Finding ATLAS COPCO and ATLAS CASPIAN confusingly similar, court awards in rem ACPA relief to unopposed plaintiff

Atlas Copco AB v. Atlascopcoiran.com, No. 07-1208, 2008 WL 149128 (E.D. Va. January 8, 2008)

Unable to hail the overseas registrants of domain names, including atlascaspian.com and atlascopcoiran.com into a U.S. court, plaintiff Atlas Copco AB sought in rem relief against the domain names under 15 U.S.C. §1125(d)(2)(a). After the defendants failed to answer the complaint, Atlas Copco moved for summary judgment, relying on the allegations of its verified complaint.

The court granted the motion and ordered the domain names transferred.

In finding that the defendants had engaged in cyberpiracy, the court looked at the “dominant or salient portions of the marks” at issue – the plaintiff’s mark and the marks comprising the offending domain names.

For you trademark experts out there, query whether you might characterize the following analysis as a bit of a stretch:

The dominant portion of each of the Defendant Domain Names is “ATLAS COPCO” or “ATLAS.” These “dominant” terms are paired with the generic terms “CASPIAN” and “IRAN,” which are generic geographic terms that do not distinguish the Defendant Domain Names from the ATLAS COPCO trademark. An internet user might reasonably assume that the geographic term “CASPIAN” and “IRAN” were added to the ATLAS COPCO trademark by the Plaintiffs to identify its geographic location.

It looks like another motivation for the court’s finding was some of the subterfuge on the sites at the offending domain names. Turns out some of them pointed to “copycat” websites bearing “Atlas Caspian” logos confusingly similar to the plaintiff’s trademark, and linked to phishing sites bearing the actual Atlas Copco mark.

Personal name must have trademark significance for protection under ACPA

Salle v. Meadows, No. 07-1089, 2007 WL 4463920 (M.D. Fla. December 17, 2007)

Defendant Meadows thought that Plaintiff Salle owed him about $9,500.  He was apparently having some trouble getting paid, so he registered the plaintiff’s personal name as a domain name – briansalle.com.  He then tried to sell it to Salle for the amount of the purported debt.  Being uninterested in the purchase, Salle filed a cybersquatting complaint against Meadows in federal court.

Salle asserted claims under both 15 U.S.C. §1125(d) and 15 U.S.C. §1129. Both parties moved for summary judgment. It was a mixed ruling, but largely a win for Salle.

The court addressed the §1129 claim first.  That portion of the Lanham Act provides:

Any person who registers a domain name that consists of the name of another living person, or a name substantially and confusingly similar thereto, without that person’s consent, with the specific intent to profit from such name by selling the domain name for financial gain to that person or any third party, shall be liable in a civil action by such person.

Meadows argued that in trying to sell the domain name and thus recover money owed to him, he was not trying to profit, and therefore not liable under §1129.  Despite some dispute over whether the debt was actually owed and to whom, the court ruled in Salle’s favor.  “[C]yber-extortion is not a permissible way to recover a debt,” the court warned.

As for the §1125(d) claim, the court ruled in Meadows’s favor.  Section 1125(d) provides, among other things, that a person shall be liable to the “owner of a mark, including a personal name which is protected as a mark under [§1125]” if that person has a bad faith intent to profit from that mark. 

Salle argued that §1125 provides that all personal names are subject to trademark protection. Meadows, on the other hand, argued that a personal name must have some sort of trademark significance, e.g., acquired distinctiveness, in order to fall with the protection of §1125. Agreeing with Meadows’s interpretation of the section, the court found that Salle failed to present enough evidence to survive summary judgment on the question of whether he had protectible trademark rights in his personal name.

Filter maker says Apple’s trademark threats a bunch of hot air

“Lowest perceptive capabilities.” Is that code for “a moron in a hurry“?

Chicago-based BlueAir, Inc. has apparently been getting some threats from Apple over BlueAir’s pending trademark registration for the mark AIRPOD, to be used in connection with desk top air purifiers. Apple says AIRPOD will infringe on the IPOD mark.

BlueAir has gone on the offensive, asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to enter a declaratory judgment of no infringement.

The heart of BlueAir’s allegations are as follows:

“There is no reasonable likelihood of confusion, mistake, or error in the marketplace for persons of even the lowest perceptive capabilities who are seeking an iPod music player considering or buying an AIRPOD desktop air cleaner instead.”

This dispute has been going on for a few months, and it is interesting to see suit filed now, to essentially coincide with the introduction of the MacBook Air.

BlueAir, Inc. v. Apple, Inc., No. 08-427 (N.D. Ill. filed January 18, 2007)
[Download the Complaint]

Ownership of domain name grounds for civil contempt and award of attorney’s fees

But mere ownership of domain name, without “use,” was not enough to give rise to infringement.

Careylicensing, Inc. v. Erlich, No. 05-1194, 2007 WL 3146559 (E.D. Mo. October 25, 2007)

Plaintiff Carey International and defendant International Chauffeured Services are competitors in the limousine industry. Carey sued International back in 2005 for trademark infringement, and the parties settled the case. They entered into a consent judgment, which is, essentially, like a contract between the parties that was made an order of the court. The consent judgment prohibited, among other things, the defendant from owning any domain name containing the word “Carey.”

In February 2007, the plaintiff noticed that the defendant owned a domain name careylimousine.net. The plaintiff eventually went back into court, asking that the defendant be held in contempt for violating the consent judgment and, pursuant to the terms of the consent judgment, be awarded attorneys fees and “liquidated damages,” for breaching the agreement.

The court found that ownership of the domain name by the defendant warranted a contempt citation. It also found that that ownership was a breach that made an award of attorney’s fees proper. But the court declined to award liquidated damages.

The consent judgment provided that liquidated damages be awarded for any “infringement” of the plaintiff’s mark. But in this case, there was no infringement. The court found that merely owning the domain name, without having an active site there, was not a “use” in commerce as required by the Lanham Act. Without the requisite element of use, there could be no infringement.

Ninth Circuit rejects “disparagement of trademark” claim

The Freecycle Network, Inc. v. Oey, — F.3d —-, 2007 WL 2781902 (9th Cir. September 26, 2007)

“Freecycling” is a collaborative online effort of people working to share and trade items they no longer want. The Freecycle Network is at the forefront of these efforts, providing a website that facilitates the exchange of information and the subsequent exchange of stuff. Read more about the organization in the group’s Wikipedia entry.

freecycle.jpg

Tim Oey was one of the early forces of the Freecycle Network. At first he encouraged the group to take seriously what rights it may have in the word “freecycle.” Some time later he changed his mind, and began advocating online, through message boards and other fora, that the term should be left to the public domain. The Freecyle Network disagreed with this approach, and ultimately sued Oey for infringement and “defamation of trademark” under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act.

The district court entered a preliminary injunction against Oey. But Oey sought review with the Ninth Circuit, which reversed.

The court provided three reasons why the Freecycling Network’s claim for trademark infringement failed. First, Oey’s conduct did not constitute a “use” of the mark in commerce, as the record in the case did not indicate they were made to promote any competing service or reap any commercial benefit whatsoever. Rather, Oey simply expressed an opinion that the plaintiff lacked trademark rights in the term “freecycle” and encouraged like-minded individuals to continue to use the term in its generic sense and to inform the USPTO of their opinions.

Second, even if Oey’s statements could somehow have been construed to be a “use in commerce,” that use was not likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deceive anyone as to the connection of Oey’s services (or any other) with those of the plaintiff.

Finally, Oey’s statements did not satisfy the requirements for false advertising, misrepresentation, or unfair competition under § 1125(a)(1)(B). There was no evidence that Oey’s statements were made in “commercial advertising or promotion.” And, even if such evidence existed, § 43(a) creates liability only for product disparagement — i.e., misrepresentation of “the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin” of “another person’s goods, services, or commercial activities.” In this case, the plaintiff did not allege or show that Oey made any statements disparaging its goods or services. Instead, he merely talked about the nature of the mark itself. Indeed, many of his remarks were aimed at ensuring the ongoing success of the plaintiff’s organization and its services.

As for the claim of “trademark disparagement,” the court held that no such cause of action existed under the Lanham Act. It further held that even if trademark disparagement were a viable claim under the law, Oey’s conduct did not satisfy the elements of such a tort that the Freecycling Network asserted. The statements were not “false.” At worst, Oey offered an erroneous legal opinion (by a layperson) that the Freecycle Network lacked trademark rights in the term “Freecycle.” But under the Lanham Act, statements of opinion are not generally actionable.

View the opinion below (or click through if it’s not showing up in the RSS feed):

“I’M” not like “i’m” in the trademark sense

Finding Internet video player and instant messaging software “extraordinarily different,” court denies preliminary injunction in trademark case.

Instant Media, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., No. 07-2639, 2007 WL 2318948 (N.D.Cal. August 13, 2007)

Plaintiff Instant Media sued Microsoft for trademark infringement, and later moved for a preliminary injunction. Instant Media had a registration for the word mark I’M for use in connection with its downloadable media player called I’M. Microsoft used the mark “i’m” in connection with philanthropic services closely tied to its Windows Live Messenger service.

The court denied the motion for preliminary injunction, finding that Instant Media would not likely succeed on its infringement claim. It applied a subset of the Ninth Circuit’s Sleekcraft factors known as the “Internet trinity,” comparing (1) the similarity of the marks, (2) the relatedness of the products, and (3) the parties’ simultaneous use of the Internet as a marketing channel.

Similarity of the Marks

As for the first factor of the Internet trinity, the court considered the sight, sound and meaning of the two marks. It held that in terms of sight, Microsoft’s mark, consisting of lowercase letters “i’m” appearing in a stylized format with a speech balloon and rendered in pale green and blue, was sufficiently different from Instant Media’s registered “I’M” word mark. The court determined that the sound of the two marks was ambiguous, so Instant Media had not established that the marks sound the same. The court also sided with Microsoft on the third subpart of this analysis — meaning — holding that, given “I’M” could mean Instant Media, instant messenger or the contraction “I am,” Instant Media had not demonstrated that the two marks shared the same meaning.

Relatedness of the Products

The court then turned to the second factor of the Internet trinity, the relatedness of the services. Citing to Jupiter Hosting Inc. v. Jupitermedia Corp., 76 U.S.P.Q.2d 1042 (N.D. Cal. 2004), Instant Media had essentially argued that the two products were necessarily related under this factor, because they were both “free downloadable Internet applications intended for computer users at large.”

The Jupiter Hosting case had relied on GoTo.com, Inc. v. Walt Disney Co., 202 F.3d 1199 (9th Cir. 2000) in which the Ninth Circuit observed that in the Internet context, “even services that are not identical are capable of confusing the public.” The GoTo.com case recognized, however, that “[o]ur ever-growing dependence on the Web may force us eventually to evolve into increasingly sophisticated users of the medium.”

The court declared that such an age of increasing sophistication had arrived:

GoTo.com was decided seven years ago-aeons in Internet terms-and the moment of our evolution into “increasingly sophisticated users of the medium” is upon us. While it may have been plausible in 2000 to suggest that consumers could not easily discriminate between content-delivery programs such as the I’M player or iTunes on the one hand and instant messaging programs such as WLM or AIM on the other, in 2007, where iPods and instant messaging are household concepts, this Court cannot say that, as a matter of law, “it is irrelevant whether the parties’ Internet related services are different.”

Applying this standard, the court held that Microsoft’s instant messaging software and Insight Media’s video player were “extraordinarily different within the context of the Internet.”

Simultaneous Use of the Internet as Marketing Channel

This third factor of the “Internet trinity” was the only one that weighed in Instant Media’s favor. Although Microsoft argued that the marketing channels were different, in that it did not advertise on television (and Instant Media did), the court held there was no real dispute that both parties used the Internet to market their products.

A look at the American Airlines v. Google suit

Eric Goldman takes an in-depth look at the newly-filed American Airlines v. Google sponsored listings suit. From the professor’s post:

This complaint pleads the usual claims for this type of action, including direct, contributory and vicarious trademark infringement…; a false advertising claim that the “sponsored link” language communicates a false impression of actual sponsorship; dilution; various “soft” state claims (unfair competition; misappropriation and others); and tortious interference with contract because Google allegedly knew that American’s distributors weren’t supposed to buy American’s trademarks as keywords.

No stay of action in PODFITNESS trademark case

Apple Computer, Inc. v. Podfitness, Inc., No. 06-5805, 2007 WL 1378020 (N.D. Cal. May 10, 2007)

Podfitness.com provides a service whereby users can download workout routines onto their iPods. When Podfitness filed trademark applications for PODFITNESS, PODFITNESS.COM, PODPOCKET, and PODWORKOUT with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Apple filed notices of opposition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”), seeking to prevent the marks from registering. Apple also filed a federal lawsuit against Podfitness, alleging that the company’s “entire marketing strategy appears to consist of hitching its wagon to Apple’s star.”

Defendant Podfitness moved to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of the oppositions before the TTAB. The court denied the motion to stay.

Podfitness provided two arguments why a stay would be appropriate. First, it argued that since the question of likelihood of confusion would be central to all of Apple’s claims, the court should wait to see how the TTAB rules on that point. Second, Podfitness claimed that Apple has initiated numerous other oppositions before the TTAB seeking to preclude others from registering trademarks containing word combinations which include the term “POD,” and therefore a stay would further the interests of judicial economy because the TTAB’s decision would comprehensively adjudicate Apple’s right to preclude others from using POD-formative marks.

In denying the motion for a stay, the court looked to the doctrine of “primary jurisdiction.” Under this doctrine, a court should stay proceedings which are properly within the jurisdiction of, and are in fact presently under consideration by, an agency with extensive regulatory powers over the subject matter and the parties involved.

Podfitness argued that a stay of the action pending the TTAB’s decision would promote a uniform and efficient adjudication of the parties’ rights, while, at the same time, avoiding the potential for inconsistent judicial determinations concerning Apple’s rights to preclude others from using POD-formative marks. Apple countered that since the TTAB’s decision would only determine the registrability of Podfitness’s marks, the Court would still have to adjudicate its claims for trademark infringement, dilution, false advertising and unfair competition regardless of the substance of the TTAB’s determinations. Accordingly, Apple argued, a stay would only serve to delay the resolution of the issues, perhaps for years.

The court agreed with Apple’s arguments, observing that the TTAB would be incapable of resolving all of the issues between the parties. Granting a stay would only serve to postpone resolution of the issues, forcing the court to eventually adjudicate what would inevitably be stale factual claims. And in the interim, Podfitness would be able to continue its allegedly infringing activity unfettered.

So the benefit of prompt adjudication won out.

E.D.N.Y. holds purchase of competitor’s trademark to trigger sponsored listing not trademark “use” under Lanham Act

Site Pro-1 v. Better Metal, LLC, No. 06-6508 (E.D.N.Y. May 9, 2007)

Site Pro-1 sued its competitor Better Metal, LLC, accusing Better Metal of committing trademark infringement when it purchased the terms “site,” “pro,” and “1” to trigger sponsored links on Yahoo! The facts of the case were “straightforward and not in dispute”: the mark SITE PRO-1 did not appear in the sponsored search results linking to Better Metal’s website.

Better metal moved to dismiss the complaint under FRCP 12(b)(6). The court granted the motion.

Relying heavily on the cases of 1-800 Contacts v. When-U, 414 F.3d 400 (2d Cir. 2005), Merck & Co., v. Mediplan Health Consulting, Inc., 425 F.Supp.2d 402 (S.D.N.Y. 2006), and Rescuecom Corp. v. Google, Inc., 456 F.Supp.2d 393 (N.D.N.Y. 2006), the court held that the internal use of the plaintiff’s mark to trigger the sponsored listings was not “use” as provided under the Lanham Act. The key question was “whether the defendant placed plaintiff’s trademark on any goods, displays, containers, or advertisements, or used plaintiff’s trademark in any way that indicate[d] source or origin.” Because the court answered that question in the negative, Site Pro-1’s infringement claim failed.

Hat tip to Eric Goldman.

Denial of injunction against blogger affirmed

In late 2005, a blogger named Smith posted an entry in which he was critical of an eBay listing company he’d had dealings with. In the post, Smith used the listing company’s logo several times. The company sued in federal court, alleging, among other things, trademark dilution. The trial court denied a motion for preliminary injunction against Smith, holding that the way in which he’d used the mark was merely for news reporting and commentary, and thus not actionable under trademark law. [Read Eric Goldman’s summary of the lower court proceedings here.]

On March 6, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s denial of the preliminary injunction. With little substantive analysis other than to recite the factors appropriate for a court to consider in granting injunctive relief, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. So in this case, the blogger remains victorious.

BidZirk, LLC v. Smith, (Slip Op.), 2007 WL 664302 (4th Cir. March 6, 2007)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8