Apple vs. the Big Apple charity over apple-shaped logos

Apple, Inc. is seeing red over New York City’s attempts to register a trademark for green-friendly services, and the dispute challenges one of Apple’s trademark registrations for its ubiquitous logo.

Apple comparison

Apple has filed an Opposition (No. 91/181,984) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board against NYC & Company, Inc.’s attempts to register the “Infinite Loop Apple” design mark (shown above at left). Apple asserts that use of NYC’s mark would likely cause confusion with Apple’s famous logo (shown at right) especially given the presence of Apple’s flagship Manhattan retail location.

NYC’s application states the mark is to be used for, among other things, promoting “education on environmentally friendly policies and practices of the City of New York” (See Application Nos. 77/179,942 and 77/179,968). Apple claims that confusion would be likely because of the similarities in appearance and commercial impression between the marks, and because certain of the goods and services recited by NYC are identical or highly related to goods and services offered under the Apple mark.

NYC answered the Notice of Opposition and filed a Counterclaim seeking to cancel Apple’s registration for the logo as used in connection with “mugs, dishes, drinking glasses, and wine glasses.” NYC claims that Apple procured the registration through fraud, because it knowingly misrepresented that it was using the mark in connection with those goods on its Declaration of Use and Renewal Application under sections 8 & 9 of the Trademark Act, when it fact no such use was being made. If the Board finds such fraud, Apple faces cancellation of its entire registration for those goods. Fraud has been a recurring issue before the TTAB of late, as evidenced by this recent post from John Welch’s TTABlog.

Apple, of course, denies the allegations of fraud. In any event, if the cancellation is successful, Apple’s most important marks (i.e., for computer hardware) would remain intact.

Time will tell whether Apple’s efforts to protect its mark will bear fruit. The company probably feels even more incentive to keep others from trading on its reputation and goodwill after hearing about this recent study, which found that people who see the Apple logo may feel more creative.

Alienware goes after “free” computer offer

Alienware Corporation v. Online Gift Rewards, No. 08-1560, S.D.N.Y. (Filed February 14, 2008).

High-performance computer manufacturer Alienware has filed suit against an online marketer alleging trademark infringement, dilution, and other theories of unfair competition. Alienware claims that the defendant has “disseminated mass unsolicited electronic solicitations” and posted Web pages offering “free” Alienware laptops, when in reality, one has to perform some “onerous” tasks to get them.

According to Alienware, after accepting the offer, users must purchase a specified amount of goods from various other sites. And this obligation is not clearly communicated, but is “presented to the consumer, if at all, only after he or she expends significant time and effort in responding to inquiries and navigating the multiple prompts.”

One may be tempted to speculate that the defendant in this case could raise some kind of defense based on fair use of the trademark. (How could you let people know what you’re offering unless you tell them; and giving away actual Alienware computers also seems like it could be protected under the first sale doctrine.)

And Alienware may have anticipated this defense, by alleging that it’s only “Alienware” serving as the source identifier for the offer, and “[t]here is no other recognizable or identifiable indication of source.” The defendant is an entity called “Online Gift Rewards.” Alienware claims that the designation is “likely to be perceived as a generic description of the offering rather than a source indicator.”

[Download the complaint]

Sponsored listing trademark action survives motion to dismiss

T.D.I. Intern., Inc. v. Golf Preservations, Inc., (Slip Op.) 2008 WL 294531 (E.D.Ky. January 31, 2008)

Plaintiffs T.D.I. International and XGD Systems sued their former employee Samson Bailey and his company Golf Preservations for, among other things, violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051 et seq. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants’ purchase of plaintiffs’ trademarks to trigger competitive advertising on Google and Yahoo was trademark infringement and unfair competition.

Defendants moved pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint, but the court denied the motion. It found that under the Twombly standard, plaintiffs had alleged facts sufficient to state a claim to relief that was plausible on its face.

Predictably, defendants had argued that the purchase of plaintiffs’ marks as keywords did not constitute a “use” of the marks as provided in the Lanham Act at 15 U.S.C. § 1127. They relied heavily on Interactive Products Corp. v. a2z Mobile Office Solutions, Inc., 326 F.3d 687, 695 (6th Cir.2003) (a case involving the appearance of a mark in the post-domain path of a URL), and 1-800 Contacts, Inc. v. When U.com, Inc., 414 F.3d 400 (2d Cir.2005) (involving pop-up advertisements triggered by page content and user activities).

Plaintiffs relied on a number of cases to argue that the purchase of keywords was a use as defined in the Lanham Act, and also (correctly) asserted that the scenario of buying keywords to trigger advertising is notably different from use in a post-domain URL (as in Interactive Products) and unseen triggering of pop-up advertisements (as in 1-800 Contacts). Given the split of authority and the corresponding “uncertain state of the law on the specific issue presented in [the] case,” the Court sided with plaintiffs and found that defendants’ arguments were not sufficient to warrant dismissal.

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.

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