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 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Domain Names and Trademarks > Notices > Pets Even Unfriendlier? (NoticeID 1065, http://chillingeffects.org/N/1065) Printer-friendly version

Pets Even Unfriendlier?

January 27, 2004

 

Sender Information:
Pet Friendly, Inc.
Sent by: [private]
Rader, Fishman & Grauer
39533 Woodward Av
Suite 140
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, 48304, US

Recipient Information:
[ private]
Pet Friendly Rentals
Californi, 92117, USA


Sent via: email
Re: Trademark Issues

Rader, Fishman & Grauer PLLC
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
248.594.0600

January 27, 2004

Dear Sir/Madam,

We represent Pet Friendly

 
FAQ: Questions and Answers

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Question: What is "intellectual property"?

Answer: Intellectual property refers to the rights one has in the product of one's intellect. This includes copyright (rights in creative expression)and patents (rights in inventions, discoveries, methods, compositions of matter, etc.) which are granted by article I, section 8 clause 8 of the US Constitution which gives Congress the power to "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Related rights include trademark (rights in the names one uses to identify one's goods and services), trade secret (confidential business practices), unfair trade practice, passing off, trade libel, false advertising, misappropriation. Laws protecting most of these rights exist at both the state and federal level. "Proprietary rights" is just a general term meaning "one's own rights."


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Question: How can I find out if someone has a valid trademark?

Answer: It isn't easy. In the United States, a trademark owner isn't required to register the mark anywhere, so there is no single central list of them all. Unlike most other nations, registration here is optional.

Many owners do register their marks with the government, however, to better notify the world of their claims. Each state has its own trademark registry for goods and services sold locally. For companies that sell in more than one state, there is a US federal registry that is accessible online through TESS. TESS is searchable by key word as well as by registration number.

Because registration is not required, however, a word might still be a protected mark even if it doesn't appear in any of these locations.

When a company is selecting a new brand, its trademark attorney will usually conduct a "trademark availability" search which will look in many different locations to try and ferret out competing uses of the desired name. Business directories, Internet search engines, telephone directories are other searched sources. Multi-national vendors will search trademark registries in foreign nations as well.

Even the most exhaustive search will not be conclusive, however, but it will usually indicate that if there is any other commercial use, it is probably limited to a very local area. It is OK to use the same mark as another company, so long as the new use isn't likely to confuse consumers.


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Question: What is a trademark?

Answer: A trademark is a "mark" (word, phrase, symbol, design, mark, device, or combination thereof) used to identify the source of a product. Trademarks allow consumers to evaluate products before purchase.


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Question: What can be protected as a trademark?

Answer: You can protect

  • names (such as company names, product names)
  • domain names if they label a product or service
  • images
  • symbols
  • logos
  • slogans or phrases
  • colors
  • product design
  • product packaging (known as trade dress)


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Question: What is "goodwill"?

Answer: Goodwill is a business or trademark owner's image, relationship with customers and suppliers, good reputation, and expectation of repeat patronage. It is the value a trademark owner builds in a brand.


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Question: What is trademark infringement?

Answer: Although different courts have different tests, the central concept is confusion in the marketplace. The law protects against consumer confusion by ensuring that the marks on the same or similar products or services are sufficiently different. A plaintiff in a trademark infringement case generally must prove 1) it possesses a valid mark; 2) that the defendant used the mark; 3) that the defendant used the mark in commerce, "in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution or advertising "of goods and services; and 4) that the defendant used the mark in a manner likely to confuse consumers.


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Question: What is the bare minimum of trademark law that I have to understand to decipher this C&D?

Answer: Your opponent should say that your mark is causing consumer confusion or is likely to cause consumer confusion. Or it should mention it's famousness and complain of dilution or tarnishment. (If the C&D does not say this, then no trademark claim may actually exist, and you can rest assured that your opponent is engaging in scare tactics or has hired a highly incompetent attorney). A mark protects more than identical copying, it extends to anything that is confusingly similar, even if it isn't exactly the same.

Functioning in a quasi-magical talisman-like capacity, trademarks designate the source or quality of goods or services. For this reason, the law protects against confusion in the market place by ensuring that marks on the same or similar products or services are sufficiently different. The law also protects famous marks against dilution of value and tarnishment of the reputation of the goods or services on which it appears or the source of those products, regardless of any confusion.

You can roughly assess the validity of your opponent?s claim of confusion by classifying the marks involved. A trademark can fall into one of 5 categories. It can be: (1) fanciful; (2) arbitrary; (3) suggestive; (4) descriptive; or (5) generic. Not all of these varieties of marks are entitled to the same level, or indeed any level, of trademark protection.

A fanciful mark is a mark someone made up; examples include KODAK or H?AGEN-DAZS. An arbitrary mark is a known term applied to a completely unrelated product or service; for instance, AMAZON.com for an online book-store cum one-stop shopping site or APPLE for computers. Fanciful and arbitrary marks are considered strong marks and garner substantial trademark protection.

A suggestive mark is one that hints at the product, but which requires an act of imagination to make the connection: COPPERTONE for sun tan lotion or PENGUIN for coolers or refrigerators are examples. Suggestive marks are also strong marks and receive protection.

A descriptive mark, predictably, describes the product: HOLIDAY INN describes a vacation hotel and FISH-FRI describes batter for frying fish. Descriptive marks do not receive any trademark protection unless their user has used them in commerce and has built up secondary meaning. "Secondary meaning" occurs when consumers identify the goods or services on which the descriptive term appears with a single source. In other words, if consumers know that HOLIDAY INN hotels are all affiliated with a single source, then the mark has secondary meaning and receives trademark protection.

Finally, generic marks simply designate the variety of goods involved: for example, "cola" used on soft drinks and "perfume" on perfume are both generic terms. Generic marks never receive any trademark protection; they are free for everybody to use. (Keep in mind, though, that "Cola" on a nightclub is arbitrary, and therefore receives protection).

If your opponent is complaining that you have used the word "bakery" for a bake shop or "car" for a car repair shop, then you can safely guess that the c & d is baseless. On the other hand, if your opponent is concerned about the fact that both of you use of the term "Sweet Pickles" on alpaca sweaters, then the c & d may have some merit.

There are a few more wrinkles as well. Some marks are word marks (text only) and others are design marks (images which may or may not include text). Design marks do not provide independent protectin for the text incorporated in the design. So if the mark is only a design mark, it doesn't prevent others from using the text so long as they don't copy the design elements.


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Question: Does the product or service on which I am using the mark matter? Do dates matter?

Answer: It matters if the mark is not famous. The C&D should disclose your opponent?s products and/or services and the date on which it commenced use of the allegedly infringed mark. This will help you guesstimate whether a likelihood of confusion between the marks exists. For instance, if your opponent uses ?opera? on truffles and you use "opera" on silk gloves, consumers are not likely to confuse the products. If the mark is determined by a court to be famous, however, confusion is irrelevant and [non-fair] use on any type of goods may be an infringement.

The date on which your opponent began using the mark is significant because a junior (later) user cannot displace a senior (first) user in the senior user?s geographic region. In other words, if you have owned a chain of donut shops called "Lucky Donuts," with locations in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut since 1943, a national chain called "Lucky Donuts" founded in 1979 has no trademark infringement claim against you in the NJ-NY-CT tri-state area. If your opponent has begun using its allegedly infringed mark after your use, you have another reason to question the merit of the C&D.


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Question: What exactly are the rights a trademark owner has?

Answer: In the US, trademark rights come from actual use of the mark to label one's services or products or they come from filing an application with the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that states an intention to use the mark in future commerce. In most foreign countries, trademarks are valid only upon registration.

There are two trademark rights: the right to use (or authorize use) and the right to register.

The person who establishes priority rights in a mark gains the exclusive right to use it to label or identify their goods or services, and to authorize others to do so. According to the Lanham Act, determining who has priority rights in a mark involves establishing who was the first to use it to identify his/her goods.

The PTO determines who has the right to register the mark. Someone who registers a trademark with the intent to use it gains "constructive use" when he/she begins using it, which entitles him/her to nationwide priority in the mark. However, if two users claim ownership of the same mark (or similar marks) at the same time, and neither has registered it, a court must decide who has the right to the mark. The court can issue an injunction (a ruling that requires other people to stop using the mark) or award damages if people other than the owner use the trademark (infringement).

Trademark owners do not acquire the exclusive ownership of words. They only obtain the right to use the mark in commerce and to prevent competitors in the same line of goods or services from using a confusingly similar mark. The same word can therefore be trademarked by different producers to label different kinds of goods. Examples are Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets.

Owners of famous marks have broader rights to use their marks than do owners of less-well-known marks. They can prevent uses of their marks by others on goods that do not even compete with the famous product.


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Question: How do I register a trademark?

Answer: There are three ways to register:

  1. file a use application, which lets someone who is already using the mark register it,
  2. file an intent to use application, which states that you honestly intend to use the mark in commerce. The mark must be associated with commerce, instead of simply being a mark that you want to reserve. Merely using the mark in advertising or promotion does not qualify under this category -- the use must be associated with an actual commercial purpose, or
  3. (non-US applicants only) file based on an existing foreign registration.
All applications require a fee. Remember that it is not necessary to register a trademark to gain protection in the United States.

Four months after registration, the trademark application is examined by an attorney at the PTO. The attorney determines whether the mark is registerable. If not, the applicant receives a letter stating the grounds for refusal and information on needed corrections (if applicable). If the attorney requests additional information, the applicant has six months to respond; after six months, the application is deemed abandoned.

The most common reason for being unable to register is that the mark is confusingly similar to an existing mark. If the attorney finds a conflicting mark and cannot grant the application, the PTO does not refund the application fee.

If the mark can be registered and the application passes, the attorney approves the mark for publication in the PTO


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Question: Where can I find state trademark law?

Answer: Each state has its own laws governing use of trademarks within its borders. To locate the trademark laws of the 50 states, use the Legal Information Institute links. Both legislation and court opinions create trademark rights and remedies.

If marks are used in interstate commerce, then federal law will also apply.


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Question: Where can I find federal trademark law?

Answer: To be protected by federal trademark law, the marked goods and services must be used in interstate commerce. Federal trademark law is known as the Lanham Act. It protects marks that are registered with the United States Patent & Trademark Office as well as those that are in use but never registered.

Court opinions and United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) regulations also interpret trademark rights and remedies. See the links to court sites provided by the Legal Information Insitute.


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Question: What is trademark infringement?

Answer: Although different courts have different tests, the central concept is confusion in the marketplace. The law protects against consumer confusion by ensuring that the marks on the same or similar products or services are sufficiently different. A plaintiff in a trademark infringement case generally must prove 1) it possesses a valid mark; 2) that the defendant used the mark; 3) that the defendant used the mark in commerce, "in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution or advertising "of goods and services; and 4) that the defendant used the mark in a manner likely to confuse consumers.


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Question: What is unfair competition?

Answer: "Unfair competition" covers a wide range of kinds of unjust business behavior---so many kinds, in fact, that it is impossible to give one simple general definition. In essence, unfair competition means trademark infringement or false advertising to confuse the public. In most states, only commercial competitors can be engaged in "unfair competition."


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Question: Where can I find federal trademark law?

Answer: To be protected by federal trademark law, the marked goods and services must be used in interstate commerce. Federal trademark law is known as the Lanham Act. It protects marks that are registered with the United States Patent & Trademark Office as well as those that are in use but never registered.

Court opinions and United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) regulations also interpret trademark rights and remedies. See the links to court sites provided by the Legal Information Insitute.


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Question: What is false designation of origin?

Answer: It covers similar ground to trademark infringement, but is more specific to misrepresentation of source, and applies even when there is no trademark at issue. If your website makes it appear that you sell products made by Company X, but in fact you make these products in your garage, Company X might accuse you of falsely designating the origin of (or "passing off") your items.


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Question: What is this laundry list of things the C&D says will happen if I don't obey?

Answer: Your opponent may describe a parade of horribles to demonstrate with exquisite detail what it will do to you unless you capitulate. This list generally includes, but is not limited to:
(1) ceasing use of the allegedly infringing mark or surrendering the domain name;
(2) rendering an accounting;
(3) posting corrective advertising;
(4) obtaining an injunction;
(5) recovering costs and fees.

Though these things sound awful, they are not medieval tortures (although that may be a function of the fact that Torquemada never thought of them).

Ceasing use of the mark is self-explanatory: your opponent wants you to stop using the mark. Your opponent might also ask you to surrender your domain name if they believe the domain name causes (or is likely to cause) confusion with their trademark. For example, under ICANN rules (the UDRP), you may have to surrender your domain name if the following three conditions are satisfied:
(1) your domain name is identical or confusingly similar to your opponent?s;
(2) you have no legitimate right or interest in the name (in other words, you are not using the name to conduct a bona fide business or for non-commercial fair use purposes); and
(3) your name is registered and used in bad faith.

An accounting basically means that you disclose the following information to your opponent:
(1) the date you began using the allegedly infringing mark;
(2) the names of individuals who knew of the use when it began;
(3) the amount of traffic at your web site or business at your store; and
(4) your profits and revenues during the time you used the allegedly infringing mark.

Corrective advertising means you give notice to the public that you were using a mark confusingly similar to your opponent?s, and that you are not affiliated with your opponent.

An injunction is a judicial order to do something. An injunction can prevent you from using the allegedly infringing trademark.

Some provisions of the Lanham Act permit a trademark holder to recover attorney?s fees and court costs from an infringer.

That your opponent has listed these various remedies does not mean that it is entitled to them; do not confuse the smorgasbord of legal options with your opponent?s right to inflict any of them on you.


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Question: What are the limits of trademark rights?

Answer: There are many limits, including:

  • Fair Use
    There are two situations where the doctrine of fair use prevents infringement:
    1. The term is a way to describe another good or service, using its descriptive term and not its secondary meaning. The idea behind this fair use is that a trademark holder does not have the exclusive right to use a word that is merely descriptive, since this decreases the words available to describe. If the term is not used to label any particular goods or services at all, but is perhaps used in a literary fashion as part of a narrative, then this is a non-commercial use even if the narrative is commercially sold.
    2. Nominative fair use
      This is when a potential infringer (or defendant) uses the registered trademark to identify the trademark holder's product or service in conjunction with his or her own. To invoke this defense, the defendant must prove the following elements:
      • the product or service cannot be readily identified without the mark
      • he/she only uses as much of the mark as is necessary to identify the goods or services
      • he/she does nothing with the mark to suggest that the trademark holder has given his approval to the defendant
  • Parody Use
    Parodies of trademarked products have traditionally been permitted in print and other media publications. A parody must convey two simultaneous -- and contradictory -- messages: that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody.
  • Non-commercial Use
    If no income is solicited or earned by using someone else's mark, this use is not normally infringement. Trademark rights protect consumers from purchasing inferior goods because of false labeling. If no goods or services are being offered, or the goods would not be confused with those of the mark owner, or if the term is being used in a literary sense, but not to label or otherwise identify the origin of other goods or services, then the term is not being used commercially.
  • Product Comparison and News Reporting
    Even in a commercial use, you can refer to someone else?s goods by their trademarked name when comparing them to other products. News reporting is also exempt.
  • Geographic Limitations
    A trademark is protected only within the geographic area where the mark is used and its reputation is established. For federally registered marks, protection is nationwide. For other marks, geographical use must be considered. For example, if John Doe owns the mark Timothy's Bakery in Boston, there is not likely to be any infringement if Jane Roe uses Timothy's Bakery to describe a bakery in Los Angeles. They don't sell to the same customers, so those customers aren't confused.
  • Non-competing or Non-confusing Use
    Trademark rights only protect the particular type of goods and services that the mark owner is selling under the trademark. Some rights to expansion into related product lines have been recognized, but generally, if you are selling goods or services that do not remotely compete with those of the mark owner, this is generally strong evidence that consumers would not be confused and that no infringement exists. This defense may not exist if the mark is a famous one, however. In dilution cases, confusion is not the standard, so use on any type of good or service might cause infringement by dilution of a famous mark.


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