Winning? Maybe. Registering? More than Tiger Blood is needed for a trademark application.

11 04 2011

In late March (the 19th through the 22nd), Charlie Sheen, through the company, Hyro-Gliff, filed 24 trademark applications covering some of his quotes such as “Duh, Winning,” “Violent Torpedo of Truth,” and “Rock Star From Mars.”

These applications were generally filed in connection with products and services such as candy, gambling machines, travel agencies, luggage, backpacks, and shampoos, among many others.  The entire application was filed in Class 9, even though the goods and services would likely need to be several classes (maybe all of them, who knows?)

When Sheen, through, Hyro-Gliff filed the applications, it was generally reported that he has trademarked those terms.  However, these applications are a long way from registering, and many of them may never register as trademarks.

It’s well known that Pat Riley, aka Riles & Company, received several registrations for the wording “Three-Peat” in the 1990’s.  The registration issued for shirts, bumper stickers, and collectibles; Riley/Riles & Company could not keep the mark from being used in news articles and descriptions of championship teams that have won three straight titles.  No, Riley would not receive royalties every time Three-Peat was used.

In fact, Riley’s registrations covered Three-Peat only with those products, and he wisely limited the mark’s use to a narrow group of goods.  If he had applied for a long list of items, there would have been serious questions as to whether he had a bona fide intent to use the mark on all of those products.

Riley also managed to avoid an ornamental refusal for t-shirts by using Three-Peat on the crest of shirts; trademark applicants routinely try to register slogans and catch phrases on t-shirts, only to be denied because there would be no association between the mark and the source of the product when it is used on a t-shirt.  However, there is a general exception for labels or wording used on the crest of the shirt because that’s how trademarks are commonly presented on shirts.

Not learning that lesson, Riley has filed for Threepeat without the hyphen in 2010.  That application has been refused registration because the wording is only ornamental, in other words, the wording is not shown in a way that would associate that would indicate the source of the mark.

Sheen and other celebrity trademark filers will likely run into a number of procedural issues as they try to register their catch phrases.  New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott has filed a trademark application for the Jets’ phrase Can’t Wait! in connection with clothing.  The application was filed as an intent-to-use application, so at some point, Scott will have to show the mark in use.  If the mark is splashed on the front of a t-shirt, he will likely see the same ornamental refusal.

As for Sheen’s application, he has filed for so many products that he will also have issues showing use.  However, his issues will involve a reclassification of his products and services into many different classes, and when he ultimately shows the marks used on products, there may be questions as to whether he actually had an intent to use his marks on all of the items listed in his application.  He may remove many of the products and services from his applications at some point; if he does so, then he may actually intend and use his marks for products such as toothpaste, table cloths, and pet foods, as his applications say.

As they stand now, they could be vulnerable to refusal by the Patent and Trademark Office, and certainly by third parties if they can show that Sheen never intended to use the products with any of the marks that register.

Defeat may not be an option for Sheen, but it’s possible that trademark protection will not be as well.


HAIL TO THE ____________! by Seth Chadab

11 07 2009

One of trademark law’s most infamous cases may soon be headed back to the headlines. A petition to cancel six of the Washington Redskins’ trademarks (including the ‘Redskinettes’), filed in 2006 by a new group of six plaintiffs, has been on hold pending final word from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

This past May, the Court ruled (Harjo IV) that the defense of laches was valid and a seven-plus-year delay in filing for cancellation upon reaching the age majority was deemed an unreasonable burden to Pro-Football, Inc., the corporate entity of the Washington Redskins. The Court of Appeals ruling finally puts Harjo to bed, but it does not resolve the major issue in this dispute, whether Redskins’ marks are disparaging and in violation of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act.

The ultimate resolution of this issue could be major news for the nation’s most popular professional sport, potentially forcing a re-branding of one the oldest pro football teams, established in 1932 and Washington’s own since 1937. Susan Harjo, along with six other Native American petitioners, sought to cancel the Redskins’ marks which have been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office since 1967.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ruled in 1994 in favor of Harjo, finding that based on the evidence submitted, “…a trial might show that respondents [Redskins’] marks hold a substantial segment of the population up to public ridicule.” The TTAB also found that the Redskins were not entitled to the defense of laches. Since the TTAB decision in 1994, the District Court and Court of Appeals have gone back and forth solely on the issue of laches, in favor of the Redskins each time.

 The District Court, in the original Harjo decision, overruled the TTAB’s finding of disparagement and found that the TTAB’s decision was “not supported by substantial evidence.” Now that the laches issue has been put aside, many believe that the District Court will soon have to revisit the disparagement issue. The current cancellation petitioners, all aged between 18 and 24, should be able to avoid Pro-Football’s laches defense, having initiated the cancellation proceeding shortly upon reaching the age of majority. These new petitioners, led by Amanda Blackhorse, should be optimistic for a favorable TTAB ruling on disparagement. Since the Harjo ruling, Native American advocacy groups have been successful in persuading organizations and institutions to re-brand and adopt new names or mascots.

Most notably, in 2005 the NCAA banned nicknames and mascots that were “hostile and abusive,” targeting 18 universities throughout the United States. Exceptions were granted by the NCAA in some cases (e.g., Florida State Seminoles), but many schools chose to comply and re-brand. These examples will be cited by the petitioners once the TTAB resumes the Blackhorse proceeding. It remains unclear whether it will be enough to persuade the District Court and Court of Appeals, and a lengthy appeal process is expected. If Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins, ultimately loses, more than just loss of control over use of the trademarks is at stake. A suit seeking an injunction against the Redskins name would also be likely.

 The original attorney for Harjo and other petitioners, Steve Baird, recommends that the Redskins re-brand, citing the Washington pro basketball team’s decision to drop the Bullets in favor of the Wizards in 1997. I’m, however, not so convinced Steve’s arguments would be able to persuade many in Washington to voluntarily adopt a new name for their beloved Redskins.

Call Failed – Trademark Dispute Further Delays launch of iPhone in China by Seth Chadab

25 06 2009

While a distribution agreement for the iPhone is still pending for the world’s most explosive market, Apple is facing another setback that will further delay the introduction of the iPhone in China.  It appears that Apple inexplicitly failed to register “iPhone” with the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce of China in the category for mobile and video phones.  Having only applied for computer hardware and software in its otherwise timely 2002 application, Apple neglected to include the mobile and video phone product category.  Hanwang Technology, perhaps the first company to realize this mistake, applied two years later and secured a registration for “i-phone” with the Trademark Office, under the proper classification.  Despite objections by Apple during the opposition period (similar to U.S. Trademark law), the trademark committee granted Hanwang Technology the exclusive right over the mark, thereby forcing Apple to either rebrand the iPhone in China or negotiate an agreement with Hanwang for permission to use the mark.  This trademark dispute, in addition to other setbacks to the iPhone introduction in China, have many speculating that an exclusive deal with a Chinese cell carrier is not likely to be anytime soon. 

 The Chinese market, however, has proven that the demand for an iPhone is very strong among mobile users.  As a result, a “clone” market has emerged that has hardware manufacturers competing to see who can make the most authentic iPhone knock-off.  The most recent addition, the “iPhome 3G,” joins the already popular “HiPhone” and “SciPhone,” as a cheap substitute that duplicates the iPhone’s stylish exterior and boasts a near-flawless OS X-based operating system.  Apple will have to clear the market of these counterfeits in order to gain the market share that many had expected from the popularity of the iPhone in the western countries. 

 Apple’s folly in China thus far is in stark contrast to its reputation in the United States for vigorously enforcing its trademarks and other IP rights.  To meet expectations in China, Apple will have to negotiate permissions with Hanwang for the iPhone trademark (lets face it – Apple would be crazy to rename the iPhone for the Chinese market) and then accomplish the more difficult task of taking on the cheap counterfeiters that have dominated the Chinese market without impunity.

The issue with Netbook by Seth Chadab

21 06 2009

Psion’s latest battle against Intel and Dell to maintain exclusive rights in ‘netbook’ will be their final salvo in the war to prevent the genericide of their registrations. The Canadian-based hardware manufacturer announced last week they reached an agreement with Intel and Dell and will withdraw their latest ‘netbook’ applications with the Patent and Trademark office. Intel and Psion have battled publically since December 2008 over the use of the term ‘netbook,’ the industry-adopted term for a popular new technology in the consumer gadget industry which has spurred some tough competition.

Psion originally filed an application to register ‘netbook’ trademark in 1996 and introduced their line of mini-PCs shortly thereafter, but only finding minimal success in the market. Psion, however, sold only one line of computers under the ‘Netbook’ name (which was incidentally discontinued in 2003). In 2008, the demand for small laptops predominantly used for web-based applications exploded, prompting larger hardware manufacturers to flood the market. Netbook was widely used by Psion’s competitors to describe the genus of this new tech. Psion responded aggressively to the competition and chose to send out numerous cease and desist letters to these manufacturers and anyone else who had used netbook generically.

Psion’s threats backfired, prompting Dell and Intel to petition the PTO for cancellation of Psion’s registrations. Incidentally, Intel joined the suit in February 2009, despite neither manufacturing netbook computers nor selling any hardware under the ‘netbook’ name. Psion countered with a claim of more than $1 billion in damages. In the end, Dell and Intel successfully hammered Psion for failing to police the mark effectively and even cited to many generic uses of netbook by Psion in their own releases. It is uncertain what will happen to Psion’s current registrations, but it is clear that Psion will no longer protest the use of netbook.

While many predicted that Psion would ultimately lose this fight, the lesson learned by Psion and other hardware manufacturers is to be less descriptive in choosing the name for new products. The more functional and familiar the word is in the larger industry, the more likely that it become generic. Add netbook to the ever-expanding list of words returned to public, which includes PC, notebook, laptop, zip drive, and many more.