Trademark Cancellation

Redskin    n.  slang  (often disparaging and offensive).   a north American Indian.   Random House Dictionary of the English Language 1618 (2d Ed. 1987).

In a monumental decision, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled several trademark registrations of the Washington Redskins national football league team, on the grounds that the term “redskins” is disparaging to Native Americans.

The case, Amanda Blackhorse, et al. v. Pro-Football, Inc.,  which was brought on behalf of five Native Americans, sought cancellation of numerous trademark registrations for the marks Washington Redskins®, The Redskins®, and Redskinettes®,  pursuant to Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, which bars the registration of a trademark that “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt…”

The Evidence in Support of Cancellation

In concluding that the term “redskin” is disparaging to Native Americans so as to order cancellation of the trademarks, the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board carefully analyzed the testimony and supporting evidence surrounding the derivation of the term “redskins” as well as the perception among Native Americans as to the term and whether they found it to be offensive.  The evidence, which was voluminous and consisted of evidence and trial testimony from a previously litigated case on the same issues, included dictionary entries, media reports and a survey that all weighed heavily in favor of disparagement.   Also submitted into evidence was a 1993 resolution passed by the National Congress of American Indians,  (“NCAI”) that specifically condemned use of the “redskins” by the NFL team, and sought cancellation of all of the team’s trademarks that contained the offensive term.  The NCAI resolution was found to be highly probative, since the NCAI represents a large composite of the Native American population in the United States and their perception of the term “redskin” as being that of a racial slur and/or highly offensive to individuals of  Native American heritage.

Based on a totality of the evidence, the Board, in a 2-1 decision, issued an order cancelling all of the trademark registrations at issue, stating in part:

We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be canceled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered.

The NFL and Washington Redskins are expected to appeal the case in the U.S. federal courts.

Legal Note:  The decision does not prevent the Washington Redskins from continuing to use the trademarks in commerce.  This is because the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal’s Board jurisdiction is limited to trademark registration issues only; as such, it does not have the statutory authority to order parties to cease using trademarks in association with the sale of goods and services.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board recently published a summary of Trademark Opposition and Cancellation filing and performance results for the fiscal year 2013.

As predicted, the number of trademark litigation proceedings before the board increased as compared to the preceding year. While it could be theorized that the increase was due to more trademark applications being filed, another explanation could be that trademark owners are making the protection of their valuable trademarks and brand names a priority.  Filing a trademark opposition in the United States Patent and Trademark Office can be a valuable use of a company’s legal budget when compared to a trademark infringement action in the United States district courts. In a federal court action, not only can the risks be greater and the legal expenses higher, but quite often litigants in trademark infringement cases are less likely to settle if they have invested considerable product development and marketing dollars into a new trademark.

2013- Summary of TTAB New and Pending Matters

Trademark opposition and trademark cancellation figures for 2013 include the following (increases over the preceding year are indicated in parentheses):

  • Extensions of time to oppose:   16,939 (negligible change)
  • Trademark Oppositions filed:     5,278  (+2.3%)
  • Trademark Cancellations filed:  1,513  (+3.4%)

Most interestingly, the TTAB’s productivity increased in number of cases decided (+26.3%) while decreasing in the amount of average total pendency of trial cases (-6.8%).  That being said, while the average total pendency of cases that proceeded to trial was 189.5 weeks (hardly a “rocket docket”), it may be explained in part by cases being stayed pending decisions on discovery motions and/or stays due to on-going settlement discussions.  For brand owners considering opposing a trademark application, there are several key takeaways:

  • Extensions of Time are Popular.  Filing an extension of time of an additional month to consider whether to file a file a notice of opposition makes sense.   The extension permits trademark owners to discuss the matter with their trademark attorney, and gather additional facts to determine whether a filing a trademark opposition is a prudent course of action.
  • More Oppositions are Being Filed.  Trademark owners are finding inter-partes proceedings before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to be a viable trademark protection alternative to U.S. District Court litigation.
  • Trademark Cancellations are on the Rise.  A petition to cancel a trademark registration is often filed as the result of a trademark application being initially refused by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office based on the existence of a preexisting registration deemed to be confusingly similar.  The applicant will then file a Petition to cancel the cited registration so that its application can mature to registration.

Opposing a trademark application or seeking to cancel a trademark registration are important components of an effective United States trademark protection and portfolio management strategy. Brand owners and companies that are serious about protecting their valuable brand assets in the United States should consult with their U.S. trademark attorneys on how to best formulate a trademark portfolio protection plan.

As any trademark opposition attorney knows, you do not always get to choose your opponents. Some opposing counsel are cooperative, professional, and seek common ground between the trademark opposer and trademark applicant.  This approach often results in a favorable result for both parties.  There are times, however, when an opposing trademark lawyer takes a “win at all costs” mentality.  But just what does “win at all costs” mean, and does such a strategy always serve the best interests of the client?  If the pitbull phiiosophy results in excessive legal fees and protracted litigation, it may not always be in the client’s best interest.  

Great trademark opposition lawyers generally have the following traits in common:

  • Professionalism: maintaining coridal and respectful relations with opposing counsel;
  • Vision: being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the client’s trademark opposition case;
  • Knowledge:  mastery of trademark opposition law and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board procedure;
  • Timing: knowing when and how to dial-up the pressure, or alternatively, to seek acccomodation
  • Understanding: of any and all potential outcomes, and the risks and rewards of each option

Trademark attorneys who possess three or more of the above characteristics are likely to be more successful in achieving favorable outcomes for their clients than those who simply are the “win at all costs” types. By carefully choosing the right attorney for your trademark cancellation or trademark opposition proceeding, chances are that you will be in a better position to achieve the results that you desire. 

 

 

To trademark opposition attorneys, winning a trademark opposition should mean one thing and one thing only: achieving a favorable outcome for the client.  In this regard, a successful conclusion to a trademark opposition can take one of two main forms: (1) judgment on the merits; or (2) a negotiated settlement.

Judgment on the Merits

Generally, the best trademark litigation lawyers help achieve a judgment on the merits by having a full working knowledge of the various statutes, rules, and case precedent that are applied by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in deciding a trademark cancellation or trademark opposition case. These include a mastery of:

  • Federal trademark statutes
  • The Trademark Rules of Practice
  • Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (“TMEP”)
  • Federal Rules of Civil Procedure;
  • Federal trademark case law and TTAB citations; and
  • Federal Rules of Evidence

Using the Trademark Board Manual of Procedure as a guide, the trademark opposition attorney can lay the proper legal foundation for a stong and persuasive case.

Negotiated Settlement

Obtaining a negotiated settlement in a trademark opposition matter is dependent on several factors, each of which are fact-specific to each individual case.  Like many other types of litigation, the motivation of the trademark opposer in filing the notice of opposition must be weighed and gauged against the willingness of the parties to enter into a reasonable settlement.  Factors that may contribute to a favorable settlement before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board include:

  • Use of the TTAB Accelerated Case Resolution program;
  • The motiviations of the attorneys in representing their clients
  • The willingness of the parties to seek a negotiated resolution;
  • Weigning the pro and cons of continuing the case, including the cost and expense

Tips to Remember

As a party who has been served with a trademark cancellation or notice of opposition, it is important to immediately discuss with your trademark attorney the likelihood of success of your case, including all factors that may contribute to an early and favorable settlement so as to achieve an outcome that is in the best interest of your business and brand name protection.

For further tips on trademark opposition or trademark cancellation settlement stategies, feel free to email me or call (800) TMLAW-01 or (203) 244-4264.

It’s quite often been said that “ignorance of the law” is no excuse.  This is particularly true in the case of U.S. trademark opposition attorneys and trademark cancellation lawyers who practice before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

Under U.S. law and federal regulations, all U.S. trademark opposition and petition to cancel proceedings are governed by several federal statutes and federal regulations, as well as relevant case law.  These include the following:

  •  the Lanham Act of 1946, otherwise known as the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1501 et seq.;
  • the Trademark Rules of Practice, which  rules can be found  in Parts 2 and 7 of Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR’);
  • the rules of pertaining to trademark assignments, which may be found in Parts 3 and 7 of 37 CFR; and
  • the rules relating to the conduct of U.S. trademark attorneys and the representation of clients before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, found in Parts 10 and 11 of 37 CFR

It is important to note that USPTO rules regarding trademark opposition and trademark cancellation cases before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board take their inspiration from, and align with, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  Therefore, U.S. trademark opposition lawyers should pay careful attention to the interaction of all relevant statutes and rules related to inter-partes proceedings.  Knowledge of both Trademark Office rules and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are important in vigilantly representing a client in an action where their trademark has been opposed or a party is seeking to cancel their U.S. trademark registration.

The Trademark Office makes copies of Title 37 CFR and other relevant statues and rules available for sale from the U.S. Government Printing Office, or on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.

By reviewing the trademark statutes and rules related to TTAB proceedings, a U.S. trademark attorney will be better prepared to be deal with the complexities found in opposition and cancellation proceedings before the Board.

As has been discussed in prior postings, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s rules for U.S. Trademark Opposition and U.S. Trademark Cancellation proceedings are contained in the Trademark Board Manual of Procedure (“TBMP”) an over 1,000 page “how-to” guide of handling inter-partes matters before the Board.

The purpose of the TBMP is to provide trademark attorneys with basic information generally useful for litigating cases before the Trademark Office. The second edition of the TBMP last was revised in 2004.  The current third edition was revised and published by the Trademark Office in May 2011.  The Third Edition highlights several new development practices, including the following changes designed to make the trademark opposition and trademark cancellation process be easier on litigants and to encourage early settlement:

  • Mandatory discovery conferences to discuss settlement and claims and defenses
  • Disclosures of initial witnesses, experts, and other pretrial matters
  • Emphasis on Accelerated Case Resolution (ACR”); and
  • Efficiencies such as a shift from paper to electronic filings

The manual is devoted primarily to opposition and cancellation proceedings, since they are the two most common types of cases before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. It also includes additional information on interference proceedings, concurrent use proceedings, and ex parte appeals to the Board.  The third edition also incorporates all statutory changes, including changes to the Trademark Rules of Practice and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  In keeping with the Trademark Board’s emphasis on and innovations in electronic initiatives, the new third edition is available online on the USPTO website in a searchable format.

The Board welcomes suggestions for improving the content of the Manual and making its understanding and application helpful to all U.S. trademark lawyers.

 

A petition for cancellation of a U.S. trademark registration is available to any party who believes that an already existing federal trademark registration should not be allowed to remain an active registration due to a variety of grounds, including abandonment of the trademark.  What is meant by “abandonment” and how is it proven?

In order to successfully bring a case for trademark abandonment, a plaintiff (petitioner) needs to prove the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:

1.  non-use of the trademark for at least 3 consecutive years by the trademark owner; and

2.  an intent not to resume use of the trademark by the owner

Section 45 of the Trademark Act goes on to define “abandonment” of a trademark registration as

When its use has been discontinued with intent not to resume such use. Intent not to resume may be inferred from circumstances. Nonuse for 3 consecutive years shall be prima facie evidence of abandonment. “Use” of a mark means the bona fide use of such mark made in the ordinary course of trade, and not made merely to reserve a right in a mark.

In you or your company have received a petition for cancellation, it is important to quickly act on the complaint and follow Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rules of procedure.  The best way to determine your rights and legal options in a petition for cancellation matter is to speak to a trademark cancellation lawyer.  If you fail to do so, there is the possibility that your registration could be cancelled, thereby exposing your valuable brand to further peril.

If you have any questions regarding your trademark cancellation matter, please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to provide you with a complimentary consultation.

 


The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) is the administrative forum that adjudicates all trademark opposition and cancellation proceedings that are filed in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.   A case is commenced by the filing of a Notice of Opposition (in the case of an Opposition) or a Petition for Cancellation (in the case of a Cancellation).  The TTAB assigns an interlocutory attorney to each opposition or cancellation proceeding.  The interlocutory attorney is responsible for setting the discovery and trial schedule and all deadlines and actions that relate to the case, as well as hearing motions brought by either party.

In the market for a trademark law firm?  Keep it simple by thinking like a consumer and try to find the best quality lawyer or trademark law firm at the most competitive price.  In choosing a trademark lawyer, be mindful to take into account the following factors:

  • What is their trademark clearance and prosecution experience before the USPTO?
  • Do they charge a flat-fee for their trademark lawyer services or is it hourly-based?
  • Does the trademark lawyer  place a limit on what he or she will charge for their trademark services?
  • What is their litigation experience?
  • Do they place an emphasis on conflict resolution?
  • Are they willing to discuss alternative fee arrangements?
  • Do they have litigation experience before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board?
  • Have they ever represented a client  in bringing or defending a Notice of Opposition?
  • Have they ever represented a client in bringing or defending a Petition for Cancellation?

 

 

 

An opposition proceeding is commenced by filing in the Office a timely notice of opposition with the required fee. The notice must include proof of service on the applicant, or its attorney or domestic representative of record, at the correspondence address of record in the Office, as detailed in §§ 2.101(b) and 2.119.

Any person who believes that he, she or it would be damaged by the registration of a mark on the Principal Register may file an opposition addressed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and must serve a copy of the opposition, including any exhibits, on the attorney of record for the applicant or, if there is no attorney, on the applicant or on the applicant’s domestic representative, if one has been appointed, at the correspondence address of record in the Office. The opposer must include with the opposition proof of service pursuant to § 2.119 at the correspondence address of record in the Office. If any service copy of the opposition is returned to the opposer as undeliverable, the opposer must notify the Board within ten days of receipt of the returned copy. The opposition need not be verified, but must be signed by the opposer or the opposer’s attorney. Electronic signatures are permissible and required for oppositions filed through ESTTA.