Posts tagged with "Trademark rights vs First Amendment"

Redskins Eye Supreme Court to Overturn Trademark Disparagement Restriction

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To update my earlier blog [Blog] concerning whether Section 2 (a) of the Lanham Act, 1946, which restricts federal registration of trademarks  found to be scandalous or disparaging, will withstand challenges to its constitutionality, the Redskins football team has raised the ante by its unusual petition to the Supreme Court.

In the petition, the Redskins suggests that the Supreme Court not consider the constitutionality of Section 2 (a) until after the team’s appeal of an adverse District Court ruling is decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  Continue reading

DISPARAGEMENT ISSUE IS FRONT & CENTER FOR USPTO TRADEMARK REGISTRATIONS

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Push pin on trademark textSection 2 (a) of the Lanham Act, 1946, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 2 (a), which restricts the registration of trademarks found by the USPTO to be scandalous or disparaging, was determined to be unconstitutional on the basis of the First Amendment by  the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in a case (In re Simon Shiao Tam-2014-1203), brought by “The Slants,” an Asian-American rock band.  [Background]

Mr. Simon Shiao Tam, as the owner of the mark, filed in 2011 a registration application for  “The Slants” (Serial No. 85-472044).  The USPTO examiner rejected the application on the basis that the applied for mark was disparaging under Section 2 (a)  because the word had a long history of being used in a derogatory way for people of Asian decent.  The examining attorney believed that people of Asian decent would take offense from the use of the applied for mark.  The rejection was upheld by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB.) Continue reading

WHAT IT TAKES TO PROTECT A CERTIFICATION MARK? (Part 2)
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Orange Tick Circled Shows Quality And Excellence

This blog follows on my earlier examination of why a certification mark could improve the bottom line for both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

If you think that setting up a certification program is in your future, or you already have one in place, here are some points to consider as you develop or perfect the program:

1.         A certification mark is not the same as the mark your organization uses to identify its goods and services (“identification mark”).  While the design of the certification mark may incorporate some elements from your identification mark, it should nonetheless have distinctive elements to eliminate confusion between the two. 

2.         Because there are basically three types of marks, it is critical to understand which kind applies to your organization, because the standards for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) registration process differ: 

            a.         Marks that certify that goods or services originate from a specific geographic region (“Champagne” for wine, “Roquefort” for cheese, “Indian River Fruit” for Florida citrus);

            b.         Marks that certify that goods or services meet certain standards for quality, materials or mode of manufacture (“UL” mark certifies electrical equipment meets certain safety standards; “Pure Wool” logo means the product is made of a 100% wool); and

            c.         Marks that certify that the work or labor for a product or service was performed by a member of a union or other person meeting certain standards.( Union workmanship).

3.         Identify the standards that an applicant to your program must meet.  These may be created by your organization or based on standards established by a governmental agency or other standard developer.

4.         The certification mark will be used by third parties, not by your organization.  Once the third party has met the standards your organization has set, they will be permitted to use the certification mark in connection with their own goods or services to tell the world they are “qualified” to do so by the certifier.

5.         Consider federally registering your certification mark with the USPTO, which, once accomplished, basically gives your organization protection in all 50 states.

6.         If you are going to request federal registration of the mark, the USPTO will require you to submit a copy of the standards you have established to determine whether others may use the certification mark. (37 C.F.R. §2.45)

7.         To protect your rights in the mark and not risk being deemed to have abandoned it, maintain an appropriate policing program to insure that it will be used correctly by the third parties.  Here are two actions you should take:

a.         Issue a letter that makes it clear that they are using the certification mark under license from your organization and if they fail to maintain the standards you have required, you can revoke the privilege; and

b.         Monitor third-party use of your certification mark.  For example, depending on what is appropriate, you could require periodic refresher training or status reporting.  At such intervals, your organization could charge fees to support this monitoring process.

In these difficult economic times, developing a certification program can not only help to set you apart from your competition but also force others to play by your rules.  That is definitely an enviable position.

TRADEMARK RIGHTS GIVE WAY TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
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     If you plan to create a work that will include references to famous people, you may well ask will you run into challenges for using such references. A recent 9th Circuit decision offers guidance as to whether your use will withstand the challenge by a famous person who claims you are violating his or her trademark-related rights.

            Brown v. Electronic Arts, Inc., involves James “Jim” Brown (“Brown”), the famous football player, who sued Electronic Arts (“EA”), the manufacturer distributor and seller of the Madden NFL series of football video games.  http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1640518.html?DCMP=NWL-pro_ip  The video games allow users to control avatars representing professional players, and to participate in simulated games.  Some versions of the games included likenesses of Brown.

            Brown’s claims under the Lanham Act, the main federal trademark law, are of particular interest here.  Generally with trademarks, the basic test a mark’s owner is asked to show is whether use of the competing mark is likely to cause confusion in the public’s mind, and Brown’s basic argument was that EA’s use of his likeness without his permission was likely to cause confusion in the mind of the public as to whether he endorsed the video games. 

            However, there is always the understanding that granting exclusive use of marks limits constitutionally protected free speech.  In evaluating the competing interests of protecting the public from deception and protecting freedom of expression, when the identifying material in question appears in an expressive work, Courts tend to shift the balance toward First Amendment considerations.

            Because EA’s videos are considered expressive works, the Court considered whether EA’s use of Brown’s likeness in the videos was relevant.  Given EA’s professed interest in creating a high level of realism for the various football teams portrayed, inclusion of Brown’s likeness in the recreation of the ’65 Cleveland Browns team was relevant.

            While the takeaway from the Brown v. EA decision is that if inclusion of a famous person’s likeness in an expressive work is relevant, you are likely to withstand a challenge to such use under federal law.  However, it is important to keep in mind, despite the dismissal of Brown’s case in federal court, Brown was not foreclosed from pursuing claims under California law for invasion of privacy and unfair businesses practices.