Chilling Effects
Home Weather Reports Report Receiving a Cease and Desist Notice Search the Database Topics
Sending
Topic HomeFAQsMonitoring the legal climate for Internet activity
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Domain Names and Trademarks > Notices > Maternity Closet births trademark claims (NoticeID 687, http://chillingeffects.org/N/687) Printer-friendly version

Maternity Closet births trademark claims

June 21, 2003

 

Sender Information:
Bernie Zeller
Sent by: [Private]
[Private]

Recipient Information:
Kenneth D. Phillips
Maternity-Closet.com
Arlington, Texas, 76018, USA


Sent via: email
Re: Re: Maternity Closet Trademark

Jun 21, 2003
maternity-closet.com

Attn: [Private]

Re: Maternity Closet Trademark

Dear Mr. Phillips:

It has been brought to our attention that your business, maternity-closet.com, has been using the trademark Maternity Closet in association with the marketing or sale of your products and services. It is possible that you were unaware of this conflict, so we believe that it is in our mutual interest to bring this matter to your attention.

Maternity Closet is a registered trademark (U.S. Reg. No. 2404709) of our business, Zeller, Bernadette INDIVIDUAL, UNITED STATES. (http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm)

Our federal registration of this trademark provides us with certain proprietary rights. This includes the right to restrict the use of the trademark, or a confusingly similar trademark, in association with confusingly similar products or services.

It is important that we exercise our right to protect our trademark. It serves as an important and distinctive representation of the origin of our products as well as the goodwill of our company.

State and federal law supports our position that confusingly similar trademarks may cause confusion among customers. This confusion may cause substantial harm to the trademark by facilitating the loss of its effectiveness in establishing a distinct association between it, our products and services, and our company's goodwill.

Due to these concerns, and because unauthorized use of our federally registered trademark amounts to an infringement of our trademark rights, we respectively request that you cease and desist in any further use of Maternity Closet in association with the marketing, sale, distribution, or identification of your products, or services.

Please respond by email: indicating your intention to cease and desist the use of the trademark Maternity Closet, or any confusingly similar trademark, within ten (10) calendar days.

We hope that this issue may be resolved this way so we can avoid any further legal remedies as provided by state law and the U.S. Trademark Act.

Sincerely,

George Zeller, Co-Owner
[e-mail; private]


cc
Bernadette Zeller, Owner
[private]

Attorney information [private]

 
FAQ: Questions and Answers

[back to notice text]


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)


[back to notice text]


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.


[back to notice text]


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.


[back to notice text]


Question: What do these registration numbers mean? or Why don

Answer: Do not be led astray by the registration numbers: trademark rights in the United States arise from use of the mark in commerce, not from registering. However, both state and federal law can provide relief from trademark infringement.

If your opponent has registered its mark on the Patent & Trademark Office


[back to notice text]


Question: What are the benefits of federal trademark registration?

Answer: Federal registration of a trademark has several advantages including notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.

Registration Provides the Following:
1. Constructive notice nationwide of the trademark owner's claim.
2. Evidence of ownership of the trademark.
3. Jurisdiction of federal courts may be invoked.
4. Registration can be used as a basis for obtaining registration in foreign countries.
5. Registration may be filed with U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.


[back to notice text]


Question: What implication does alleged confusion have on claims of trademark infringement?

Answer: A mark that is confusingly similar so closely resembles a registered trademark that it is likely to confuse consumers as to the source of the product or service. Consumers could be likely to believe that the product with the confusingly similar mark is produced by the organization that holds the registered mark. Someone who holds a confusingly similar mark benefits from the good will associated with the registered mark and can lure customers to his/her product or service instead. Infringement is determined by whether your mark is confusingly similar to a registered mark. The factors that determine infringement include:

  • proof of actual confusion
  • strength of the established mark
  • proximity of the goods in the marketplace
  • similarity of the marks? sound
  • appearance and meaning
  • how the goods are marketed
  • type of product and how discerning the customer is
  • intent behind selecting the mark
  • likelihood of expansion in the market of the goods


[back to notice text]


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.


[back to notice text]


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.


[back to notice text]


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.


[back to notice text]


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.


[back to notice text]


Question: What facts should a C&D include?

Answer: Recitation of Facts. Read this section of the letter carefully. It should contain some or all of the following information:
(1) the trademark that is allegedly being infringed;
(2) the trademark, domain name or other use that is allegedly doing the infringing;
(3) the products and services on which your opponent uses the allegedly infringed mark;
(4) the date your opponent commenced such use; and
(5) the registration numbers, if the trademarks are registered with the Patent & Trademark Office.


[back to notice text]


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.


Topic maintained by Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Topic Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)
Chilling Effects Clearinghouse - www.chillingeffects.org
disclaimer / privacy / about us & contacts