Friday, December 7, 2018

Dallas Cowboys Rookie Leighton Vander Esch Files 30 Trademark Applications in Single Day

LVE Development, LLC, a business entity presumably associated with Dallas Cowboys rookie Leighton Vander Esch, had a busy day at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on December 3rd. On that day, Vander Esch's entity filed 30 trademark applications ($6,750 in filing fees, if anyone is counting).

Though LVE Development filed 30 different applications, the applications cover only five potential trademarks:
Many of the filings appear to be related to Vander Esch's new online store, which he announced on Twitter two days after the filings.
How can 30 applications cover only five different trademarks? Because LVE Development filed each application in a single class of goods/services. For example, LVE Development filed one application for THE WOLF HUNTER in Class 28 for footballs and another application for THE WOLF HUNTER in Class 36 for a variety of charitable services. It's possible to list multiple classes in a single application, but an issue in one class can hold up the entire application, so it's often best to break up a multi-class filing into separate applications (the filing fees remain the same either way).

Other goods/services covered by these applications include:
  • Advertising services, namely, promoting the brands, goods and services of others (Class 35);
  • Beanies; Football uniforms; Gloves and a variety of other apparel items (Class 25);
  • Charitable services in the nature of providing fitness instruction in the field of football (Class 41); and
  • Backpacks; Athletic bags; Duffel bags; Gym bags; Sports bags; Weekend bags (Class 18).
And how do we know these trademark applications are actually associated with Leighton Vander Esch? Because Vander Esch gave his written consent to file each application and such consent was submitted to the USPTO. That written consent is required under Section 2(c) of the Trademark Act, which prohibits the registration of a mark consisting of the name of any living individual without that individual's written consent. That applies to pseudonyms, stage names, and nicknames as well (i.e. THE WOLF HUNTER). See TMEP 1206.01.

According to my quick search, these are the first and only federal trademark applications filed by LVE Development, LLC.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Armament Company Files Application to Register the Color Yellow as a Trademark for Non-Metal Hand Restraints

In another application that demonstrates trademarks can be more than just words or logos, a Wisconsin company called Armament Systems and Procedures, Inc. filed an application to register the color yellow as a trademark for "[n]onmetal hand restraints used as handcuffs" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on November 10. The specimen of use submitted with the application is below.
Can a color function as a trademark? Yes, if it is used in a manner that would be perceived as identifying and distinguishing the goods and to indicate their source (as opposed to mere decoration) and (1) the color mark has acquired distinctiveness and (2) the color is not functional.

Color marks are never inherently distinctive. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 211-12 (2000); TMEP 1202.05(a). Instead, an applicant must establish that its proposed color mark has acquired distinctiveness, or secondary meaning, in the marketplace. In other words, through substantial use of a color with particular goods or services, consumers have come to associate that color as identifying the source of the applicant's particular goods or services. An applicant can prove acquired distinctiveness by submitting evidence of the applicant's advertisement expenditures, sales figures, statements from the trade or the public, or other evidence indicating that the public associates the color with the applicant's goods or services. TMEP 1212.06. In the case of color marks, that's a different and high bar to meet.

Registration of a color mark will also be refused if the color is functional. TMEP 1202.05(b). Generally, a color is functional if it "yields a utilitarian or functional advantage, for example, yellow or orange for safety signs." Id. Color marks might also be functional if the color is more economical to manufacture or use (such as a natural color resulting from a by-product of a manufacturing process, in which case forcing others to alter the process to create a different color would put others at a competitive disadvantage) or otherwise offers some unfair competitive advantage. See TMEP 1202.02(a)(vi) (discussing aesthetic functionality).

Do you think a sufficient number of consumers would see yellow handcuffs and know they come from the applicant? Or would they simply see the color as a decorative feature? Does use of the color yellow on handcuffs offer any utilitarian or functional advantage? Armament Systems and Procedures will hope you answered "yes," "no," and "no" if they want this registration to issue.

Side note - the specimen above appears to be digitally created. The USPTO will not accept a computer graphic that merely illustrates what the mark looks like as a specimen. TMEP 904.04(a). Therefore, Armament Systems and Procedures may need to submit a substitute specimen consisting of an actual photograph of the goods.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Boston Dynamics Files Trademark Applications for "Humanoid Robots With Artificial Intelligence" and "Surveillance Robots"

Want a surveillance robot? A robot for "entertainment"? A "humanoid robot with artificial intelligence"? You may be able to purchase one named Spot, Handle, or Atlas from Boston-based Boston Dynamics soon, if recent federal trademark applications are any indication.
On November 7, Boston Dynamics, Inc. filed federal trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for:
The trademark application for SPOT covers:
  • Industrial robots for use in distribution and logistics applications (Class 7); and
  • Surveillance robots; robots for use in security, safety and inspection applications; robots for entertainment (Class 9).
According to the application, the SPOT trademark is already in use (i.e., Boston Dynamics is using it in conjunction with the sale of the goods listed in the application). The photograph above is an excerpt from the specimen of use filed with the SPOT application.

The application for HANDLE covers "[i]ndustrial robots for use in manufacturing, assembly and distribution applications; robots for loading and unloading pallets; industrial robots for use in logistics applications" in Class 7 while the application for ATLAS covers "[h]umanoid robots with artificial intelligence[.]" Those two trademarks are not yet in use, according to the applications, though the filing basis indicates Boston Dynamics has a bona fide intention to use those trademarks in the near future.

The robotics company also filed an application for its name, BOSTON DYNAMICS, on the same day, which covers all the goods listed above, in addition to "[d]esign and development of robots; robotic engineering services" in Class 42.

According to my quick search, these are the first federal trademark applications filed by Boston Dynamics, Inc.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Elon Musk's Tesla, Inc. Files Application to Register TESLAQUILA as a Trademark for Tequila

Electric cars, rockets, and now...tequila? Maybe, according to a recent federal trademark application filed by Elon Musk's Tesla, Inc.
On October 8, Tesla, Inc. filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register TESLAQUILA as a trademark for "[d]istilled agave liquor; [d]istilled blue agave liquor" in Class 33. Or, in other words, tequila (although "tequila" cannot be listed in the application because it is a registered certification mark, as described in an INTA article I recently wrote accessible here).

The intent-to-use filing basis of the application suggests that Tesla is not using TESLAQUILA as a trademark for "distilled agave liquor" or "distilled blue agave liquor" yet, but has a bona fide intention to do so in the near future. See TMEP 806.01(b); 15 USC 1051(b). Interestingly, Tesla filed an application for this same mark in Jamaica back on April 10, 2018 and is asserting a U.S. priority date based on that foreign application under Section 44(d) of the Trademark Act. See also TMEP 1003 et seq.

Tesla fans - while this doesn't guarantee Tesla will be releasing a tequila in the near future, you might want to keep your eyes open. Tesla is not required to start selling TESLAQUILA tequila simply because it filed a federal trademark application, but in order to file the application on an intent-to-use basis, it is required to have a bona fide intention to use the trademark in conjunction with the listed goods in the near future. Generally, there should be documentary evidence to back up this bona fide intention (such as a business plan, contracts with manufacturers, etc.). A mere idea, without more, won't cut it.

While Tesla, Inc. currently owns 54 active trademark applications or registrations with the USPTO, somewhat surprisingly, this is the first federal trademark application filed by the company in 2018. The last federal trademark applications Tesla filed were on November 29, 2017 when it filed two applications for MEGACHARGER, one of which covered battery chargers for electric vehicles and the other charging station services.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Idaho Potato Commission Files Applications to Register IDAHO POTATO ALE as a Trademark for Beer, 100% IDAHO POTATO BEER as a Certification Mark for Same

Beer brewed with potatoes? Apparently that's a thing, but maybe only in Idaho...

On October 4, the Idaho Potato Commission filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register the words IDAHO POTATO ALE as a trademark for "beer, ale and lager" in Class 32.
According to the application, the Idaho Potato Commission has been using this trademark in commerce at least as early as March 9, 2015 (ed. - though the specimen, seen above, apparently indicates the beer may be brewed by Bear Island. It's unclear what connection, if any, Bear Island has with the Idaho Potato Commission).

The Commission filed another application to register 100% IDAHO POTATO BEER as a certification mark for "beers, lagers and ales that include potatoes" on that same day. According to that application, "[t]he certification mark certifies the regional origin of potatoes grown in the State of Idaho and certifies that those potatoes conform to grade, size, weight, color, shape, cleanliness, variety, internal defect, external defect, maturity and residue level standards promulgated by the certifier."

Certification marks, which can also be registered with the USPTO, are different that traditional trademarks. Certification marks are any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination:
  1. used by a person other than its owner (ed. - unlike traditional trademarks); or
  2. which its owner has a bona fide intention to permit a person other than the owner to use in commerce and files an application to register on the principal register established by the Trademark Act,
to certify regional or other origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics of such person’s goods or services or that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a union or other organization. TMEP 1306.01; 15 U.S.C. 1127.

The application for a certification mark is similar to a traditional trademark application, with a few differences. For example, the applicant must submit (1) a certification statement (like the one for 100% IDAHO POTATO BEER quoted above), (2) a copy of the standards established to determine whether others may use the certification mark on their goods and/or in connection with their services, and (3) a statement that the applicant is not engaged in, or will not engage in, the production or marketing of the goods and/or services. See TMEP 1306.03 et seq. Unlike traditional trademarks, which indicate source, "the purpose of a certification mark is to inform purchasers that the goods or services of a person possess certain characteristics or meet certain qualifications or standards established by another person." TMEP 1306.01(b).

The Idaho Potato Commission is one of the more well-known certification mark holders and owns several registrations for certification marks related to Idaho potatoes, including registrations for IDAHO, GROWN IN IDAHO logos, and CERTIFIED 100% IDAHO POTATOES logos.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Marilyn Monroe Fireworks? Maybe, According to a Recent Trademark Application

Is the estate of Marilyn Monroe getting into the fireworks business? It might be, if a recent trademark application is any indication.
On September 14th, The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC filed an application to register MARILYN MONROE as a trademark for "fireworks" in Class 14 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (ed. - are these Marilyn Monroe branded fireworks or fireworks in the shape of Marilyn Monroe?). The estate filed the application on an intent-to-use basis, suggesting it is not currently using the late actresses's name as a trademark in conjunction with fireworks yet, but has a bona fide intention to do so in the near future. TMEP 806.01(b); 15 USC 1051(b).

As I've blogged about before, the estate of Marilyn Monroe regularly files trademark applications for a variety of goods and services. According to the estate's website, consumers can purchase MARILYN MONROE spa services, jewelry, mobile applications, clothing, books, movies, and drinkware. And now, maybe, fireworks?

Two interesting things to note about this application. First, you'll notice the application indicates "The name(s), portrait(s), and/or signature(s) shown in the mark does not identify a particular living individual." That language stems from Section 2(c) of the Trademark Act, which prohibits the registration of any trademark that "[c]onsists of or comprises a name, portrait, or signature identifying a particular living individual except by his written consent..." See also TMEP 1206 et seq. In this case, Marilyn Monroe is not living, so the application is making it clear consent is not required.

Second, all the trademark registrations owned by Marilyn Monroe's estate demonstrate how trademark law can be used to leverage control over a celebrity's name, either in conjunction with or as an alternative to state right of publicity laws. Generally, right of publicity laws prevent the use of one's name or likeness for a commercial purpose without that individual's consent.

In the case of Marilyn Monroe, several years ago the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California's post-mortem publicity statute did not apply to her because she died in New York (which does not have a law providing for a post-mortem right of publicity). Since it does not apply to Marilyn Monroe, the estate is using trademark law as a means to take control of the actress's name, especially in certain market segments (like spa services, jewelry, and clothing). As a result, if a third party uses MARILYN MONROE or a confusingly similar mark in conjunction with goods or services related to those offered by the estate, the estate may have a claim for trademark infringement. Additionally, if the estate shows the MARILYN MONROE trademark is famous, it may have a claim for trademark dilution, which would allow the estate to broadly enforce its trademark rights against those selling goods and services in almost any industry.

According to my quick search, The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC owns 25 active trademark applications or registrations with the USPTO for MARILYN MONROE or variants. A creative legal approach for an estate that lost the right of publicity battle and needed another mechanism for protecting the actress's name.