Trademark opposition proceedings can be costly for trademark applicants. Therefore, being prepared is always the best defense.
When a brand owner’s trademark application is opposed, there is a helpful checklist that it should consider. By doing so, it will help the applicant assess the merits of the case, and determine the best course of action moving forward. Here are some of the top defenses that can call into question the likelihood of success of a trademark opposer’s claims:
Lack of standing. Standing is a threshold issue that an Opposer must establish before the merits of the case are even considered. It is required in every inter partes proceeding before the Board. This is to determine that there is an actual case or controversy between the parties. Standing requires that the Opposer show a real interest in the outcome of the proceeding, as well as a reasonable basis for its claim of being damaged should the Applicant’s trademark registration issue.
Lack of priority. A trademark opposer must show that its trademark rights are superior to those asserted by the Applicant. Trademark Rule 2.122(b)(2) provides that it is not merely enough for an opposer to rely on its date of first use of a mark shown in its trademark registration. Rather, the Opposer must prove, through competent evidence, that its first use dates are prior to those claimed by the Applicant.
No likelihood of confusion. In cases where it is alleged that the Applicant’s mark is likely to cause confusion with the Opposer’s mark under Section 2(d) of the Trademark Act, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board will look to the factors for likelihood of confusion set forth in the case In re E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 476 F.2d 1357, 177 (CCPA 1973). Some of the DuPont factors that the TTAB will consider in its analysis include:
- the similarity or dissimilarity of the marks
- the similarity or dissimilarity of the goods (or services)
- the fame of the prior mark
- actual confusion
Since the TTAB places greater weight on the similarity of the parties’ marks and the similarity of their goods and/or services, special consideration of these two factors should be made.
The above discussion contains just some of the considerations that an Applicant should review in determining the merits of a trademark opposer’s case. Where a Notice of Opposition does not contain these elements, or if the evidence does not support it, the Applicant should pursue applicable affirmative defenses and other remedies that may be available.