We recently spoke with Blake Knowles, partner at Cullen’s, to discuss Australia trademark protection issues.

1.  Please tell us a little about your background and brand protection experience.

Since joining Cullens, I have been responsible for managing, protecting and enforcing the trademark portfolios of several successful and well known Australian and overseas companies. I regularly prosecute trademark applications, represent clients in trademark oppositions and removal proceedings, and assist with enforcement of trademarks and resolution of disputes.

I was previously employed for ten years in the Australian Trade Marks Office. I am a former Senior Examiner, Principal Examiner and Examination Team Leader. During my time as an Examiner, I assessed several thousand trademark applications. As an Examination Team Leader, I was responsible for the management and mentoring of twelve other trademark examiners.

At the time I left the Australian Trade Marks Office, I was the Assistant Director of Trade Marks Hearings & Oppositions. In this role, I worked on a range of trademark legal and policy issues and was also responsible for authoring significant parts of the Trade Mark Office Manual of Practice and Procedure as well as creating training modules for trade mark examiners.

2.  What should U.S. companies be doing to protect their valuable brand names in Australia?  

Fortunately in Australia it is rare for applications to be filed in bad faith for the purposes of usurping a valuable overseas brand. Most disputes arise from adoption of similar marks by multiple parties.  The usual strategies for brand protection should be employed: i.e., registering early (claiming convention priority where possible from foreign applications), obtaining clearance searches prior to commencing use, and monitoring whether applications have been filed by other parties for key marks (or confusingly similar marks). Local distributors should also be tasked with watching the market and reporting any potential infringements early.

3.   What is required for a company to be eligible to file a trademark opposition in Australia? 

There is no standing requirement to file a trademark opposition in Australia or to commence a non-use removal proceeding.  It is much easier and more cost effective to prevent registration of a conflicting trade mark during the opposition period, compared to challenging the mark post-registration. However, the  Australia trademark opposition period is very short (2 months), and extensions are difficult to obtain.  Opponents who neither reside or carry on a business in Australia can be requested to pay security for costs at the commencement of opposition proceedings. If security is not paid, the Registrar has discretion to dismiss the opposition.  

4.   What are some risks to companies who decide not to file a trademark opposition?

The biggest risk is exclusion from the market or ring fencing.  Generally, if a company has first use and subsequent continuous use of a mark in Australia for particular goods or services, they should be able to defend an allegation of infringement by another registrant, and they will also have good prospects of obtaining their own registration on the basis of prior use (i.e. common law rights). However, their rights may be limited to the goods for which they have actually continuously used the mark in Australia, and this may inhibit expansion of activities in the Australian market.  Further, unless the company can afford to challenge a third party registration (which must done through the courts), they may need to co-exist with the other registrant in the market, which can create commercial difficulties and brand dilution.

5.   Do you have any other advice for companies who seek to obtain Australia trademark protection?

Many trademark applications are now filed in Australia via the Madrid Protocol. Such applications often designate many countries, and Australia is rarely the primary market of interest for such applicants. As such, an applicant who has filed via Madrid Protocol may be reluctant to incur costs defending an opposition in Australia. This can often result in an opponent winning by default, when a defense is not filed by the applicant.  Another useful strategy is to register key brands as domain names in the .com.au space. Other companies who may wish to adopt an identical brand to a foreign company may be discouraged if they cannot acquire the corresponding domain name in the .com.au space.

Editor’s Note:  U.S. or international companies interested in speaking with Blake about Australia trademark protection strategies may contact him directly via email or Linkedin.

The U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board recently found no likelihood of confusion between two apparel marks.

In Manhattan International Trade, Inc. and Pure & Simple Concepts, Inc. v. Industrie IP Party, Limited, the Applicant sought to register the design mark FINEST QUALITY GARMENT MAKERS INDUSTRIE TURN OF THE CENTURY CLOTHING EST 1999 for clothing.   Upon viewing the logo, the largest portion of the mark is “Garment Makers Industrie.”  In its notice of opposition, Opposer alleged prior use and registration of a family of “INDUSTRY” marks for clothing, including INDUSTRY BY WORKWEAR, INDUSTRY UNION MADE PRODUCT, INDUSTRY GIRL, and additional marks for INDUSTRY with various design elements.  As in all trademark opposition cases involving likelihood of confusion, Opposer bore the burden of proof.

In analyzing the likelihood of confusion factors, the Board determined that the goods were, in part, identical.  Therefore, it also led to a presumption that the clothing products bearing the parties’ respective marks traveled in the same channels of trade.  The Board went on to state “the legal identity of the goods, close relationship of the goods and services, and their overlapping channels of trade and classes of purchasers not only weigh heavily in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion, but also reduce the degree of similarity between the marks necessary to find a likelihood of confusion.”  That being said, the Board concluded that in considering the parties’ marks in the entirety as to appearance, sound, connotation, and commercial impression, the “many differences between the marks outweigh their similarity.”

Moreover, the Board found that the Opposer’s INDUSTRY mark was weak, reasoning that:

the weaker an opposer’s mark, the closer an applicant’s mark can come without causing a likelihood of confusion and thereby invading what amounts to its comparatively narrower range of protection.

Based on the vast differences in the parties’ marks in their entireties, the weakness of the term “INDUSTRY” for clothing, and numerous references to third-party registrations containing the word “industry” in the record, the Board dismissed the opposition.

Practitioner’s Note:    The Board also ruled that the Opposer did not establish that it had a “family” of marks, as Opposer’s evidence as to consumer recognition and other factors necessary to establish a family of marks was weak.

A recent trademark opposition case before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board presents a discussion of priority based on common law rights.

In Mazama Brewing Company, LLC v. Sumerian Brewing Company, LLC, Applicant sought registration of the mark HOPRUPTION DOUBLE IPA for beer in Class 32.  Opposer brought a motion for partial summary judgment based on likelihood of confusion with its mark HOP ERUPTION for beer; and false suggestion of a connection with Opposer.  Opposer assertion of common law trademark  rights was  based on its use of the HOP ERUPTION Mark dating back to May 2013.  Applicant’s filing date was February 8, 2017.

In support of its claim of common law priority, Opposer submitted various newspaper articles, invoices, social media mentions, customer testimonials, and label approvals for its HOP ERUPTION product dating back to 2013.  Opposer further argued that the parties goods were identical and traveled in the same channels of trade.  Opposer also claimed that purchasers of beer products are more likely to make impulse purchases, thereby making confusion more likely.   Moreover, since Applicant had to disclaim  “DOUBLE IPA” as being descriptive of beer, the comparison between the marks was HOPE ERUPTION and HOPRUPTION.  Opposer argued that this meant the both marks conveyed the same commercial impression.

Applicant argued that Opposer’s common law rights and evidence were limited to Oregon and to a lesser degree Washington state only.  Additionally, Applicant argued that any likelihood of confusion was diminished by the existence of numerous third-party marks for beer that contained the terms “hop” and/or “eruption.”

To establish priority of use, a party must show that its owns a mark or trade name previously used in the United States and not abandoned.  A plaintiff may prove prior use through either actual use or use analogous to trademark use, such as advertising brochures, newspaper publications, or websites which create a public awareness of the designation of the trademark as an identifying source.   Here, the Board concluded that Opposer met its burden on the issue of priority by showing prior use of the HOP ERUPTION Mark dating back to at least 2013.  With regard to the likelihood of confusion claim, the Board found that Opposer had not met its burden of demonstrating that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding certain of the likelihood of confusion factors.  Accordingly, Opposer’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of likelihood of confusion was denied, even though the Board found that it had established its priority common law rights.

Practitioner’s note:   It is important for companies to establish documentary evidence of its trademark use as early as possible.  This is vitally important should its common law rights be contested at some time in the future.  Innovative companies such as Cognate assist brand owners in recording such marketplace evidence using blockchain technology.  By way of full disclosure, the author is an advisor to Cognate and its principals.

Trademark cancellation due to abandonment is the subject of a recent decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

In Yazhong Investing Ltd. v. Multi-Media Tech. Ventures, Ltd., the Petitioner sought to cancel four registrations of the Respondent.  The grounds for cancellation were fraud and abandonment.   Petitioner also sought to cancel two of the registrations on additional grounds of non-use.   All of the registrations were for the mark GIDGET for goods and services in multiple classes.   The entire list of goods and services of the collective registrations numbered in excess of one hundred distinct items.

Under Section 45 of the Trademark Act, a mark is abandoned if the following occurs:

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.

Since federal trademark registrations are presumed valid, the party seeking cancellation bears the burden of proving a prima facie case of abandonment.  If this preliminary burden is met, it then shifts to the trademark registrant to rebut the showing with evidence.   Proof of non-use of at least three consecutive years establishes a prima facie case of abandonment.

In response to Petitioner’s discovery requests, Respondent stated that it had used the GIDGET Mark continuously from 2005 through 2012.  Yet it could not produce any verifiable evidence of sales.  It also indicated that it did not realize that it had to have continuous use on all of its goods and services listed in the registrations.  Instead, it thought that the law required it to only have use on at least one of the goods.  It also indicated that it was making ongoing licensing efforts to license the mark.  However the testimony of officers of Respondent’s predecessors in interest and third parties had shown that from at least 2008 through 2012, there was no use of the GIDGET mark.  This was enough for Petitioner to establish a prima facie case of abandonment, with the burden of showing an intention to resume use of the mark shifting to Respondent.

To support that it had an intent to resume use of the GIDGET Mark, the Respondent was required to build a record with respect to the activities it engaged in during the non-use period or what outside events occurred to support an intent to resume use.  In short, evidence of an intent to resume use must be more than a subjective intention; rather, there must be verifiable objective facts.  Moreover, the intention to resume use must be “within the reasonably foreseeable future.”   Here, the Respondent could not produce any evidence of  sales, advertising, negotiating of license agreements, other efforts to market goods and services associated with the GIDGET Mark.  Instead, the Board noted that Respondent’s evidence added up to little more than attempts to secure additional investors.   In totality, the Board concluded that Respondent’s activities did not constitute use or an intent to resume use, but rather merely an intent to reserve rights in the mark.  Accordingly, it ordered the trademark cancellation of the GIDGET Mark in the involved registrations due to abandonment.

Practice note:   This case presents a lesson for trademark owners to carefully monitor whether they are using their trademarks on all of the goods and services contained in their registrations.  If not, it is recommended that a consultation with a qualified trademark attorney occur.  A trademark cancellation can have serious implications to brand marketing and sales efforts.  To obtain further information on trademark cancellation legal strategies, contact James Hastings.

Trademark oppositions in the United States are, on average, the most expensive in the world.  So what does it take to protect and enforce brands in other countries?

Over the coming months, some of the world’s leading trademark professionals will be sharing with us insight on the trademark opposition process in their own jurisdictions.   By doing so, American companies will be able to better gauge what is needed to protect their valuable brands on a global basis.  This series of useful posts will include brand enforcement guidance and tips such as:

  1.  Case assessment.   Prior to bringing a trademark opposition, it is important to first determine the strength of one’s own trademark rights.  This analysis depends, in part, on the legal requirements for priority, standing, and likelihood of confusion that exist in each country.
  2.  Duration and costs.   Some countries have streamlined opposition processes that save clients both time and money.  Others are similar to the U.S. system and could result in protracted litigation and increased fees.  We’ll find out which world trademark jurisdictions offer the most value for brand protection.
  3.  Dispute resolution alternatives.   INTA’s Trademark Mediators Network is a non-litigation alternative to contested trademark proceedings. Currently, there are over 150 approved INTA mediators across the globe, each with unique training and insight to help litigants achieve their brand protection goals in a collaborative manner.  We’ll hear from our experts whether mediation is used in trademark disputes in their countries, and if so, in what types of cases.

In addition to providing practical advice, each guest commentator will share his or her professional background and experience.  We hope that our world trademark opposition overview will assist U.S. companies and inhouse counsel to make informed decisions about their international trademark portfolios.

To international trademark associates:   If you would like to be considered as a guest column commentator, please contact the blog publisher.

The U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has disclosed first and second quarter filing and pendency statistics for 2018.   Year to date (YTD) statistics as compared to the same period in 2017 include the following:

U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board filings

  • extensions of time to oppose:  9,498  (+2.7% YTD)
  • trademark oppositions: 3,211 (+4.3% YTD)
  • trademark cancellations: 1,143 (+8.8% YTD)
  • trademark appeals: 1,643 (+4% YTD)

Pendency of Proceedings  (commencement to completion processing times)

  • trial cases (average):  140.6 weeks (-10.6% YTD)
  • trial cases (median):  126 weeks (-14.9% YTD )
  • ACR trial cases (average): 112 weeks (-6.2% YTD)

Contested Motions

  • decisions issued:  535 (+8% YTD)
  • average pendency: 9 weeks (+15.4% YTD)
  • cases awaiting decision: 172 (+17% YTD)

Of note is the increase in trademark cancellation proceedings as well as trademark oppositions.  This may be a sign of greater brand enforcement efforts by companies.  At the same time, there are mixed performance trends within the TTAB itself.  While the pendency of proceedings has decreased, the average pendency of contested motions has increased.   One reason may be due to the inability of counsel to fully cooperate in discovery disputes, with an increase in contested motions being an unfortunate result.

TTAB filing and performance data for 2015 and 2016 may be found here.

Practitioner’s Note:   The importance of cooperation with opposing counsel in the prosecution or defense of TTAB proceedings should not be overlooked.   Where antagonism and lack of communication are the norm, increased client expenses and unnecessary motion practice often follow.  This can have a direct impact on the  risk and costs associated with trademark opposition proceedings. 

Many trademark attorneys believe that the goal of a TTAB discovery conference is to zealously prepare for litigation.  A better approach is to view it through the lens of a favorable settlement outcome.  Since over 90% of trademark oppositions settle prior to trial, it makes sense to do so.

According to U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rules, the parties are required to engage in a mandatory discovery conference.   This conference usually must take place within thirty days after the Answer has been filed.  As part of the conference, the parties will be required to discuss (1) the nature of and basis for their respective claims and defenses, (2) the possibility of settling the case or at least narrowing the scope of claims or defenses, and (3) arrangements relating to disclosures, discovery and introduction of evidence at trial.

Here are a few recommendations for making the most of a TTAB discovery conference:

  1.   Encourage open communications.    Far too often, attorneys are quite terse during the discovery conference.  Engaging in a five minute discovery conference does not serve the client’s interests.  Instead, discuss the merits of the case openly and candidly with opposing counsel.  It is  not a sign of weakness.
  2.   Be respectful.    Have the other party articulate its interests in defending or opposing a trademark application.  This will provide a useful foundation for further discussions.  It will also set the tone for mutual cooperation that is mandated, but not always followed, by trademark practitioners before the Board.
  3.   Prepare for settlement.   Discuss with your client all settlement options available to it prior to the conference.   These may include that the applicant withdraw its application, narrow its identification of goods, or assign the mark to your client with a license back for limited purposes.

The number one goal of a TTAB discovery conference should be to position your client for a successful case outcome.  This should be done without needlessly escalating risk and costs.  Practitioners should do their best to keep tensions low and cooperation high to better serve their clients.

Food for thought.  A trademark cancellation may result from abandonment of a trademark.

In Local Foods LLC v. Foodsmith Bowen Osborn, the Petitioner sought cancellation of Registrant’s FOODSMITH and Design trademark for “health food, namely freshly prepared meals consisting primarily of local and organic meat, fish poultry, vegetables, properly proportioned, for delivery and pickup” in International Class 29 .  For purposes of trademark abandonment, a trademark registration is subject to cancellation if it has not been used for at least three consecutive years.  The objective evidence must also infer that the Registrant had no intention to resume use of the mark.

Rather than waiting for a trial on the merits, the Petitioner elected to file a motion for summary judgment seeking a ruling that Registrant had abandoned its Foodsmith mark.  Summary judgment is an acceptable method to dispose of a case where there are no genuine issues of material fact.  To prevail, the moving party has to show that a particular fact is not in dispute.  This may be established by citing to specific materials that have been made of record, including discovery responses and affidavits.  Once the moving party submits sufficient evidence to meet its proof, then the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate the existence of material facts for trial.

Here, Petitioner was able to show, via requests for admission, that the Registrant had not used its Foodsmith mark for at least three consecutive years.   The registrant failed to submit any evidence that the mark was still in use by a former partnership via implied license or that he intended to resume use of the mark.  He also admitted in answers to interrogatories that he had not yet used the mark himself.  Based on the cumulative evidence, the Trademark Board granted Petitioner’s motion and the FOODSMITH Mark was cancelled.

Practitioner’s Note:  In seeking a trademark cancellation, the moving party should be sure to plead the proper statutory grounds.  A petition for cancellation on grounds of abandonment is fairly straightforward.  Either there are facts to establish that the registrant has failed to use its mark for three consecutive years or not.   If you are in the position of a defendant/registrant, it is best to speak with a qualified trademark cancellation attorney.

Trademark opposition costs in the United States are some of the highest in the world.   Estimates for a full trial on the merits before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board can exceed $100,000 or more compared to half the cost in other countries.  It’s no wonder why inhouse trademark counsel are increasingly seeking ways to more effectively manage their budgets.

Here are a few strategies to do so:

  1.   Begin with case outcome mapping.  The first pre-filing step in a trademark opposition should be to fully list all potential outcomes to the case – favorable or unfavorable.  Anything from a negotiated settlement, license, amendment of goods, to a judgment on the merits should be listed.  At this early stage of litigation budgeting, it is important for inhouse trademark counsel to understand options available to any litigant in a TTAB proceeding.  With this knowledge, a case-specific review can take place with greater accuracy.
  2.   Engage in Early-Case Assessment.   Discovery is often the most expensive stage of an opposition proceeding.  Unofficial estimates are that it accounts for at least 50% of total attorney’s fees.   Therefore, an assessment of potential strengths and weaknesses of a case should coincide with case outcome mapping.  Too often, Opposer’s find themselves going down the slippery slope of a full-blown litigation.  This can lead to a higher risk profile that was neither intended nor expected.
  3.   Consider trademark mediation.   Reaching out to opposing trademark counsel to explore the option of mediation is not a sign of weakness.   Since over 90% of cases settle before a full trial on the merits, it makes good economic sense to do so.   INTA’s Trademark Mediators Network consists of over 2oo trademark mediators qualified to assist litigants.   The parties can agree for the mediation to be non-binding, leading to no commitments other than to sit down and talk [disclosure: the author of this blog is an INTA approved mediator].
  4.   Partner with the right outside counsel.   The ability to achieve a favorable resolution can rest on the quality of outside trademark counsel.  Being highly skilled in U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board practice is expected.  Great trademark counsel, however, are the ones that can establish a respectful working relationship with opposing counsel.  It is a known fact that hyper-aggressive attorneys often needlessly increase the cost of trademark litigation. 

Inhouse trademark counsel should always be thinking of objective and measurable means to mitigate the risks of an opposition proceeding.   By doing so, their internal stakeholders and brand protection goals will continue to be served well.

While the term trademark infringement is less than 140 characters, its implications could be costly to a ubiquitous online communications giant.

Twitter, the online news and social networking service, has been accused of trademark infringement and breach of contract by TWiT LLC.   The suit, TWiT LLC v. Twitter, Inc., (N.D. Cal. January 2018) alleges that Twitter has intentionally infringed on the Plaintiff’s TWiT trademark.  Since 2005, TWiT has been in the business of distributing video and audio content over the internet.   TWiT’s programming is available to the public by downloading or streaming from the internet, otherwise known as netcasts.  TWiT is also the owner of U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3,217,759 of TWiT which was registered in March 2007.   The parties are familiar to one another; in fact, one of Twitter’s founders, Evan Williams, appeared on TWiT’s netcast show the same month and year that TWiT received its trademark registration.

So why is the plaintiff chirping so loudly?   TwiT alleges that the parties had a coexistence agreement that Twitter would limit its activities under the TWITTER mark to a text-based blogging service.  Sometime in 2009, the Plaintiff had read that Twitter had plans to expand beyond microblogging and into video and audio streaming.  When TWiT voiced its concern, Twitter gave assurances that such reports of business expansion were inaccurate.  The twelve-count complaint goes on to allege that in or about May 2017, the Plaintiff became aware of Twitter’s intention to indeed offer video and audio streaming services, thereby creating the current controversy.  Twitter has yet to file an answer or otherwise respond to the allegations.

This case raises an interesting lesson on the interplay between trademark infringement and trademark coexistence agreements.   Quite often, competitors are quick to enter into such agreements.  This permits them to proceed with their business activities without interference from the other side, if and only if, the parties adhere to the contract terms.  Quite often, months or years can go by and the coexistence agreement is quickly forgotten.  It is only when one of the parties commits an alleged breach of the contract that the Agreement once again is revisited.  Since most coexistence agreements have penalty clauses, the impact on the breaching party could be severe.

It is vitally important for companies to record and track their coexistence agreements and other contracts that could impact their brand protection and marketing activities.  Brand owners should review these agreements on an annual basis and consider using contract management software to ensure compliance with third-party agreements.   These and other trademark best practices are part of an effective brand management strategy.