Summer 2023 is heating up to be the Summer of Barbie. Last week Mattel filed a Notice of Opposition against Burberry’s proposed “BRBY” trademark with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board asserting likelihood of confusion with Mattel’s Barbie brand. It asserts that Mattel will be damaged if Burberry is permitted to register “BRBY” because the mark is “highly similar” in “appearance, sound, and commercial impression.” Mattel has said that “when spoken aloud, the marks are phonetically identical.” It also asserts that a BRBY mark on clothing, bags or accessories would dilute the Barbie brand and consumers may be fooled into thinking the mark is a “subset or expansion” of Barbie.
The question of whether a would-be trademark, “TRUMP TOO SMALL,” warrants a First Amendment exception to the Lanham Act’s prohibition on registering a living person’s name as a trademark without that person’s permission has now reached the United States Supreme Court. On June 5, 2023, in Vidal v. Elster, Case 22-704, the high court granted the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (hereinafter, the “Government”) petition for certiorari to determine whether, under 15 U.S.C. § 1052(c), the refusal to register a trademark containing another person’s name violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment when that mark implies criticism of a government official or public figure. As we wrote last year, one cannot normally trademark another person’s name, but in the case of Steve Elster’s trademark application for TRUMP TOO SMALL, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the “CAFC”) held in In re Elster, 26 F.4th 1328, 2022 USPQ2d 195 (Fed. Cir. 2022), that one’s First Amendment right to make social commentary about a public figure trumps (bad pun intended) the Lanham Act. Whether the Supreme Court agrees with the CAFC soon will be determined.
In our first post we discussed what a trademark is and how business owners can strengthen the protection of their trademarks. But, obtaining a trademark registration is just the first step—you also need to monitor your trademark to make sure no one else is using it, or a confusingly similar trademark, without your permission. Trademark infringement occurs when another business or individual uses your trademark, or a similar mark, in a way that is likely to confuse or deceive consumers about the source of the goods or services. This can be detrimental to your business by both diluting your brand and causing you to lose customers. This post explores some of the best methods business owners can employ to monitor their trademarks.
As a business owner, you have invested time, money, and effort into creating a brand that represents your company and sets it apart from competitors. Protecting your investment through registering and enforcing your trademark plays an essential role in ensuring your efforts were not in vain. Without proper protection, your trademark, and by extension, your brand, may be vulnerable to infringement or dilution by competitors, resulting in loss of customers, revenue, and reputation. This is the first in a series of articles discussing how business owners can protect and enhance the goodwill developed in their brand.
Jack Daniel’s Property, Inc. has successfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its dispute against VIP Products LLC, a dog-toy maker known for its playful products that mimic various beverage brands. Jack Daniel’s argues that the 3x10 inch “Bad Spaniels” vinyl dog toy portraying a parody version of the well-known whiskey label violates its federal trademark rights and tarnishes the Jack Daniel’s brand.
As I recently noted in an article on trademarks in the U.S. and internationally, Metro-Goldin-Mayer and Pennsylvania State University are two entities in different, yet related, channels of trade (sports and entertainment, which were melded together as ESPN’s original name). But they do have something in common in that each is known for the roar of a lion:
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