December 16, 2013

Poquito Mas Sues Taco Bell Over Live Mas Trademark To Promote Mexican Food

trademark-attorney-lawsuit-mexican-food-poquito-mas-taco-bell.jpgPoquito Mas Mexican restaurant is going mano-a-mano against Taco Bell over the latter’s use of the “Live Mas” trademark and service marks on its restaurants, food, and beverages. Founded in 1984, Poquito Mas has more than ten restaurants in California and differentiates itself by selling high quality food, always using the freshest ingredients and freshly made salsas. It also has several USPTO registered for its family of MAS trademarks including Poquito Mas, The Mas, and Mucho Mas, among others. Because most of its trademarks have been registered for over five years, the trademarks have become incontestable per 15 U.S.C. § 1065.

Plaintiff alleges that in January of 2012, Taco Bell contacted Poquito Mas in an attempt to license the “Mas” trademark to use in its “Live A Little Mas” advertising campaign. After some discussion, however, Poquito Mas declined to license the trademark because it believed Taco Bell’s slogan would diminish the Poquito Mas brand and confuse customers. Shortly thereafter, Taco Bell is accused of launching the “Live Mas” campaign despite its knowledge of the extraordinary fame and strength of the Mas trademarks: “Taco Bell is still actively using, promoting, and otherwise marketing the ‘Live Mas” trademarks with the knowledge and intent that this may cause consumer confusion between Taco Bell and Poquito Mas.” In addition to the trademark infringement claim, Poquito Mas asserts causes of action for false designation of origin and unfair competition under both federal and California law.

Poquito Mas seeks unspecified damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs in addition to preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting Taco Bell’s use of the Live Mas marks in its advertising. Further, because Taco Bell’s knowingly infringed the trademarks, Poquito Mas asks the court to triple the damages under the Lanham Act and award punitive damages under state law.

The case is Poquito Mas Licensing Corp. v. Taco Bell Corp., CV13-1933 (C.D. Cal. 2013).

October 25, 2013

Roger Cleveland Golf Suing Callaway For Trademark Infringement For Using “Roger Cleveland” Name

Trademark-litigation-attorney-surname-golf-cleveland-callaway.jpgIn another example of the problems caused by using your own name as a trademark (e.g., Van Halen trademark lawsuit and Joseph Aboud trademark injunction), Roger Cleveland Golf Company, Inc. and Dunlop Sports Co. Ltd. filed a trademark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution case against Callaway Golf Company. In 1990, Mr. Roger Cleveland, the individual, sold all shares and ownership interest in his eponymous company but remained an employee until 1996, when he joined Callaway. Everything proceeded like a long, straight drive on the fairway until July 2013 when Callaway started using Mr. Cleveland’s name to promote its golf clubs. The picture to the right, taken from Callaway’s website, shows the placement of Mr. Cleveland’s name on the club-head. Even though the clubs may indeed be designed by Mr. Cleveland, the use of the “Roger Cleveland” name may create a false association with or an endorsement by Roger Cleveland Golf Company.

Click here for a copy of the complaint.

Plaintiffs allege that they are the owners of several federally registered trademarks for Cleveland, Trademark Registration Nos. 2,070,054 and 2,070,051, and Cleveland Golf, Trademark Registration No. 3,286,218. Plaintiffs allege:

Defendant Callaway's use of plaintiffs' mark CLEVELAND® on its recently marketed clubs has already resulted in actual confusion in the marketplace, and is likely to mislead and confuse consumers into believing that the infringer's products originate from Cleveland Golf or are connected to or affiliated with Cleveland Golf. Plaintiffs have demanded that defendant Callaway cease making unauthorized use of plaintiffs' CLEVELAND® brand on defendant Callaway's golf clubs, but to date defendant Callaway has refused to cease and desist its infringing acts.

When your name or surname becomes synonymous with the trademarks of your previously created company, it’s treacherous to start a competing business and use your name on competing products. Sardi's Restaurant Corp. v. Sardie, 755 F.2d 719, 725 (9th Cir. Cal. 1985) (“the use of one's surname is not a ‘defense’ to a trademark infringement action”). Plaintiffs seek a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing Callaway’s use of Roger Cleveland’s name on the clubs, in addition to unspecified monetary damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.

The case is Roger Cleveland Golf Company, Inc. et al. v. Callaway Golf Company, SACV 13-1642 AG (C.D. Cal. 2013).

October 9, 2013

Adidas’s Trademark Attorneys Seek Preliminary Injunction Against Clothing Counterfeiters

Trademark-attorney-preliminary-injunction-adidas-soccer-dilution.jpgAdidas is suing numerous apparel, clothing, and shoe sellers for trademark infringement, unfair competition, trademark dilution, and counterfeiting, including two defendants that previously settled similar allegations and are now accused of breaching the settlement agreement by continuing to sell allegedly infringing sportswear. Adidas is the owner of numerous U.S. Patent & Trademark Office registrations for its famous Three-Stripe trademark including Trademark Reg. No. 2,058,619 for shirts, Trademark Reg. No. 3,029,127 for sweatshirts, jackets and coats, Trademark Reg. No. 2,278,591 for shorts, and Trademark Reg. No. 1,815,956 for shoes, which consumers readily associate with Adidas. The complaint alleges:

adidas recently learned that Defendants are offering for sale and selling apparel bearing counterfeit and confusingly similar imitations of adidas's Three- Stripe Mark. Specifically, Defendants blatantly have copied adidas's Three-Stripe Mark to trade off of the goodwill and commercial magnetism adidas has built up in its mark. Defendants' actions are misleading and confusing the public, diluting adidas's famous mark, and irreparably harming adidas's goodwill and reputation. Accordingly, this Court should issue a preliminary injunction.

To obtain preliminary injunction in a trademark infringement case, the plaintiff must show that (1) it is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) the balance of equities tip in its favor, and (4) the injunction is in the public interest. Marlyn Nutraceuticals, Inc. v. Mucos Pharma GmbH & Co., 571 F.3d 873, 877 (9th Cir. 2009).

Adidas contends that it is likely to succeed on its trademark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution claims because the trademark registrations establish ownership of the trademarks and the knock-off goods present a likelihood of confusion. Because it can show a likelihood of success on its trademark claims, Adidas relies on Ninth Circuit authority establishing a presumption of irreparable harm. GoTo.com, Inc. v. Walt Disney Co., 202 F.3d 1199, 1209 (9th Cir. 2000). Adidas argues that Defendants’ intentional infringement causes irreparable harm and outweighs defendants’ harm of being prohibited from selling counterfeit goods. Finally, Adidas states that consumers would be protected from confusion caused by the infringing goods.

The case is Adidas America, Inc. et al. v. Soccer and Soccer, Inc. et al., CV13-7148 GW (C.D. Cal. 2013).

June 29, 2013

Otterbox Trademark Infringement Lawsuits Filed In Los Angeles Against eBay Sellers

los-angeles-trademark-attorney-infringement-ebay-seller-otterbox.jpgLos Angeles, CA – The Otterbox trademark owner filed four trademark infringement lawsuits against several defendants for allegedly selling Smartphone and tablet cases bearing counterfeit Otterbox trademarks. Plaintiff manufactures protective cases, peripherals and accessories for the iPhone, iPad, iPod, Samsung, HTC and other electronic device and computer manufacturers. Plaintiff is the owner of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered Otterbox trademarks, “We’ve Got Technology Covered” trademark, and the “Defender Series” trademark. Plaintiff contends that it has spent millions of dollars in advertising to obtain consumer recognition of its trademarks as a symbol of quality.

Particularly in light of the success of Plaintiffs products, as well as the outstanding reputation they have gained, Plaintiff and its products have become targets for unscrupulous individuals and entities who wish to take a "free ride" on the goodwill, reputation and fame Plaintiff has spent considerable effort and resources to build up in their products and trademarks.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants own and operate eBay storefronts advertising and selling unauthorized products that infringe its trademarks or bear counterfeit trademarks. One defendant is accused of selling at least $88,000 worth of infringing products.

To dissuade counterfeiters and intentional infringers, the Lanham Act allows a court to triple plaintiff’s damages or defendant’s profits and award attorneys’ fees and costs. 15 U.S.C. §1117(a). One of the advantages afforded an USPTO registered trademark owner is the ability to recover statutory damages where proving actual damages or defendant’s profits would be difficult or untenable. 17 U.S.C. §1117(d). The award of statutory damages can range, as the court considers just, from $1,000 to $200,000 per counterfeit trademark for innocent infringement and not more than $2,000,000 per counterfeit mark for willful infringement.

Attorneys’ fees and costs in trademark infringement cases are not automatically recoverable and are instead awarded in “exceptional” cases. There’s currently a split in the circuits as to what constitutes an “exceptional” case, including different standards for victorious plaintiffs and defendants. A relatively recent 7th Circuit case surveys and summarizes the varying rules of the federal circuits. Nightingale Home Healthcare, Inc. v. Anodyne Therapy, LLC, 626 F.3d 958, 960–961 (7th Cir. 2010). A word of caution to trademark plaintiffs in the 9th Circuit is warranted when considering election of actual damages or statutory damages. The 9th Circuit has held that attorney’s fees are not available to plaintiffs that elect statutory damages. K and N Engineering, Inc. v. Bulat, 510 F.3d 1079, 85 U.S.P.Q.2d 1372 (9th Cir. 2007) (“Section 1117(c) makes no provision for attorney's fees; nor does § 1117(b) authorize such fees for a plaintiff seeking statutory damages under § 1117(c). Section 1117(b)'s attorney's fees provision applies only in cases with actual damages under § 1117(a).”)

The cases are:
Otter Products, LLC v. TJEDIRECT, Inc. et al., CV13-04472 CAS (C.D. Cal. 2013);
Otter Products, LLC v. Pebble Holt et al., CV13-04470 CAS (C.D. Cal. 2013);
Otter Products, LLC v. Angel Luis Berrios, Jr. et al., CV13-04384 CAS (C.D. Cal. 2013); and
Otter Products, LLC v. Jared Hansen et al., CV13-03712 PA (C.D. Cal. 2013).

April 11, 2013

Academy of Country Music Sues ACM Records In Los Angeles After ACM’s Attorney Files TTAB Trademark Opposition

Los-angeles-trademark-attorney-lawyer-sue-ACM-TTAB.jpgAlthough the “ACM Awards” trademark is prominently featured on the Academy of Country Music’s website, I was shocked to learn that the Academy only last month filed a trademark application with the US Patent & Trademark Office to register the ACM and the ACM Awards trademarks. Obviously someone has not been reading my article on advantages afforded to USPTO registered trademarks.

Without the benefits of a trademark registration certificate establishing its priority rights, the Academy alleges and must now spend resources proving that it has been using the ACM trademark and ACM derivative marks since at least 1974 in association with services and goods in the country music industry. The Academy also alleges incurring, along with its media partners, expenditures of over $30,000,000.00 over the last 22 years in advertising and marketing the ACM marks, making the trademarks famous.

ACM Records, like a good trademark owner should, filed and obtained a USPTO trademark registration for the “ACM Records” trademark in 2008. If the Academy had previously filed and registered its ACM trademarks, Defendant’s trademark application would probably have been refused registration by the USPTO examining attorney. Instead, the Academy claims that ACM Records filed an opposition with the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (“TTAB”) in February of 2013, asserting a likelihood of confusion and dilution would arise from the Academy’s application to register “The ACM Experience.” Thus the Academy seeks declaratory judgment to its rights to register and expand the use its ACM family of trademarks.

Although the Academy claims it is the senior user of the “ACM” mark by almost twenty years, its failure to register the trademark may result in a complete bar to its federal and state dilution claims, merely because ACM Records obtained a prior USPTO trademark registration. 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c)(6) provides that the “ownership by a person of a valid registration ... on the principal register ... shall be a complete bar to an action against that person, with respect to that mark, that is brought by another person under the common law or a statute of a State; and seeks to prevent dilution by blurring or dilution by tarnishment...”

No matter the outcome, the lesson to be learned is to register your trademarks with the USPTO because a certificate of registration provides prima facie evidence of validity, ownership of the mark, and the owner’s exclusive right to use the registered trademark. 15 U.S.C. § 1057(b). The registration basically shifts the burden to the defendant to prove that the claims in the certificate of registration are not correct.

The case is Academy of Country Music v. ACM Records, Inc., et al., CV13-02448 DDP (C.D. Cal. 2013).

October 27, 2011

Power Rangers Halloween Costumes Morph Into Copyright And Trademark Infringement Suit

halloween-costumes-copyrightable-copyright-trademark-lawsuit-power-rangers-pink.jpgSaban Entertainment originally created the “Power Rangers” live action children’s television series in 1993, where several teenagers would morph from ordinary people into powerful superhero characters wearing color-coded battle suits. The colors also served as each character’s name, e.g. the Pink or Blue Rangers. Plaintiff alleges that the “television series has been immensely popular with young audiences all around the world. To date, it has been broadcast over 19 seasons, spawned two theatrical films, and become a highly valuable merchandising franchise.”

To protect its intellectual property, Plaintiff has copyrighted the artwork and design of the Power Rangers uniforms (“Uniform Copyrights”) and also owns the copyrights in the television series where they are depicted. In addition, Plaintiff has copyrighted the characters in a style guide that is provides to authorized licensees. Further, Plaintiff is the owner of numerous USPTO trademark registrations incorporating the “Power Rangers” word mark and several USPTO registered trademarks for the Power Rangers character images.

Plaintiff accuses Underdog Endeavors, Inc. of advertising and selling Halloween costumes (one image shown here) on its www.mypartyshirt.com site that infringe Plaintiff’s “intellectual property rights relating to the popular ‘Power Rangers’ television series, brand, and related products.” In addition to the copyright and trademark infringement claims, Plaintiff brings causes of action for trademark dilution and unfair competition under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act.

As a side note, Underdog’s placement of the allegedly infringing products on its website should constitute sufficiently widespread advertising activity to trigger coverage under its Commercial General Liability Insurance (“CGLI”) policy, which policy was hopefully in place before the alleged infringement began. Hyundai Motor Am. v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co., 600 F.3d 1092 (9th Cir. 2010). Most CGLI policies have an advertising injury provision under which copyright, trade dress, and sometimes trademark infringement claims are covered and the insurance company has a duty to pay attorneys’ fees and costs to defend the insured against such claims.

Are Halloween costumes copyrightable because they are garments, you ask? Although a broad category of creative works are eligible for copyright protection, the Copyright Act, however, excludes any “useful article” (e.g. clothing) – defined as “an article having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information” – from copyright protection. Thus although garments as a whole are not eligible for copyright protection, the individual design elements – for example a floral graphic applied to the fabric – may be copyrightable. In Chosun, the Second Circuit held that Halloween costumes may be copyrightable if the design elements are separable from the overall function of the costume as clothing. Chosun Int’l, Inc. v. Chrisha Creations, Ltd., 413 F.3d 324 (2d Cir. 2005).

The case is SCG Power Rangers, LLC v. Underdog Endeavors, Inc., CV11-08485 JHN (C.D. Cal. 2011).

May 17, 2011

DC Shoes Sues Over OG Kush Trademark, Parody Defense Likely

trademark-parody-defense-dc-shoes-dg-kush-marijuana-lawyer.jpgSanta Ana, CA – Apparel and footwear manufacturer DC Shoes, Inc. owns several USPTO registered trademarks for DC Shoes logos and DCSHOECOUSA. DC Shoes contends that through its widespread use and advertisements of its products, the marks have become famous. Owning trademarks, however, doesn’t mean you should always sue purported infringers that have a valid parody defense that can possibly invite public backlash.

DC Shoes accuses IQ 185 of operating an online store – www.notforpot.com – that sells marijuana-related apparel and accessories, including T-shirts and hats bearing allegedly infringing trademarks. The accused logos, pictured here, “include the interlocking letters ‘O’ and ‘G’ and a [marijuana] leaf, and ‘OGKUSHUSA’.” (Definition of kush, here.) Plaintiff claims that it sent a cease and desist letter to Defendant regarding the allegedly infringing products, but Defendant ignored DC Shoes’ demand. So DC thought it would be a good idea to file a lawsuit for trademark infringement, dilution, and unfair competition to attract more attention to Defendant’s sale of products that are protected by the First Amendment and the parody defense.

Two recent cases illustrate that a parody defense can be successfully used and sometimes provide the defendants with more positive publicity than the plaintiff imagined. In Louis Vuitton v. Haute Diggity Dog the appellate court sided with a parody pet product maker that used clever names such as Chewy Vuiton, Bark Jacobs, Sniffany & Co., and Dog Perignon. In another David v. Goliath battle, The North Face unwisely sued a high school kid for selling garments under the witty South Butt trademark. Not content with harassing a kid with a trademark lawsuit, The North Face wanted further bad publicity by overzealously attacking him and his father during depositions. In the end, however, the South Butt case settled and the kid was allowed to continue selling his T-shirts, butt but not without providing an amusing response to the complaint.

At the heart of every trademark case is consumer confusion, i.e. no confusion = no infringement. Does DC Shoes seriously believe that consumers purchasing weed parody T-shirts from defendant's website are likely to be confused that they're purchasing DC Shoes products? The case is DC Shoes, Inc. v. IQ 185 Apparel, SACV11-00721 AG (C.D. Cal. 2011).

February 27, 2011

Trademark Infringement Lawsuit Against eBay Sellers’ Candyshell Cases For Electronics

trademark-sue-ebay-sellers-candyshell-speck-speculative-design-cases.pngLos Angeles, CA – Speck Products manufactures carrying cases for electronic devices, including the iPad, iPhone, iPod, and Blackberry. The products are sold bearing the Speck® or Candyshell® trademarks. Last week, Speck filed numerous trademark infringement and unfair competition lawsuits against numerous eBay sellers alleging sales of counterfeit electronic device cases. Plaintiff alleges that “Defendants use images and names confusingly similar or identical to Plaintiff’s Marks to confuse consumer and aid in the promotion and sales of its unauthorized and counterfeit product.”

One of the numerous cases is Speculative Product Design, Inc. v. PPG Enterprize, CV1100160 VBF (C.D. Cal. 2011).

January 25, 2011

Solid 21 Sues Rolex Over Red Gold Trademark On Watches & Jewelry

watch-trademark-jewelry-lawsuit-infringement-red-gold-rolex.jpgLos Angeles, CA – Rolex must be seeing red after being sued by Solid 21 for trademark infringement for using “red gold” on, you’ll never guess, red gold jewelry. But Rolex isn’t alone and can commiserate with the other 13 or so other defendants that Solid 21 is simultaneously suing for using what appears to be a generic term. Red gold, also known as rose gold, is made by alloying gold with copper. Although Solid 21’s trademark registration (see here) discloses that “red gold” is used on “fine jewelry made of a special alloying of gold with a distinct color made into fine jewelry”, it does not disclose that red gold is used on red gold jewelry. I don’t think Solid 21 can beat the Egyptian mummies’ first use date for “red gold” jewelry. See here.

The case is Solid 21, Inc. v. Rolex Watch USA, Inc., CV11-0449 GAF (C.D. Cal. 2011).

January 7, 2011

Monster Cable Files Numerous Trademark Lawsuits Against eBay Sellers Of Monster Electronic Products

monster-cable-trademark-infringement-lawsuit-los-angeles-california-court.jpgLos Angeles, CA – Trademark bully Monster Cable, as it has been anointed by others here and here, seems to be on a trademark infringement lawsuit rampage against eBay sellers of monster products. Maybe the slew of trademark lawsuits is in response to the court’s denial of the temporary restraining order in its and Beats Electronics’ design patent lawsuit against Fanny Wang Headphone company.

Whatever the reason, it’s interesting that among the six causes of action for trademark infringement, dilution, etc., there is no cause of action for trademark counterfeiting. Even more so when the complaint alleges that Monster Cable’s private investigator purchased the items on eBay, they were tested, and deemed to be counterfeit: “Defendant has, without the consent of Plaintiff, offered to sell and sold within the United States (including within this judicial district) goods that were neither made by Plaintiff nor by a manufacturer authorized by Plaintiff (such goods are hereafter referred to as “Counterfeit Goods”).” Maybe Monster Cable’s perplexing strategy will crystallize as the cases proceed to trial, assuming the eBay sellers can afford to mount a defense against this alleged trademark bully.

The case is Monster Cable Products, Inc. v. Wireovia, LLC et al., CV10-10010 DSF (C.D. Cal. 2010).