The Green Jacket of the Masters Golf Tournament is Finally a Registered Trademark

The golf season is almost here for most individuals in the United States and, for golf enthusiasts, that means the Masters golf tournament. Last year, Tiger Woods won the iconic tournament in a dramatic return to the winners circle. However, while Tiger was putting on the green jacket as the winner of the Masters, a fight over that jacket was occurring with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).

On February 21, 2019, Augusta National, Inc., applied to register the green jacket as a trademark. Initially, the USPTO denied registration of the green jacket with gold buttons because they deemed it a non-distinctive product design with functional elements, thus not eligible for registration. The USPTO subsequently denied registration because the jacket was deemed a decoration and ornamentation, not an inherently distinctive service mark, thus not eligible for registration. Regardless of the reasons, the green jacket that has been awarded to the winner of the Masters since 1949, when Sam Snead won the tournament, was initially deemed ineligible for trademark registration. Ultimately, the inherently distinctive green jacket prevailed in arguments with the USPTO and it received registration almost a year later.

For businesses, this illustrates a couple important points. First, that trademark law is used for trade dress, sounds, designs, and possible even smell, not just your standard logo or words. The second is that regardless of how distinctive and historical a trademark, the registration process requires expertise and knowledge of the overall prosecution process. Of course, the attorneys are Vandenack Weaver LLC are here to help with that prosecution, even if the trademark isn’t as famous as the green jacket. As for Tiger, we will have to wait and see if he can defend his title at the Masters.

 

VW Contributor: Alex Rainville
© 2020 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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New Rules at the Trademark Office

Effective February 15, 2020, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) implemented several new rules for applicants and registrants. While these rule changes are not substantive in nature, the procedural and administrative updates are likely to cause substantive disruption for certain trademark owners and applicants. Although it is arguable what will have the largest impact, the update to the specimen requirements are likely to create new challenges.

The USPTO revised the items that are deemed an acceptable specimen. The change is designed to ensure that the specimen submitted clearly depicts the trademark in use with the specific good or service provided. By way of example, mock-ups, designs on their own, and labels without clear association with the good or service are no longer accepted. Another change includes the USPTO designating email as the only method for formal correspondence. This procedural change includes a new requirement that all registration applications must be submitted electronically, with limited exception. For attorney’s filing on behalf of a client, the attorney will also need to provide the email address for the client, as opposed to just the attorney. This requirement applies to proceedings in front of the trademark trial and appeal board as well as registration applications.

These procedural changes are the latest updates to take effect as the USPTO attempts to modernize and combat fraudulent registrations and applications. For those with a registered trademark, these changes will apply to the next required filing or, if the USPTO so elects, to an audit of the registered mark. This means that trademark owners should ensure that they continuously use their trademarks in commerce in the manner described in the trademark registration.

VW Contributor: Alex Rainville
© 2020 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Scandalous Trademarks: What You Need to Know.

The Lanham Act, which governs trademarks that are registered through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”), expressly prohibits the registration of marks that are deemed scandalous, immoral, or deceptive. This prohibition has historically prevented brands from using marks that could fall into this category, even if the mark is appropriate for the situation. However, in 2019, this prohibition was expressly overridden and these types of marks are now eligible for registration and protection under the Lanham Act.

During the summer of 2019, the United States Supreme Court determined that the prohibition against scandalous marks contained in the Lanham Act is an unconstitutional prohibition on protected speech. See Iancu v. Brunetti, 488 U.S. ___ (2019). Essentially, the Court decided that this amounted to viewpoint discrimination, in violation of the First Amendment. As a result, the USPTO is required to accept and consider scandalous trademark registration applications.

For businesses, artists, and musicians that utilize what was deemed scandalous marks by the USPTO as part of their operations, now is the time to act to protect the intellectual property. Although the USPTO hasn’t reported a rush applications that fit this category, now that these previously un-protected marks are protectable, it is expected that the volume of applications will increase.

VW Contributor: Alex Rainville
© 2020 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Supreme Court to Determine Whether Fossil Must Turn Over Profits for Trademark Infringement

Fossil, Inc., the luxury goods retailer, could owe a manufacturer, Romag Fasteners, Inc., its profits for infringing on Romag’s trademark. The issue of whether Fossil owes Romag approximately $6.7 million dollars in profits gained by using the infringing trademark depends on whether the remedy of disgorgement of profits by a party infringing on a trademark requires willfulness by the infringing party.

The issue arises from Fossil using a magnetic snap fastener on some of its bags, purchasing some of the fasteners directly from Romag. However, Fossil also purchased some fasteners that looked nearly identical to those of Romag from another source, likely knowing that the fasteners were counterfeit and infringed on the trademark of Romag. Despite this knowledge, Fossil proceeded to use them anyways in “callous disregard” to the rights of Romag. In a moment of luck for Romag, an employee discovered the counterfeit products when visiting a Macy’s, finding the Fossil bags with the counterfeit fastener. Romag successfully argued that Fossil infringed on their trademark rights, but an open question regarding the remedy remains. The United States Supreme Court will determine whether the remedy includes the profits of Fossil, and such decision will be based on whether Fossil must willfully infringe on Romag’s trademark rights or if “callous disregard” is sufficient to entitle Romag to the profits of Fossil.

This case highlights the broader importance of protecting the brand and intellectual property of a company. Traditionally, this means taking active steps to ensure that the trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and patents are protected under applicable law, but it should also mean proactively verifying that the initiatives of the company don’t infringe on the rights of another. Failure to take consider trademark rights, as Fossil is learning the hard way, could result in disgorgement of profits.

VW Contributor: Alex Rainville
© 2020 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Fortnite Under Siege

Fornite, the video game by Epic Games that has taken the world by storm, has been subject to a number of copyright infringement claims for dances performed by characters in the game. The dances causing problems include those that are well known and new viral sensations such as the “Carlton,” “Backpack Kid” flossing, “Milly Rock” dance, and Halloween “Pump It Up.” While most are relatively standard copyright infringement claims, alleging the characters doing the dances in the game infringe on the copyright, one claim, for infringement of the “Running Man” dance, has an interesting twist.

A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court mandated that a copyright owner must register the work with the Copyright Office prior to filing a claim for copyright infringement. As a result, many claims, including those against Epic Games, were withdrawn until the work could be registered. However, the owners of the “Running Man” dance elected to amend their claim, from a copyright infringement claim to trademark infringement claim. As a defense to trademark infringement, Epic Games is asserting that the claims are preempted by the Copyright Act. Although no one disputes that the name of a dance can be protected under trademark law, it is unclear whether a court will decide if the dance itself is protected; typically a dance is protected by copyright, as choreography.

This could open the door for more claims against Epic Games for dances used in Fortnite, but the more impactful consequence is the potential to further define the scope of what constitutes a trademark. If it is ultimately determined that a dance can be a protectable trademark, that would add to the list of protectable marks, which already includes color, scent, sound, designs, layouts, and words.

VW Contributor: Alex Rainville
© 2020 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Intellectual Property: A Peloton Story

Most people know Peloton because of their flashy and controversial ads, as well as for revolutionizing the indoor cycling industry. However, as Peloton forges forward in the competitive fitness equipment industry and fights to keep its stock price above its IPO level, they have also been litigating trademark and copyright claims. Recently, a Federal District Court ruled in favor of Peloton in the trademark matter, which means, for now, Peloton will be able to retain its name.

In the case, Move Press, LLC v. Peloton Interactive, Inc., Move Press claimed that Peloton was infringing on their trademark rights because Move Press has a cycling publication named Peloton Magazine. Move Press had registered this trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and its use of the mark clearly preceded the use by Peloton. However, Move Press did not file the claim against Peloton for well over four years. As a result, Peloton argued that this claim was barred under an equitable legal theory known as laches, which means that Move Press waited an unreasonable period of time to bring the claim. Peloton had to argue laches, as opposed to a statute of limitations, because the Lanham Act, which governs registered trademarks, does not have a statute of limitations. The Federal District Court, after undergoing a rigorous review of the elements in the laches defense, ruled in favor of Peloton.

Had Move Press timely made the claim against Peloton, the result would have likely been in favor of Move Press and the public would know Peloton as something different. For business owners, this raises two important points. The first is that every registered trademark owner has an obligation to police their marks and, should they find someone infringing on their mark, timely bring a claim. The second is that a business, when selecting its name, branding a new product, or re-branding, should review its rights in the marks prior to making a significant marketing investment.

VW Contributor: Alex Rainville
© 2019 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Domain Names and Trademarks: Enforcing Trademark Rights Against Domain Name Owners.

In the era of modern commerce, the success of a business is often driven by technology and its web presence, and it has become easier than ever to purchase a domain name from an internet domain registrar, making ownership available to the masses. This has increased the number of disputes that arise between an owner of a registered trademark and an owner of a domain name. While many of these disputes are in good faith and resolved through a negotiated settlement, many are arising because individuals are intentionally trying to “ransom” these domain names to the highest bidder. In these situations, it is important to know your rights under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”) and the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”).

The ACPA was enacted in 1999 and designed to protect trademark owners from domain name cybersquatters, but it requires the trademark to be distinctive and/or famous prior to the purchase of the domain name, and the purchase to be in bad faith. Although the distinctiveness and fame element is governed by traditional trademark rules, courts haven’t isolated exactly what constitutes bad faith in this context. By way of example, in ZP No. 314, LLC v. ILM Capital, LLC, No. 1:16-cv-00521-B (S.D. Ala. Sept. 30, 2019), the court decided that bad faith did not include “parking” on the domain name. In this case, the infringing business purchased the domain name with the sole intent of profiting from the other businesses distinctive mark. However, since the mark did not become “distinctive and famous” until after the infringing business stopped actively using the domain name, the court determined that this was not bad faith, despite being critical of its own opinion on the matter.

An alternative remedy for a trademark owner is to seek protection through the UDRP, which is run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”). Similar to the ACPA, to obtain relief, the trademark owner must follow a specific process and meet the required elements. The process and the elements are different than the ACPA, but have significant overlap. For a business seeking to enforce its trademark rights against the owner of a domain name, the path to obtaining relief requires careful analysis and planning, especially because the courts continue to adjust to modern commerce.

VW Contributor: Alex Rainville
© 2019 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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