remedy.”

Finally, the Court’s decision concluded by identifying the parties’ competing policy arguments, then punted, stating, “the place for reconciling competing and incommensurable policy goals like these is before policymakers” (i.e., Congress).

Concurring Opinions

Justices Alito, Breyer, and Kagan wrote one of two concurrences, in which they simply reiterated the point that “willfulness is a highly important consideration in awarding profits under § 1117(a), but not an absolute precondition.” Justice Sotomayor wrote the other concurrence, in which she rejected the majority’s suggestion that profits would (or should) ever be awarded for innocent infringement, but agreed in the ultimately judgment. In so finding, she wrote to explicitly disagree with any interpretation of the Lanham Act in which profits could be awarded “for innocent or good-faith trademark infringement[.]”

Impact

This decision lowers the bar for nearly half the country, as the First, Second, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits had previously used willfulness as a threshold requirement in trademark infringement claims seeking defendants’ profits. Now, it is likely that defendant’s profits analysis will track that which has been used in the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits, where willfulness was just one of several factors in a flexible analysis. See, e.g., Quick Techs., Inc. v. Sage Grp. PLC, 313 F.3d 338, 349 (5th Cir. 2002) (stating that “willful infringement” is “an important factor”).

Ultimately, the following passage from the Court’s opinion (together with the language found in both concurring opinions) will likely serve as support for those circuit courts that wish to make willfulness a key factor in their analysis going forward:

[I]t is a principle long reflected in equity practice where district courts have often considered a defendant’s mental state, among other factors, when exercising their discretion in choosing a fitting remedy. . . . Given these traditional principles, we do not doubt that a trademark defendant’s mental state is a highly important consideration in determining whether an award of profits is appropriate. But acknowledging that much is a far cry from insisting on the inflexible precondition to recovery Fossil advances.

About the author: Patrick J. Mulkern is an associate in Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. His practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and transactional matters, with a particular emphasis on patent, trademark, and trade secret litigation. Mr. Mulkern is a registered patent attorney and his biography can be found here.
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1 https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1233_5he6.pdf.
2 Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court, with which all but one justice joined. Justice Sotomayor concurred in the judgment only.
3 See, e.g., § 1117(b) (requiring treble damages and attorney’s fees when certain conduct is intentional); § 1117(c) (increasing cap on statutory damages for certain willful violations); § 1118 (permitting courts to destroy infringing items for any violation of section 1125(a) or any willful violation of section 1125(c)); § 1114 (providing certain innocent infringers subject only to injunction); § 1125(d)(1)(A)(i) (prohibiting certain conduct only if undertaken with “bad faith intent”).

Lions, Tigers, and Trademarks: IP Lessons from “Tiger King”

Author: Alison Pringle

Netflix’s recent docu-series “Tiger King” has quarantined Americans captivated—a reported 34 million viewers binged the series within the first ten days of its release alone. Amongst the series’ tiger-related exploits lies a bitter trademark lawsuit brought against the series’ mullet-sporting anti-hero Joseph Maldonado-Passage (known to viewers as “Joe Exotic”).

Maldonado-Passage created the Oklahoma-based “GW Exotic Animal Memorial Park” and filled it with tigers, lions, and other exotic animals. Throughout the 2000s, Maldonado-Passage became infamous in animal rights circles for breeding tiger cubs and exhibiting his animals at malls across the country.

The “Tiger King” series chronicles the long-standing feud between Maldonado-Passage and Carole Baskin. Baskin is the founder of “Big Cat Rescue,” a non-profit sanctuary for big cats. Maldonado-Passage was eventually put on trial after an unsuccessful plot to murder Baskin went awry. While Maldonado-Passage is currently serving a twenty-two year prison sentence for attempted murder-for-hire and violations of the Endangered Species Act, it was a trademark judgment that served as the catalyst for Exotic’s downfall.

Trademark Litigation

In 2005, the Big Cat Rescue Corp. registered a BIG CAT RESCUE logo for charitable fund raising services, animal rescue services, and entertainment services such as animal exhibition1:

After trying to shut down Maldonado-Passage for years, it was Baskin’s trademark rights that allowed her to finally pounce and take legal action against him. In 2011, Big Cat Rescue filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida against Maldonado-Passage and GW Exotic after the latter adopted the trade name “BIG CAT RESCUE ENTERTAINMENT.” Big Cat Rescue alleged Maldonado-Passage and GW Exotic sought to disparage Big Cat Rescue through the “BIG CAT RESCUE ENTERTAINMENT” mark by causing the public to believe Big Cat Rescue was engaged in the exploitation of exotic animals.

For a trademark infringement claim, a plaintiff must show that: (1) it has developed a protectable trademark right in a trademark; (2) the defendant uses a confusingly similar mark in such a way that creates a likelihood of confusion, mistake and/or deception with the public; and (3) the plaintiff incurred damages as a result of the defendant’s infringing actions.

Big Cat Rescue’s trademark registration evidenced its rights in the “BIG CAT RESCUE” mark. Big Cat Rescue also did not have a large hurdle to jump in demonstrating Maldonado-Passage’s “BIG CAT RESCUE ENTERTAINMENT” mark was confusingly similar to the “BIG CAT RESCUE” mark. Big Cat Rescue further presented three key facts demonstrating Maldonado-Passage willfully infringed its mark.

First, Maldonado-Passage created the below ad featuring the “BIG CAT RESCUE ENTERTAINMENT” mark over a photo of a snow-leopard’s eyes, which Big Cat Rescue alleged was “virtually identical” to a photograph Big Cat Rescue used as the banner for its website at the time. The ad for the Oklahoma-based zoo displayed a Florida telephone number and the words “Florida Office,” which Big Cat Rescue argued would confuse the public into believing “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment” was affiliated with the Florida-based Big Cat Rescue.

Second, Big Cat Rescue demonstrated Maldonado-Passage used the BIG CAT RESCUE ENTERTAINMENT mark to try to divert Google traffic to his sites rather than those of Big Cat Rescue. A Facebook post created by a user named “Joe Exotic” stated, “If you must know, I registered Big Cat Rescue Entertainment and leased the name out so you could ruin BCR on Google all by yourself, and it is working. LOL.” Another “Joe Exotic” post referred to Big Cat Rescue Entertainment as “My new company LOL.” Maldonado-Passage attributed both posts to hackers.

Finally, Big Cat Rescue alleged Maldonado-Passage had also sought to file the trade name “The Caroll Baskin Entertainment Group.”

In defense of the infringement claim, Maldonado-Passage argued in his pre-trial statement that his actions were a necessary response to BCR’s campaign of disseminating misinformation about him in an effort to shut him down:

Defendants had no alternative but to respond, in part, by reflecting the egregious conduct of BCR and the Baskins back upon BCR through a counter-campaign designed to do nothing more than cause BCR to suffer from its own misconduct.

This lawsuit, and BCR’s abuse of copyright laws, is merely one more tool for the Baskins and BCR in their all-out assault on Defendants.

This argument did not absolve Maldonado-Passage from liability for the trademark claims brought against him. The parties ultimately stipulated to entry of a consent judgment against Defendants prior to trial.

References to Baskin’s Late Husband Excluded from Trademark Trial

Of note for fans of the series and legal procedure buffs, Big Cat Rescue filed a motion in limine to exclude any reference at trial to Baskin’s late husband, Jack Donald Lewis. Lewis’s 1997 disappearance remains a significant source of controversy and was featured heavily in the docu-series. Throughout his feud with Baskin, Maldonado-Passage frequently spouted his belief that Baskin killed Lewis and fed him to one of her tigers. Maldonado-Passage even went so far as to reference Lewis’s disappearance in his pretrial statement and press releases related to the lawsuit. As Big Cat Rescue argued, and the Court affirmed in granting the motion (unsurprisingly), mention of Lewis’s disappearance would likely prejudice a jury against Big Cat Rescue and had no relevance to the trademark infringement claims at issue.

Trademark Judgment

 The docu-series demonstrates the power and value of a trademark as well as the potentially high stakes of an infringement suit. The trademark judgment aided in eventually bringing down the “Tiger King.” Big Cat Rescue was able to recover all of Maldonado-Passage and GW Exotic’s profits from their mall road shows during the time period Defendants adopted the “BIG CAT RESCUE ENTERTAINMENT” mark. Total gross receipts from Defendants’ road shows between 2010 and 2011 equaled $653,000.00. Big Cat Rescue was also entitled to $300,000 for its attorneys’ fees and costs related to the trademark lawsuit, amounting to a total judgment of $953,000.

As shown in the series, the judgment financially ruined Maldonado-Passage and GW Exotic. Big Cat Rescue’s aggressive judgment enforcement actions seem to have sent Maldonado-Passage into a tailspin that eventually led to him hiring a hitman to take out Baskin.

Tiger King offers much in the way of Jerry Springer-esque entertainment and nothing when it comes to moral guidance. Viewers can take away one lesson, though: don’t use your competitor’s trademark as a weapon and brag about it on the internet.

Alison Pringle is an associate in Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. Her practice focuses on intellectual property and commercial litigation, with an emphasis on trademark, copyright, contract, technology, and privacy disputes. She also counsels clients on transactional intellectual property issues. Ms. Pringle’s biography can be found here.
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1 USPTO Serial No. 76568568. In 2014, the Big Cat Rescue Corp. also registered the word mark BIG CAT RESCUE under USPTO Serial No. 85850084.

Effective August 3, 2019, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Makes a Big Splash through the Adoption of its New Trademark Law Concerning Foreign Trademark Applicants in an Effort to Preserve and Protect the Trademark Registry

Author: Gregory Brescia

On August 3, 2019, non-U.S. domiciliaries will require representation by a U.S. licensed attorney for all matters related to trademark applications, registrations, and parties to Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Proceedings (collectively referred herein as, “foreign applicants”). See Federal Register – Trademark Laws as of August 3, 2019. In addition to the adoption of the above, the USPTO is requiring all U.S. licensed attorneys representing foreign trademark applicants to submit proof of their active state bar membership. The purpose of this recent adoption resonates from the USPTO’s efforts to (1) improve the quality of the federal trademark register; (2) stop the unlicensed practice of law before the USPTO; and (3) assist in regulatory compliance.

Many foreign applicants may ask: “how will this impact me?” Prior to the adoption of this new rule, foreign applicants had the ability to prosecute and handle all trademark-related matters on their own behalf. Of course, foreign applicants had the ability to retain foreign counsel as well, so long as certain requirements were met. With the adoption of this new rule, foreign applicants will be required to retain U.S. counsel to file applications, respond to office actions, correspond with examining attorneys at the USPTO, and handle post registration submissions.

The primary changes that foreign applicants will see through the adoption of this new rule include the following:

  1. New applications filed by foreign applicants on or before August 3, 2019 under Sections 1 or 44 of the Lanham Act must obtain U.S. counsel to prosecute a complete application from inception through maintenance.
  2. New applications filed by foreign applicants on or after August 3, 2019 under section 66(a) of the Lanham Act, a subsection of the Madrid Protocol, will not require U.S. counsel for the initial filing so long as prior to the publication, the foreign application submitted satisfies all formalities and statutory requirements. In the event the application does not meet all the formalities and statutory requirements, U.S. counsel is required.
  3. For applications filed by foreign applicants prior to August 3, 2019 that require further action, applicants must retain U.S. counsel to handle any actions, including post-registrations maintenance.
  4. Retaining U.S. counsel is not necessary for applications filed by foreign applicants prior to August 3, 2019; however, U.S. counsel must be retained for any subsequent actions.
  5. Retaining U.S. counsel is required for marks registered by foreign applicants prior to August 3, 2019 for handling any post registration actions, as well as any post registration maintenance on or after August 3, 2019.

As discussed above, the adoption and implementation of this new rule is cornerstone of the USPTO’s initiative to preserve and protect the quality of the U.S. Trademark Registry. We encourage foreign applicants to take these recent changes seriously as they can have a significant impact on the validity and their current and future U.S. trademark portfolios. Moving forward, Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani’s Intellectual Property team will monitor the development and implications associated with the USPTO’s recent rule adoption. Should you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding the USPTO’s new rule, please feel free to contact our offices.

About the author: Gregory Brescia is a registered patent attorney and a member of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. His practice focuses on intellectual property prosecution and litigation. He also counsels clients on intellectual property enforcement and corporate transactions involving formation, compliance, and licensing. Mr. Brescia’s biography can be found here.

Supreme Court Holds that Offensive Marks Are Registrable

Author: Lara Garner

As predicted in an earlier post here, the Supreme Court has held that the Lanham Act’s prohibition on registration of “immoral[ ] or scandalous” trademarks violates the First Amendment. Iancu v. Brunetti, No. 18–302, 588 U.S. ___ (2019).

Erik Brunetti, a counter culture artist, sought to trademark “FUCT.” Brunetti’s streetwear clothing line used the brand, which stands for “Friends U Can’t Trust” and is pronounced as the four letters “Eff U Cee Tee.” The Court noted one might read it differently, and if you did “you would hardly be alone.” Because of that common perception, when Brunetti discovered knockoffs using the brand, he attempted to register the trademark. His application was denied under a provision of the Lanham Act that prohibits registration of trademarks that consist of or comprise “immoral[ ] or scandalous matter,” 15 U. S. C. §1052(a). Brunetti challenged the denial under the First Amendment. The Federal Circuit invalidated the “immoral or scandalous” bar.

Two years ago, in Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744, 1763 (2017) the Court had declared unconstitutional the Lanham Act’s ban on registering marks that “disparage” any “person[ ], living or dead.” §1052(a). The ban was found to be the essence of viewpoint discrimination: allowing marks that are “positive” about a person and disallowing marks that are “derogatory.” In Brunetti, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority, “[t]oday we consider a First Amendment challenge to a neighboring provision of the act.” In a 6-3 vote, the Justices held that the ban on “immoral[ ] or scandalous” trademarks also violates the Constitution: “We hold that this provision infringes the First Amendment for the same reason: It too disfavors certain ideas.”

The divided Court in Matal had agreed on two propositions: (1) if a trademark registration bar is viewpoint based, it is unconstitutional; and (2) the disparagement bar was viewpoint based. In Iancu, the Court found the “immoral or scandalous” bar similarly flawed because it discriminates on the basis of viewpoint. Supported by a review of the dictionary definitions of “immoral” and “scandalous,” the statute was found facially biased in favor of messages that are in accord with society’s sense of decency. And in practice, the Court noted, the PTO has refused to register marks that are at odds with society’s views regarding topics such as drug use, religion, and terrorism but has approved registration of marks on those same topics that comport with society’s views.

The Government argued that the statute could be preserved by a limiting construction, narrowing the bar to marks that are lewd, sexually explicit, or profane. But the language is not ambiguous and to do so, the Court found, would be to rewrite, rather than interpret, the statute. Fairly interpreted, the viewpoint bias of the bar ends the inquiry and the bar must be invalidated.

Separate opinions dissenting in part with the majority were written by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. Each agreed with the majority in striking the “immoral” portion of the law. But all three agreed with each other that “scandalous” can be read to prohibit only marks that are “obscene, vulgar, or profane.” The three, along with Alito in his concurrence, expressed concern for a flood of new, crude trademarks and the creation of public spaces that would be repellant to some. As Justice Sotomayor explained, lamenting the expected result of the Court’s decision, the Government will have no choice but to begin registering the “coming rush” of “marks containing the most vulgar, profane, or obscene words and images imaginable.”

Justice Alito noted in his concurrence that the mark at issue could be denied under a narrower statute banning vulgar terms as the mark expresses no idea (and signifies the “severely limited vocabulary” of its user). But, that “[a]t a time when free speech is under attack, it is especially important for this Court to remain firm on the principle that the First Amendment does not tolerate viewpoint discrimination.”

Justice Roberts, concurring in part and dissenting in part, observed that the trademark registration system merely confers additional benefits. Denying registration does not restrict or punish speech. And First Amendment protections do not extend to require “the Government to give aid and comfort to those using obscene, vulgar, and profane modes of expression.”

Justice Breyer concurred in part and dissented in part at length, writing that precedents warn against interpretation of statutes that renders them unconstitutional. Agreeing with Justice Sotomayor’s narrow interpretation of “scandalous,” he proceeded to address the question of whether the benefits of trademark registration can be denied on the basis of the narrowly construed statute without offending the First Amendment. He concluded in the affirmative.

According to Justice Breyer, the category-based approach taken by the majority is inadequate. The speech-related categories for First Amendment analysis (such as “viewpoint discrimination”) should be viewed, not as outcome-determinative rules but rather as “rules of thumb.” They are not absolute rules; they sometime give weight to competing interests. And they are sometimes applied, as here, too rigidly. Justice Breyer urged that the Court look to the values the First Amendment seeks to protect and refrain from striking down ordinary regulations that pose little threat to free speech interests. The Court should ask whether the regulation at issue “works speech-related harm that is out of proportion to its justifications.”

The statute in this case, Justice Breyer wrote, does not fit neatly into the categories. It is an open question whether the trademarks statue merely regulates “commercial speech.” And it cannot be straightforwardly described as regulating “government speech.” The concept of “public forum” does not apply, although “limited public forum” may have some application as may cases involving government subsidies of private speech. The bounds between “viewpoint discrimination” and “content discrimination” may be hazy, and the denial of the benefits of federal trademark registration to highly vulgar or obscene words would not offend the Constitution. While emotion-laden, such words do not, standing alone, convey a viewpoint labeling them content-based should not be, according to Justice Breyer, outcome determinative.

A proportionality analysis of the statute, as interpreted by Justice Sotomayor, results in a conclusion that it does not offend the Constitution. A ban merely on registration does not bar businesses from using the words, and trademarks are highly regulated with the specialized aim of assisting customers with identification of goods. Those regulations necessarily limit speech. The Government has an interest in avoiding involvement in, and protecting children from such speech, which scientific evidence suggests may be different in kind – they have a physiological and emotional impact that most words do not. As such, in Justice Sotomayor’s view, risks to the First Amendment are minor in light of these objectives.

Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence in part and dissent in part was joined by Justice Breyer. An alternative to the majority’s interpretation is, according to Justice Sotomayor, “equally possible” and saves the statute rendering it a reasonable, viewpoint neutral-restriction. The Government does not have to confer trademark benefits at all but also cannot do so in a viewpoint-discriminatory way. However, the term “scandalous” should not be collapsed with “immoral” as the majority does because the term is ambiguous and the text of the statute comports with a narrow reading of its meaning.

In Justice Sotomayor’s view, “scandalous” can be read broadly to cover both idea and manners of expressing them, or narrowly to cover only manners of expression. Congress used the “scandalous,” “immoral,” and “disparage” to describe separate prohibited features. While “immoral” and “disparage” target offensive ideas, “scandalous” can be read, not as a synonym of “immoral,” but with a distinct, non-redundant meaning, as offensive due to the mode in which it is expressed. The most obvious such mode of expression is with the use of obscenity, vulgarity, or profanity. Justice Sotomayor does not propose a list (other than “the apparent homonym of Brunetti’s mark,” and “at least one particularly egregious racial epithet”) but would leave it to the USPTO to identify the “small group” of such words.

A limiting construction, according to Justice Sotomayor, is appropriate here and consistent with precedent. It is reasonable in the context of an ancillary benefit as compared to, for example, criminal statutes that threaten freedom. Brunetti would not even be prohibited from using his mark, merely from registering it. “Properly narrowed, ‘scandalous’ is a viewpoint-neutral form of content discrimination that is permissible in the kind of discretionary governmental program or limited forum typified by the trademark-registration system.”

The impact of this decision remains to be seen. But, notwithstanding the worries of some Justices, it seems unlikely that the USPTO will see a flood of attempts to register vulgarities. The value of a trademarks is in the goodwill associated with it. Building a mark’s positive reputation takes a considerable investment of time and care. The novelty of registering a mark that is unlikely, by its nature, to appeal to a wide class of consumers is outweighed by the expense of doing so. Registrations may still be rejected on the basis of other criteria, such as similarity to exiting marks. And it remains to be seen whether Congress will address the issue as it seems likely that a narrower prohibition would be upheld. As Justice Alito wrote in his concurrence, it is up to Congress, if it wants, to devise a “more carefully focused statute that precludes the registration of marks containing vulgar terms that play no real part in the expression of ideas.”

About the author: Lara Garner is a partner in Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. Her practice focuses on Intellectual Property litigation and counseling for patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets, and in a broad range of matters, including contract, technology, and privacy issues. Ms. Garner’s biography can be found here.

The Tightrope Between First Amendment Violations and Lawful Regulation of Vulgar Trademarks

Author: Sean Flaherty

Trademark attorneys and brand owners alike know that trademark applications are not to be refused registration by the USPTO unless they fall within certain codified prohibitions. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a) (“Lanham Act Section 2(a)”), for example, bans trademarks which “[c]onsists 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 . . .”

But in 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744, 1763 (2017), that the “disparagement clause” of Section 2(a) was unconstitutional as amounting to viewpoint discrimination. This set the stage for subsequent challenge to the remaining part of 2(a)—the “immoral/scandalous” clause. This issue was recently argued on April 15, 2019 before the Supreme Court in Iancu v. Brunetti, Case No. 18-302.

Trademark Application and TTAB Appeal

In 2011, Erik Brunetti, “an artist and entrepreneur whose graphics are infused with cultural strands from skateboarding, graffiti culture, punk rock music, and remnants of Situationist Ideal ideologies” sought to register the trademark application no. 85310960 for “FUCT.” In re Brunetti, 2014 TTAB LEXIS 328, *3-4 (T.T.A.B. August 1, 2014). The PTO rejected the application under the prohibition against “immoral/scandalous” marks, and Brunetti appealed to the TTAB. There, Brunetti attempted to argue that the mark did not carry any particular meaning, was not being used for its phonetic equivalent, and instead was “an arbitrary made up word” which evoked an edgy aesthetic. Brunetti further argued that to the extent the term had any meaning, it correlated to each of the first letters of the phrase FRIENDS U CAN’T TRUST. However, the TTAB stated that the foregoing arguments “stretche[d] credulity.”

The TTAB affirmed the refusal, noting that “the threshold for objectionable matter is lower for what can be described as ‘scandalous’ than for ‘obscene,’” citing In re McGinley, 660 F.2d 481, 211 USPQ 668, 673 n.9 (CCPA 1981). The also TTAB recognized its own statutory limitations in noting it was not “the appropriate forum for re-evaluating the impacts of any evolving First Amendment jurisprudence within Article III courts upon determinations under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act.” In re Brunetti, 2014 TTAB LEXIS 328 at *16.

Federal Circuit Appeal

Brunetti appealed the TTAB to the Federal Circuit. The Court of Appeals did not disturb the TTAB’s factual finding that the mark was vulgar and therefore fell within Section 2(a)’s prohibition against the registration of scandalous marks. In re Brunetti, 877 F.3d 1330, 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (“Dictionaries in the record characterize the word as ‘taboo,’ ‘one of the most offensive’ English words, ‘almost universally considered vulgar,’ and an ‘extremely offensive expression.’”) But, while the case was on appeal, Matal v. Tam1 was decided. Applying that holding to Brunetti’s application, the Federal Circuit found the “immoral/scandalous” prohibition as an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech. In re Brunetti, 877 F.3d at 1341. The Federal Circuit held that the regulation did not survive even intermediate, much less strict scrutiny, because (i) “the government ha[d] failed to identify a substantial interest justifying its suppression of immoral or scandalous trademarks”; (ii) the government could not show that the “regulation directly advance[d] the government’s asserted interest” (because the ban does not prevent actual use of the vulgarity and thus “does not protect the general population from scandalous material”); and (iii) the government failed to show that the regulation was “carefully tailored” given the significant evidence of inconsistent application and “vague nature of the scandalous inquiry.”

Finally, the Federal Circuit denied the government’s last-stand argument, which was to interpret the ban narrowly so as to uphold its constitutionality, by making the prohibition coextensive with a ban on obscenity. However, the Federal Circuit noted that due to the language used in the statute, no basis was provided to the Court to rewrite the law. Id. at 1357 (“We do not see how the words ‘immoral’ and ‘scandalous’ could reasonably be read to be limited to material of a sexual nature. We cannot stand in the shoes of the legislature and rewrite a statute.”).

Supreme Court Review

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and recently held oral argument.

Brunetti primarily argued that there was no principled distinction between the unconstitutionality of the prohibition against the offensive viewpoints targeted by “disparagement clause” in Tam and the offensive viewpoint targeted by the “immoral/scandalous clause” presently before the Court. Further, the applicant argued that all examination of trademarks necessarily implicated an evaluation of content, and thus the government could not argue that the prohibition amounted only to regulation of the “mode of expression.”

In light of Tam, the government was hard pressed to maintain the facial validity of the regulation. Instead, the government conceded the statute should be narrowed so as to preserve its validity.

At oral argument, Justice Kagan asked: “[J]ust so I could understand, you’re asking us to narrow this statute to exactly what?” Deputy Solicitor General Malcom Stewart replied, “To marks that are offensive, shocking to a substantial segment of the public because of their mode of expression, independent of any views that they may express.” Here, the government essentially argued that the PTO should be permitted to restrict speech akin to fighting words, which are susceptible to regulation because they are not based on viewpoint, but instead voiced merely to anger and incite. The government also distinguished Tam by arguing the prohibition against scandalous words is viewpoint-neutral and applied regardless of the applicant’s intended message.

The oral argument lasted nearly an hour with the Court peppering each party with a great number of questions. At several instances, the Court indicated uneasiness with vagueness of the regulation, as evidenced by the PTO’s track record of inconsistent application. But that is not to suggest an unconstitutionality ruling is assured. The Justices probed whether any speech in the context of trademarks could thereafter be regulated in the event this provision were ruled unconstitutional. Could a trademark registrant owning a vulgar mark for example, not be denied advertising space on the side of a public bus, given that its trademark registration was now approved by the federal government?

Justice Breyer repeatedly raised the point that even today, a limited number of dirty words and racial slurs are well defined and well documented to have a physiological effect on the hearer, and asked why the government should not be permitted to ban those words from the trademark registration program. Similarly, Justice Gorsuch asked with regard to the trademark registration program, “why can’t the people choose to withhold the benefit [of registration] on the basis that there are certain words that are profane and that we, as a matter of civility in our culture, would like to see less of rather than more of, and you can use – you’re free to use them . . .but we are not going to trademark them, and we’ve held just last year that a patent is a public benefit that can be withdrawn without a judge. Why isn’t this also similarly a public benefit rather than a private right?” Additionally, Justice Sotomayor posited, “Why can’t the government say, no, we’re not going to give you space on our public registry for words that we find are not acceptable?”

Although the expected bet is on another decision striking down the prohibition as unconstitutional in light of Tam, don’t be surprised if the Court instead decides to walk a tightrope and find that certain vulgarities do not implicate bona fide viewpoints, are used for no more than to create a shocking response in the hearer, and are thus susceptible to regulation without running afoul of the First Amendment.

About the author: Sean Flaherty is a partner in Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. His practice focuses on litigation matters involving copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents, as well as transactional matters related to intellectual property licensing. Mr. Flaherty is a registered patent attorney with a degree in Civil Engineering. Mr. Flaherty’s biography can be found here.
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1 Prior to this Supreme Court decision, the Federal Circuit had held Section 2(a)’s disparagement provision as unconstitutional under the First Amendment, failing to survive either intermediate or strict scrutiny. See In re Tam, 808 F.3d 1321, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2015)

Brewery Near Me: Why You Should Name Your Brewery After a Location and Related Trademark Considerations

Author: Michael Kanach

Home for the Holidays

Whether you are traveling home for the holidays or visiting an old friend, the holiday season is a time to return to old favorites. For craft beer fans visiting home and looking for a place to gather, they will notice the brewery landscape has changed over the last few years. Whether you are visiting a large city or a small town, the number of new breweries may surprise you. In fact, the number of breweries in the United States has more than tripled recently, increasing from less than 2,000 in 2010 to more than 7,000 in 2018.1 On November 20, 2018, the Brewers Association’s Bart Watson tweeted “Here are the ~1,000 breweries that have opened since last Thanksgiving,”2 with a link to a google map showing new breweries that opened between November 25, 2017, and November 17, 2018.3 In addition, numerous breweries have recently shut down, been acquired, or changed names based on trademark disputes.

Searches for “Brewery Near Me” will be trending on Google and other search engines. For example, when you type “Brewery” into Google.com or Bing.com, both search engines will propose the search “Brewery Near Me.” Alternative results include “Brewery Near My Location,” or nearby city names, such as “Brewery San Francisco” and “Brewery Oakland.” With consumers searching on maps, in search engines, and in beer-focused applications such as Untappd and RateBeer, breweries need to stand out when their name shows up on the list.

From a trademark and branding perspective, you want consumers to recognize your name – and recognize it as a source of great beer. You want your name to communicate the quality of your product and differentiate your brewery from the others in your neighborhood. In other words, you want consumers to know what they can expect when they choose to visit your brewery or drink your beer. Are you known for your rotating selection, your hazy IPAs, your flagship lager, your barrel aged stouts, your sours, or your Belgians? Or maybe you’re known for your food, your staff, or other non-beer-related aspects of running a restaurant or brew pub.

Drink Local = Higher Brand Awareness

When the message is “drink local,” and thousands of smaller breweries are opening up to serve their local communities, it can be beneficial to tell your consumers where you are located. For many breweries, their location is not simply an address in a city or a town. It is also their brand.

In a discussion with Robert Cartwright of DataQuencher, which performs surveys of beer drinkers for breweries, his surveys have shown that location names can help certain breweries increase their brand awareness. The data shows that, for breweries up to about the 20,000 barrels mark, the breweries that have a location in their name have significantly higher brand awareness than other breweries. In other words, microbreweries may benefit from their location-based names, but regional brewers may not see much additional impact.

For example, in Virginia, Blue Mountain Brewery, located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains has a higher than anticipated awareness from beer drinkers in the State of Virginia. Given their production numbers (less than 15,000 barrels in 2017) and the size of the Virginia market, it would be normal for Blue Mountain to have a brand awareness in the high 20% to 35% range. Instead, DataQuencher’s recent survey results show that Blue Mountain Brewery has a brand awareness of 49% among VA beer drinkers. This location-based name may also help in each of the states through which the Blue Ridge Mountains extend—namely, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

With respect to the San Francisco Bay Area, certain microbreweries rank higher than anticipated in “brand awareness” based on their location-based names, including San Francisco Brewing Co., Alameda Island Brewing Company, Marin Brewing Company, and Oakland Brewing Company. See the recent chart below prepared by DataQuencher. It is not surprising to see some larger breweries with location-based names, such as Sierra Nevada and Russian River, at the top of the list.


Chart reproduced and used with permission.

DataQuencher’s recent survey evidence, which shows higher brand-awareness for breweries with location-based names, is consistent with the breweries who have earned their brand awareness through decades of sales and advertising, as well as distribution through large retail chains and to multiple states. Not surprisingly, many of the largest breweries in the United States have location-based names.4 In fact, about a third (17 of 50) of the Brewers Association’s list of the 50 top selling breweries in the United States in 2017 have location-based names.

The chart below includes a list of those breweries with an explanation of their location-based name for those unfamiliar with the local references. The cites to Wikipedia are because the USPTO will often cite to Wikipedia (or Urban Dictionary!) and other websites as a basis for refusing to register geographically descriptive trademarks.

Boston (#2) a city in Massachusetts5
Sierra Nevada (#3) a mountain range in California and Nevada6
Deschutes (#10) a river,7 county,8 and National Forest9 in Oregon
Brooklyn (#11) a borough in New York City, New York10
SweetWater (#15) a creek11 and state park12 outside Atlanta, Georgia (Sweetwater Creek)
New Glarus (#16) a village in Green County, Wisconsin13
Alaskan (#19) from the state of Alaska14
Great Lakes (#20) lakes along the border of United States (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) and Canada (Ontario)
Abita (#21) a town in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, a river (Abita River)15, and nearby springs (Abita Springs)16
Stephens Point (#23) a city in Wisconsin17
Summit (#25) a street in Saint Paul, Minnesota (Summit Avenue)
Long Trail (#31) a hiking trail which runs the length of the state of Vermont18
Rogue (#32) a river19 and a valley20 in Oregon
Uinta (#37) a chain of mountains in northeastern Utah and southern Wyoming (Uinta Mountains),21 a county,22 a reservation,23 and a National Forest24 in Utah
Lost Coast (#47) a coastal region in California25
North Coast (#48) a region in Northern California that lies on the Pacific coast between San Francisco Bay and the Oregon border26
Wachusett (#49) a mountain in Massachusetts (Mount Wachusett)27

In addition to the chart above, two more breweries in the top 50, DogFish Head (#12) and Allagash (#36), are named after small towns in the State of Maine,28 which – while nowhere close to their brewery locations29 30 – both help tell a story about the brewers’ roots and the breweries’ small beginnings.

How Does a Brewery Obtain a Trademark for its City, Town, Mountains, River, Lake, or Street?

First, a little background about trademarks. Your trademark is your name, logo, or anything else that indicates your brewery is the source of a product or service.

A mark can be:

  • a name of a beer or the brewery,
  • a drawing (e.g., The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, 21st Amendment’s various can designs),
  • a color or color scheme (e.g., Russian River’s Pliny the Elder’s red circle on a forest green label),
  • a shape (e.g., Bass’s red triangle, Heineken’s red star),
  • a design,
  • a slogan, or
  • even the unique overall “look and feel” of the brewery, product, or packaging (or other forms of “trade dress”).

You obtain common law trademark rights when you begin to use the mark. If someone else used it first, you are a junior user and they are the senior user. To obtain nationwide rights to your trademark, you can file an application to register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (the “USPTO”).

One myth is that you don’t want to name your brewery after a location because it’s hard to get a trademark. While it is true that location-based names have inherent hurdles, including from a trademark perspective, there are also potential benefits from a trademark and branding perspective.

Those hurdles include difficulty in proving that your name is an indication that your brewery is the source of the beer. In trademark language, we call that “acquired distinctiveness,” or “secondary meaning.” It may take years for your brewery to build distinctiveness in the eyes of consumers, while a more unique and arbitrary name may obtain a registered trademark much faster.

Because locations are descriptive, the USPTO often refuses to register marks with a location is in the name. On one hand, the USPTO may refuse to register the mark because you are describing where you are located. In that case, the name is “geographically descriptive” and other breweries located there should be able to use that name to describe their brewery. One the other hand, if your name is a location where you are not located, the USPTO may refuse to register your mark on the basis that it is “geographically deceptively misdescriptive.” This means your name makes people believe you are from a location from which your beer does not originate, and that description is misleading and deceptive.

Relatedly, if you advertise your products as coming from a geographic location – but your beer is not from there – those false statements could give rise to a class action lawsuit for false advertising. Numerous lawsuits have been filed over the past several years. For example, class action lawsuits have been filed against Fosters (not imported from Australia),31 Becks (not imported from Germany),32 Kirin (not imported from Japan),33 and Red Stripe (not imported from Jamaica).34 While the breweries named as defendants in those class action lawsuits were some of the largest alcohol producers in the world – Miller Brewing Co. (Fosters), Anheuser-Busch (Becks, Kirin), and Diageo (Red Stripe) – plaintiffs could file similar lawsuits against craft beverage producers as well. So it is wise to clearly label where your brewery (or winery, meadery, or distillery) is located.

To avoid such misrepresentations in labeling and advertising, you will notice the labels for some breweries list more than one location. For example, Lagunitas clearly advertises that it is brewed in Petaluma, California and Chicago, Illinois.  Likewise, Sierra Nevada’s labels clearly advertise that it is brewed in Chico, California and Mills River, North Carolina.

While there are many considerations when it comes to branding and trademarks, these are several of the considerations with respect to location-based names. As is the case with all intellectual property, it is prudent to talk to an attorney about your strategy for obtaining and enforcing your trademarks.

For more information about trademarks and intellectual property, you can reach Michael Kanach a partner in the Intellectual Property and Food and Beverage groups at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani. Mike is also a practice group leader for the Beer, Wine, and Spirits Law group and the Entertainment and Recreation practice group. Mike’s email is mkanach@grsm.com and his phone number is 415-875-3211.
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1 “Number of Breweries, Historical U.S. Brewery Count,” Brewers Association, https://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/number-of-breweries/ (as of November 19, 2018).
2 Bart Watson (@BrewersStats), https://twitter.com/brewersstats/status/1064927306571964416?s=11 (accessed (November 20, 2018, 9:03 AM)
3 “Breweries Opened in Last Year – New breweries that have opened between 11/25/2017 and 11/17/2018.” https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1Bw583n55Vu4ghUsUyuOcOVFzjymeBU4p&usp=sharing
4 “Brewers Association Releases 2017 Top 50 Brewing Companies By Sales Volume,” Brewers Association, March 14, 2018, located at https://www.brewersassociation.org/press-releases/brewers-association-releases-2017-top-50-brewing-companies-by-sales-volume/
5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston
6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Nevada_(U.S.)
7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deschutes_River_(Oregon)
8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deschutes_County,_Oregon
9  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deschutes_National_Forest
10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn
11 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweetwater_Creek_(Chattahoochee_River_tributary)
12 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweetwater_Creek_State_Park
13 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Glarus,_Wisconsin
14 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska
15 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abita_River
16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abita_Springs,_Louisiana
17 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevens_Point,_Wisconsin
18 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Trail
19 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogue_River_(Oregon)
20 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogue_Valley
21 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uinta_Mountains
22  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uinta_National_Forest
23 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uintah_and_Ouray_Indian_Reservation
24 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uinta_National_Forest
25 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Coast
26 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Coast_(California)
27 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Wachusett
28 “How Your Favorite Brewery Got Its Name” Thrillist, Lee Breslouer, located at www.thrillist.com/amphtml/drink/nation/dogfish-head-name-how-your-favorite-brewery-got-its-name
29 DogFish Head is a name of a small location in Southport, Maine, over 9 hours away and 573 miles away from the DogFish Head Craft Brewery location in Milton, Delaware
30 Allagash is a town and river in northern border of Maine, 5.5 hours away and 341 miles away from the Allagash Brewery location in Portland, ME.
31 “Man Sues Over Foster’s Beer Being Brewed in Texas, Not Australia,” Time, Sarah Begley (December 15, 2015), http://time.com/4148740/man-sues-fosters-beer/
32 “Anheuser-Busch Admits Beck’s Isn’t Actually German, Looks to Settle Class Action Lawsuit” Food and Wine, Mike Pomranz (June 22, 2017),  https://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/drink/anheuser-busch-admits-beck-s-isn-t-actually-german-looks-settle-class-action-lawsuit
33 “If You Bought Kirin Beer In The Last 5 Years, You Could Get $12,” Huffington Post, Harry Bradford (January 7, 2015 5:16 pm ET, January 9, 2015, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/07/kirin-beer-money_n_6430732.html
34 “Red Stripe Is the Latest Beer to Get Sued Over Mislabeling Where It Is Brewed,” Food and Wine, Mike Pomranz (June 22, 2017) https://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/drink/red-stripe-latest-beer-get-sued-over-mislabeling-where-it-brewed

U.S. Supreme Court to Resolve Circuit Split Regarding Trademark Licensees’ Rights Upon Licensor Bankruptcy

Author: Benni Amato

According to the International Trademark Association (“INTA”), “whether a debtor-licensor can terminate a trademark license by rejection, thereby ‘taking back’ trademark rights it has licensed and precluding its licensee from using the trademark” is “the most significant unresolved legal issue in trademark licensing.” It likely will not stay unresolved for much longer; on October 26, 2018, the United States Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari to resolve this specific issue as part of the Mission Product Holdings Inc. v. Tempnology LLC case.

Tempnology is a New Hampshire-based company that developed chemical-free cooling fabrics. It used this fabric to produce clothing that were designed to remain cool during exercise. Tempnology and Mission entered into a distribution agreement in November of 2012 that gave Mission the non-exclusive right to sell certain patented and trademarked Tempnology products throughout the world and the exclusive right to sell some of those products within the United States.

After a complex factual and procedural history, Tempnology filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2015. The day after the filing, Tempnology moved to reject the agreement under 11 U.S.C. §365(a). After two appeals, a split First Circuit panel held that Tempnology’s rejection terminated the trademark rights licensed to Mission under the agreement.

As explained by the majority in the First Circuit decision, after a debtor-licensor files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it may secure court approval to “reject” any executory contract so that the other party to the contract is “left with a damages claim for breach, but not the ability to compel further performance.” Mission Prod. Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC (In re Tempnology, LLC), 879 F.3d 389, 404 (1st Cir. 2018). “When the rejected contract, however, is one ‘under which the debtor is a licensor of a right to intellectual property,’ the licensee may elect to ‘retain its rights . . . to such intellectual property,’ thereby continuing the debtor’s duty to license the intellectual property.” The problem begins, however, with the fact that Congress left trademarks off the definitional list of intellectual properties in 11 U.S.C. §101(35A).

The First Circuit found that it made sense for Congress to have excluded trademarks. After all, “the effective licensing of a trademark requires that the trademark owner—here the debtor, followed by any purchaser of its assets—monitor and exercise control over the quality of the goods sold to the public under cover of the trademark.” Should the licensor fail to exercise reasonable control, that could result in the abandonment of its trademarks.

Thus, the First Circuit reasoned that should Mission be allowed to continue to use Tempnology’s trademarks, that would force Tempnology to choose between performing executory obligations in monitoring and controlling the quality of goods or risk losing its trademarks and diminishing their value to Tempnology. The loss of the contractual licensing value to Mission should instead be compensated via damages.

The First Circuit decision, however, was a direct split from the Seventh Circuit decision six years prior in Sunbeam Prods. v. Chi. Am. Mfg., LLC, 686 F.3d 372, 377 (7th Cir. 2012). The Seventh Circuit, with an opinion from its Chief Judge Easterbrook, stated that “[t]he limited definition in §101(35A) means that §365(n) does not affect trademarks one way or the other. According to the Senate committee report on the bill that included §365(n), the omission was designed to allow more time for study….” “What §365(g) does by classifying rejection as breach is establish that in bankruptcy, as outside of it, the other party’s rights remain in place. After rejecting a contract, a debtor is not subject to an order of specific performance…The debtor’s unfulfilled obligations are converted to damages…But nothing about this process implies that any rights of the other contracting party have been vaporized.”

Mission and its amici have urged the Supreme Court to adopt the Sunbeam approach, which allows licensees to keep their licensed trademark rights even when the debtor-licensor has successfully rejected the contract. Their reasons include:

  • Enabling the debtor to take back rights already granted to a licensee encourages them to “cut a better deal for those rights” to the detriment of the licensee through no fault of licensee’s. (Mission’s petition for writ of certiorari.)
  • “If the debtor believes its trademarks are worth the cost of monitoring, it will presumably incur that cost to preserve the value of the asset…. That decision is no different than the cost-benefit analysis debtors undertake every day when deciding whether to make an investment in an estate asset to maximize its value. It has no bearing on the question whether rejection terminates a licensee’s trademark rights.” (Mission’s petition for writ of certiorari.)
  • “A licensee who is confident that the licensor’s bankruptcy will not upend its continued right to use licensed trademarks or sell the debtor’s products under an exclusive-distribution agreement will be more inclined to enter into an agreement that creates net efficiencies for distribution and production arrangements.” (Mission’s petition for writ of certiorari.)
  • “Licensors benefit because licensees will pay more up front or in royalties for licensed rights that survive a potential bankruptcy filing by the licensor.” (INTA’s amicus brief.)
  • “Licensees, who have substantial reliance interests in the licensed trademarks (g., having hired employees and/or established manufacturing capacity to take advantage of the rights), will not suddenly find their rights rendered valueless by the licensor’s decision to terminate a trademark license agreement through rejection in bankruptcy.” (INTA’s amicus brief.)
  • “Under the First Circuit’s rule, a debtor/licensor can use the power to reject to destroy a licensee’s business or hold the licensee hostage, forcing it to pay twice for a license it had already purchased.” (Law professors’ amicus brief.)

Tempnology, on the other hand, sought to distinguish its case from that of Sunbeam’s. Sunbeam involved a “short term transitional license for sale of a finished product,” whereas the Tempnology-Misson agreement was a complex joint venture/joint marketing and distribution arrangement with a two-year wind-period that would require post-rejection interaction between the parties to ensure maintenance of quality control.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court eventually rules, having this issue settled will at least provide clarity for trademark licensors and licensees in the event of bankruptcy. We will report on the high court’s final decision.

About the author: Benni Amato is a partner in Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. Her practice focuses on litigation matters involving trademarks, copyright, trade secrets, patents, internet issues, cybersecurity, and contractual disputes, as well as domain name arbitrations and trademark and copyright prosecution and licensing. Ms. Amato’s biography can be found here.

Craft Beer and Trademarks – 10 Takeaways from the 2017 College Football Season

Author: Michael Kanach

Nothing pairs quite like beer and football. As we approach Super Bowl LII, there is no shortage of articles informing businesses how to avoid a trademark dispute with the National Football League (NFL), particularly regarding the registered trademark “Super Bowl.”1 2 3 4 5

With advertisers paying millions of dollars for a 30 second advertisement spot during the “Big Game,” there are millions of reasons for the NFL to ask companies to cease and desist using its trademarks when used without authorization. AdAge estimates that marketers will have spent about $5.4 billion total in advertising over these 52 years of Super Bowls.6 An example of one brewery planning to make a big spend on Super Bowl Sunday is Gambrinus’ Spoetzl Brewery of San Antonio, Texas, one of the largest craft breweries in the nation.7 They are prepared to spend $1.2 million for a 30-second advertisement for its Shiner Bock beer brand to air across the State of Texas during the Super Bowl.8

According to The Brewers Association, there were more than 6,000 breweries operating in the United States in 2017.9 But, of course, not all breweries have the budget to spend on a television advertising spot during the Super Bowl, so craft breweries often have to come up with creative ways to get noticed. One way breweries have worked to obtain a local following is to support their local teams, professional and collegiate, especially during the football season. Sometimes, in this fandom, breweries (inadvertently) cross over the line into using their favorite team’s intellectual property without approval.

The following four stories from the 2017 college football season provide trademark and branding lessons for craft breweries who want to use trending themes, viral stories, names, and images from their local institutions – to sell beer.

As the images and stories below demonstrate, trademarks are not simply names, logos, and slogans. A trademark can be anything that indicates the source of a product or service. As these packages show, a trademark can be a color scheme, distinctive font, single letter, image (e.g., a train or a famous building on campus), trending hashtag, viral event, and even the design of a special necklace. The main lesson you can learn from these stories about craft breweries using others’ trademarks is to obtain prior written approval from the trademark owner.

Purdue University wins injunction over Boilermakers Beer:

In June 2016, an individual in Naples, Florida, obtained a trademark in the State of Indiana for the marks “Purdue Boilermakers Brewing” and “Boilermakers Beer” claiming first use in 2016.10 According to the defendant’s website, “Sports Beer Brewing Company™ is an intellectual property holding company consisting of a portfolio of sports trademarks, registrations and service marks for sports teams through out (sic) the United States.”11 It’s not clear whether Sports Beer Brewing Company actually brews beer themselves, since their website says they “will contract with a local micro-brewery in your area for a tasting to decide what type of beer you want to brew.”12

The Trustees of Purdue University own several federally registered trademarks, including “Purdue,” “Boilermakers,”13 and various images of trains or locomotives.14 One such registered trademark for BOILERMAKERS claims a first use in commerce at least as early as in 1959, decades before Sports Beer Brewing Company filed an application to register the trademark with the state of Indiana in 2016.15 The Trustees of Purdue University filed a lawsuit in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, to enforce their trademarks.

Purdue licenses its logos and trademarks to Peoples Brewing Company, located in Lafayette, Indiana, for labeling on a beer named “Boiler Gold.” Below left, is an image of the Boiler Gold beer can’s label,16 which contains authorized references to Purdue, a train, and the distinctive letter “P” and the school’s color scheme of “campus gold” and black.17 The infringer’s logo is shown below right, with the University’s name on a black background and underneath a gold and white-colored train.

On November 9, 2017, Purdue University obtained an injunction against Sports Beer Brewing Company and its owner Paul Parshall. The court found the defendant’s trademarks were confusingly similar to Purdue’s trademarks. The injunction read, in part, that Paul Parshall was:

… enjoined to immediately discontinue using or offering or licensing the terms “Purdue”, “Boilermakers”, “Boilermakers Beer” and “Purdue Boilermakers Brewing” or any other marks which feature the words “Boilermakers” and/or “Purdue” for any commercial purpose.

Sports Beer Brewing Company’s ownership of a state trademark did not prevent the university from obtaining an order enjoining it from selling products with the school’s names, logo, and color scheme. According to the defendant’s website, http://www.sportsbeerbrewing.com/, defendant still owns numerous other trademarks for beer names under a “claim your brand” link. These names include the following schools: Pitt (Pitt Panthers Brewing Co • Pitt Panthers Beer) and the University of Miami (Miami Hurricanes Brewing • Canes Beer), which are discussed below for other reasons.18

“Hail to Pitt” (University of Pittsburgh) – #H2P Beer Labels Removed:

In a separate dispute related to the University of Pittsburg (a.k.a. Pitt), a Pennsylvania craft brewery’s use of Pitt’s trademarks is a lesson for brewers to make sure to get written approval from the university before making any substantial investments in labels, bottles, and cans. Voodoo Brewery, located in Meadville, Pennsylvania, began selling a beer under the name “#H2P” with cans designed in Pitts’ colors and script and an image of a cathedral.19 This name “H2P” is short for “Hail to Pitt” and was a trending hashtag for the university during the college football season.20 Pitt owns a registered trademark for “H2P,” which was registered in 2011 and claimed a first use in commerce in 2010. In addition, Pitt owns at least two registered trademarks for “Pitt” with stylized font, and with a distinctive letter “P,” claiming a first use in commerce at least as early as 1990.21 22 Pitt’s colors are royal blue and yellow (or alternatively navy blue and gold).23 The Cathedral is focused throughout the University’s advertising, as shown in the school’s official “Graphic Standards.”24 The letter “P” in the brewery’s “H2P” logo appears to be the same “P” in the University’s registered “Pitt” logo, which has been used for decades.25

According to an October 2017 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Voodoo Brewery’s brewmaster was a former Pitt student and involved in athletics, and the brewery believed it had the University’s approval because the brewery had previously sold these beers on campus.26 However, there was nothing in writing from the University approving the packaging, so the brewery was forced to cease and desist using the schools trademarked hashtag, distinctive name, images, and color scheme.

University of Miami Hurricanes – Turnover Chain IPA Changes Name to “Chains”:

Like a viral hashtag, craft breweries tend to follow trending stories relating to their local teams and try to incorporate them into their beer names, labels, and designs. In 2017, J. Wakefield Brewing, in Miami, Florida, announced that it would brew a beer called “TURNOVER CHAIN” IPA.27 The “Turnover Chain” was a reference to the 2017 Miami Hurricanes’ football team’s over-sized, Cuban-linked, gold chain with a large “U” (for Miami University) in the school’s colors: orange and green. This chain is ceremoniously placed around a defensive player’s neck to wear on the sideline after forcing a turnover.

On November 16, 2017, the University of Miami filed a trademark application for TURNOVER CHAIN for various goods (although not including beer) claiming a date of first use in commerce in September 2017. (U.S. Trademark Serial No. 87688132). In addition, the University of Miami’s “Visual Identity Manual” explains that the University’s colors are orange and green and shows examples of the “U” logo, with orange on the left and green on the right.28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

J. Wakefield Brewing in Miami, Florida filed a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which was approved on November 19, 2017.29

An article on SouthFlorida.com’s website said that a former Miami Hurricane’s football player was on board and promoting the Miami-themed beer.30 In a separate Press Release in Brewbound, the brewery discussed how the founder and brewmaster Johnathan Wakefield was a big Miami Hurricane’s fan and met with a former player. But the brewer’s status as a true fan was not enough. Neither was label approval from the government or concept approval from a former football player. The brewery did not have approval from the University.

Shortly after initial announcements of the “TURNOVER CHAIN” beer, J. Wakefield Brewing began selling a product named “Chains” which no longer included the word “TURNOVER” and no longer included a green/orange color scheme. In an article in Brewbound, a disclaimer was included and the following explanation was provided related to the beer name: “Chains, formerly known as Turnover, is not affiliated with any educational institution and is not being marketed to college students.”31

Iowa University – “Iowa City Wave” Milkshake IPA:

Ending on a high note, the 2017 college football season had a true feel-good-story based in Iowa. At the end of the first quarter, at each of the University of Iowa home football games, the entire stadium full of more than 60,000 fans would turn towards the new UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that overlooked the field.32 The fans inside Kinnick Stadium would wave to the children and their families inside the hospital, who would wave back. If you have not seen it yet, watch a video.33 It’s powerful.

Taking this trending, season-long, feel-good, local story and imagining a way to support their local team and local children, Backpocket Brewing in Iowa decided to brew a beer and donate the proceeds to the Children’s Hospital.34 After selling the “Iowa City Wave” milkshake IPA for a limited time, the brewery delivered a check of over $600 to the hospital, posting on Twitter the following message on November 20, 2017: “Thank you everyone who came out to the taproom & enjoyed our milkshake IPA to help us raise over $600 for the @UIchildrens #IowaCraftBeer.”35

While it may not be authorized by,36 sponsored by, or affiliated with the university,37 it is nice to see the donation being put to good use. It is not clear whether the brewery and the University or the hospital have been in contact regarding this beer name. This is a unique situation – but not because the brewery is making donations to the Children’s Hospital. For example, the outcome of the trademark disputes related to Purdue, Pitt, and Miami-branded craft beer would not have been different even if proceeds of sales were donated. Rather, it is a unique situation because it is not clear who owns “The Wave.” At this time, the University has not filed an application to register a trademark containing the word “Wave” for any goods and services. However, this new tradition of the “Wave” is likely to continue into next football season and it may become a clear indication of source for the University and/or the Children’s Hospital.

Conclusion:

The following do NOT automatically authorize you to use your favorite college’s trademarks:

  1. You are “local.”
  2. You are the #1 fan of the #1 team.
  3. You registered a trademark with the State.
  4. You obtained a COLA label approval for your label.
  5. You have been using a name in your advertising for years.
  6. You donate money to the school.
  7. You got approval from alumni (not even from famous alumni).
  8. You have sold that beer at the school before.
  9. You filed an application to register a trademark with the USPTO.
  10. You are donating all proceeds of all sales.

In conclusion, get approval from the owner of the trademark. Get it in writing. And then make sure you comply with the university’s branding requirements.If you do not have approval, check the branding requirements to familiarize yourself with the school’s brand so you can make sure you do not step over the line.

While each of the examples discussed above relate to universities, these lessons apply to the major leagues as well. For example, Boulevard Brewing was one of the first breweries to work with a Major League Baseball team when it became the official craft beer sponsor of the Kansas City Royals.38 39 In the San Francisco Bay Area, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing partnered with both MLB’s San Francisco Giants (“Los Gigantes” Mexican Style Lager) and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors – using team logos and color schemes in their packaging.40 41 In addition, San Jose’s Gordon Biersch partnered with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks by creating a special “Chum” red dry hopped ale in team colors and including the team logo.42 These examples of official sponsorships and authorized uses of trademarks include official announcements and press releases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Kanach is a Partner in the firm’s Intellectual Property and Food & Beverage practice groups, and a frequent speaker and writer on craft beer trademark law. For more information about Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani LLP’s Intellectual Property Practice Group, including the firm’s specialization in the craft beer industry, please visit www.grsm.com/practices/food-beverage/craft-breweries and https://www.gordonrees.com/practices/intellectual-property.

Mr. Kanach is also a member of the firm’s Entertainment, Fashion, Media & Sports practice group. For more information, please visit https://www.gordonrees.com/practices/entertainment-media-sports.
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1 “How to Use the Super Bowl to Promote Your Business – Not!” Small Business Trends, Joshua Sophy, January 28, 2018. https://smallbiztrends.com/2018/01/super-bowl-trademark-rules.html
2 “Super Bowl or the Game That Shall Not Be Named!” Hop Law, Garner & Ginsburg, P.A., December 20, 2017. http://www.hoppylawyers.com/super-bowl-game-shall-not-named/
3 “The NFL Pretending Trademark Law Says Something It Doesn’t Leads To Hilariously Amateurish Ads For ‘The Big Game’ – from the the-game-that-shan’t-be-named dept” Tech Dirt, Timothy Geigner, January 29, 2018. https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180126/09444139092/nfl-pretending-trademark-law-says-something-it-doesnt-leads-to-hilariously-amateurish-ads-big-game.shtml
4 “Making Fair Use of the Super Bowl Trademark” Duets Blog, Steve Baird, September 25, 2017. https://www.duetsblog.com/2017/09/articles/advertising/making-fair-use-of-the-super-bowl-trademark/
5 “Securing necessary copyright and trademark rights for broadcasts and promotions related to the NFL championship games and Super Bowl 52” Lerman Senter PLLC (Lexology), January 11, 2018. https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=92ce3502-82e6-4768-8721-d279df297589 http://www.lermansenter.com/assets/attachments/758.htm
6 “Big Game Punting: Super Bowl Scores $5.4 Billion In Ad Spending Over 52 Years” AdAge, Bradley Johnson, January 11, 2018. http://adage.com/article/special-report-super-bowl/super-bowl-ad-spending-history-charts-52-years/311881/
7 “Brewers Association Releases 2017 Top 50 Brewing Companies By Sales Volume” Brewers Association, March 14, 2018, https://www.brewersassociation.org/press-releases/brewers-association-releases-2017-top-50-brewing-companies-by-sales-volume/
8 “Craft Brewing and Distilling News for January 24, 2018” Shanken News Daily, January 24, 2018 http://www.shankennewsdaily.com/index.php/2018/01/24/20038/craft-brewing-distilling-news-january-24-2018/
9 “2017 Craft Beer In Review” Press Release, The Brewers Association, December 13, 2017. https://www.brewersassociation.org/press-releases/2017-craft-beer-review/
10 Indiana Government website trademark search page: http://www.in.gov/apps/sos/trademarks/
11 http://www.sportsbeerbrewing.com/claim-your-brand-.html
12 http://www.sportsbeerbrewing.com/about-us.html
13 U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4497301.
14 U.S. Trademark Registration Nos. 2023046 and 2023047.
15 https://www.whois.com/whois/sportsbeerbrewing.com
16 TTB ID 17283001000314 https://www.ttbonline.gov/colasonline/viewColaDetails.do?action=publicFormDisplay&ttbid=17283001000314
17 https://www.purdue.edu/brand/downloads/508_Quick-Brand-Guide-PDF-300.pdf
18 http://www.sportsbeerbrewing.com/claim-your-brand-.html (last viewed on January 29, 2018).
19 “Pitt drops trademark hammer on Voodoo Brewery’s Pitt-themed beer” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Adam Bittner, October 19, 2017. http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/Pitt/2017/10/19/h2p-beer-pitt-trademark-voodoo-brewery-pittsburgh-panthers-homecoming/stories/201710190025
20 H2P (standard character mark) for magnets and label pins owned by the Registrant University of Pittsburgh-Of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education (“Pitt”) (U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4014150)
21 PITT (in script lettering) for football helmets (U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4960354).
22 PITT (in script lettering) for numerous goods, including shot glasses, drinking glasses, and miniature toy helmets (U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4960171).
23 http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/Pitt/2017/06/27/Pitt-colors-change-royal-blue-and-yellow/stories/201706270143 “Will Pitt change its colors back to royal blue and yellow?” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Kevin Stankiewicz, June 27, 2017.
24 http://www.communications.pitt.edu/Graphic-Standards.pdf
25 PITT (in script lettering) for football helmets claims to have a first use in commerce at least as early as 1973 (U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4960354).
26 http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/Pitt/2017/10/19/h2p-beer-pitt-trademark-voodoo-brewery-pittsburgh-panthers-homecoming/stories/201710190025
27 “Miami Hurricanes’ Turnover Chain becomes a beer” SouthFlorida.com, Talia J. Medina, November 15, 2017. http://www.southflorida.com/restaurants-and-bars/drinking/sf-j-wakefield-turnover-chain-miami-canes-beer-20171115-story.html
28 The University of Miami’s “Visual Identity Manual” https://ucomm.miami.edu/_assets/pdf/tools-and-resources/UMiami_IDguide_March_2015.pdf (Updated March 2015)
29 Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”) TTB ID: 17320001000412, approved on November 19, 2017. https://www.ttbonline.gov/colasonline/viewColaDetails.do?action=publicDisplaySearchBasic&ttbid=17320001000412
30 See footnote 27: “The IPA will be brewed in partnership with former Miami Hurricanes linebacker D.J. Williams, who was a member of the 2001-2002 national championship team.”
31 “J. Wakefield Brewing to Release Chains New England-Style IPA” Brewbound, Press Release, Dec. 11, 2017. https://www.brewbound.com/news/j-wakefield-brewing-release-chains-ipa
32 “The Iowa Wave through a child’s eyes” USAToday, George Schroeder, November 2, 2017. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2017/11/02/iowa-wave-through-childs-eyes/826378001/
33 “Iowa Hawkeyes’ new tradition is more than just a wave” ESPN, Published on Sep 30, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7UqYD_owgY
34 “Iowa City Wave, Backpocket’s newest beer, will benefit the UI Children’s Hospital” Little Village Magazine, Emma McClatchey, November 2, 2017. http://littlevillagemag.com/iowa-city-wave-backpockets-newest-beer-will-benefit-the-ui-childrens-hospital/
35 https://twitter.com/BackpocketBrew/status/932722791710937088
36 See footnote 34. “Overton said he and other Iowa City natives on staff had been meaning to make a beer that pays homage to Hawkeye football. With Iowa City Wave, they not only nabbed a trademark-free title, but a way to both honor and contribute to the growing awareness of children’s hospital patients and their families by Hawk fans.”
37 According to a search of the University’s  searchable website portal, there do not appear to be any breweries listed as licensed: http://portal.uilicensing.com/index.cfm/licensee/search
38 “The Kansas City Royals have named an official craft beer. Will other teams follow?” The Washington Post, Fritz Hahn, March 10, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/food/wp/2017/03/10/the-kansas-city-royals-have-named-an-official-craft-beer-will-other-teams-follow/ (“The Kansas City Royals have named Boulevard Brewing their official craft beer partner. According to Major League Baseball, it’s the first time a team has had an official craft beer.”)
39 https://www.boulevard.com/partner/royals/
40 “Anchor Brewing’s Golden Warriors beer for the Dub Nation” The Mercury News, Jay R. Brooks, March 27, 2017, updated March 30, 2017. https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/27/anchor-brewings-golden-warriors-beer-for-the-dub-nation/
41 http://www.nba.com/warriors/anchor?mpweb=1009-2132-44620
42 “Gordon Biersch’s new San Jose Sharks beer is called ‘Chum’” The Mercury News, Sal Pizarro, September 8, 2016, updated September 9, 2016. https://www.mercurynews.com/2016/09/08/gordon-bierschs-new-san-jose-sharks-beer-is-called-chum/