A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC


One Week, Two Trademarks, Three Countries, Five Opinions, and a Big Ol’ Circuit Split

Last week, two different U.S. courts took action in cases involving the use of trademarks outside the borders of the United States, and if you aren’t confused you don’t understand territoriality.

 

The big news last Monday was the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal in the case of Belmora, LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG. You can read the Fourth Circuit opinion here. This is a case of the limits of standing to sue under the Lanham Act coming up against a really bad actor, to put it simply.

Bayer Consumer Care, a Swiss company, sells naproxen sodium pain relievers under the brand name FLANAX in Mexico. (The product is the same as ALEVE in the United States). They’ve been selling FLANAX in Mexico since 1976.  In 2004, Belmora LLC started selling its own naproxen sodium pain relievers under the name FLANAX. The packaging was virtually identical to Bayer’s packaging in Mexico. Belmora marketed its product to distributors with all kinds of claims about the “topselling brand among Latinos” and declaring that “Flanax is now made in the U.S.” Did I mention these are really skeezy guys?

Belmora even had the gall to apply for registration of FLANAX at the USPTO, and…

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Swimming in the Shark Tank: Even Gladiators Need to Clear Trademarks

Swimming with the Shark Tank

If you’re a fan of Shark Tank, one of the more interesting pitches was by Rachel Zietz in 2016, a (then) fifteen-year old lacrosse player and entrepreneur. She said she was tired of the lousy lacrosse equipment she had been buying from the major manufacturers, who, she suspected, didn’t really understand the sport. She would design better equipment herself. Encouraged by her parents and The Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Boca Raton to form a business around something she loved, she started manufacturing and selling lacrosse equipment. She called her business “Gladiator Lacrosse.” She was only thirteen. It was 2013.

None of sharks invested in her company, though they were all impressed and a few were intrigued. They didn’t doubt her business model or her success. Her company already had revenues of $340,000, in just a matter of two years, so she was clearly tapping into something. They just didn’t see how their involvement and money would add anything to her company. Some also doubted that she could stay involved in her company at such a young age, when she would have so many other commitments. She responded that she has a strong brand: GLADIATOR.

Those about to…

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Honey Catches Flies and Hackers, But Not A Trademark Registration

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has offered us honey. You know, that stuff with which you catch more flies.

The lines between descriptive and suggestive marks has never been easy to define.  Bitvoyant, a Virginia-based software company, found that out this week.  Bitvoyant applied to register the mark HONEYFILE in connection with the following:
Computer software platforms for use in the field of computer network security that assist in the tracking of data exfiltration and network intelligence in Class 9; and

Computer security consultancy; Computer security service, namely, restricting access to and by computer networks to and of undesired web sites, media and individuals and facilities; Computer security services, namely, enforcing, restricting and controlling access privileges of users of computing resources for cloud, mobile or network resources based on assigned credentials; Computer virus protection services; Design and development of electronic data security systems; Platform as a service (PAAS) featuring computer software platforms for use in the field of computer network security that assist in the tracking of data exfiltration and network intellegence in Class 42.
The Examining Attorney found the mark descriptive, based on evidence that the cybersecurity industry used the term to denote files that would…

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Catch Downtown Fever! Why Trademark Ownership Disputes Are the Worst

Who Owns the Jelly Nailed to the Wall?

There are few legal holy messes like a dispute over trademark ownership. Sure, copyright and patent ownership disputes can be messy, but nothing like trademark ownership. And, sure, copyright ownership can be tricky, but it’s a walk in the park compared to trademark ownership. Here are some reasons why:

There can normally be only one owner of a trademark for a given set of products in a given market. Why? That’s because a trademark serves as a link between products and a single source. In contrast, copyrights and patents can have multiple owners.
But there can be multiple legitimate owners of trademarks for the same or similar products, if (a) they are geographically remote from each other AND (b) the later (“junior”) user isn’t on notice about the earlier use (which is often the case). Why? Because the point of a trademark is to prevent confusion, and there’s chance of confusion if different owners are far enough away from each other. Copyrights and patents, by contrast, automatically have national scope.
The owner of a trademark is the one who “actually uses” it for the products in the market. But often many hands are involved in…

WE WANT DOWNTOWN FEVER! WE WANT DOWNTOWN FEVER! (Even if we would have to go to a different club to see them?) By Asroma - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6746532

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Crying in Your Beer: With Trademarks, Get Clearance Before Falling in Love

Applications to Register a Trademark Can Give Away Your Position

BLACK OPS is a great name for beer. It suggests (and doesn’t merely describe) the beer as dark, secret and elite. It’s as though only you and a select few know about this beer.

The thing about excellent trademarks is that great minds often think alike, and more than one person is likely to independently hit upon the same clever trademark. But, usually, there can only be one—the one used in commerce first. This is known as priority.

There Can Only Be One! (But Where?)

In the old days, it was not unusual for similar trademarks for similar goods to co-exist, provided they were far enough away from each other. But increasing mobility, the development of national markets and distribution systems, the internet and, most of all, federal trademark registration have changed that. Nowadays, it’s actually pretty uncommon for a product’s market to be geographically limited. You can sell nearly any moveable product nationwide, and even services are increasingly available to remote customers.

The way it used to work is like this: Say Xena started selling NOS HABEBIT hummus in Florida in 2000, and Yanni independently started selling NOS HABEBIT hummus in Oregon in…

Plaintiff's BROOKLYN BLACK OPS on the left (only $29.00 a bottle!), Defendant's BLOCK OPS BREWERY on the right.

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