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 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Trademark > Notices > Stealth v. Stealth Signal (NoticeID 248, http://chillingeffects.org/N/248) Printer-friendly version

Stealth v. Stealth Signal

March 26, 2002

 

Sender Information:
Stealth
Sent by: [Private]
[Private]
Chicago, IL, 60707, US

Recipient Information:
[Private]
Stealth Signal, Inc.
Kingwood, Texas, 77339, USA


Sent via: Certified Mail
Re: Infringement of the "Stealth" Trademark Registration

Dear President:

Please be advised that we are the owner of all right, title and interest in and to the mark STEALTH. These STEALTH mark(s) are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in numerous classes of goods and services. We are also the exclusive worldwide Licensor of the mark STEALTH as contained in the Who's Who in the Licensing Industry.

We have just learned that your company is using the STEALTH mark as a trademark, tradename, domain name, corporate name and/or service mark. It is our opinion that the unauthorized use of our well-known STEALTH mark constitutes an infringement of our common law rights in and to the mark STEALTH and/or our registered trademarks, if not actual counterfeiting. If your mark were ever to publish for opposition we will opposed it and/or file a petition to cancel it.

In arguendo, if the said products or services are different, both federal and state laws protect the owner of a famous and distinctive trademark from "dilution" of its mark. The FTDA provides, in pertinent part, that

 
FAQ: Questions and Answers

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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 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: 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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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: Can a trademark give someone rights in common words and letters?

Answer: Not all identifying names and phrases can be protected by trademarks. Protection depends on a mark's strength, which is determined by how it is categorized. There are four categories (in descending order of strength):

  1. arbitrary
  2. suggestive
  3. descriptive
  4. generic

An arbitrary mark receives the most protection since the name bears no relationship to the product -- it implies imagination and thought. Kodak is an example of an arbitrary mark because the name itself suggests no connection to film or camera equipment. We learn this association only after the name has been used and becomes associated with the source of that product. A descriptive mark receives protection if it has secondary meaning in consumers' minds. A generic mark rarely receives protection because it is naturally associated with something in consumers' minds. An ordinary description is not special enough to warrant protection. However, if consumers connect the mark and its source in a way that would not exist without the mark's use in commerce, then the mark can be protected.

Alphabet letters, initials, abbreviations and acronyms may be entitled to protection if they are so original that they constitute an arbitrary mark (e.g., NICAD for nickel cadium). Otherwise, they may be protected only if they had acquired a secondary meaning which means that consumers have come to recognize the mark and associate the goods with a particular manufacturer (e.g., IBM and BMW).


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Question: What is a trademark and why does it get special protection?

Answer: A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name.

Consumers reap the benefit when trademarks are protected. By preventing anyone but the actual mark owner from labeling goods with the mark, it helps prevent consumers getting cheated by shoddy knock-off imitators. It encourages mark owners to maintain quality goods so that customers will reward them by looking for their label as an indication of excellence. Consumers as well as mark owners benefit from trademark laws.

Trademark owners spend a lot of time, money, and effort to protect the distinctiveness of their trademark. Once trademarks have become diluted to the point where the general public no longer recognizes them as distinctly applying to a particular manufacturer, they lose their value to the trademark owner because they no longer attract customers to his particular goods. For example, ?aspirin? used to be the trademark of one particular manufacturer of synthesized acetylsalicylic acid, but is now used to generically describe that product regardless of who produces it. Trademarks owners must be vigilant to make sure that their trademarks rights are not being infringed and that their trademarks are not becoming diluted or generic.

The birth of the Internet and the use of character strings (domain names) to represent Internet addresses has presented trademark owners with a whole new set of problems. It is often too expensive to register every variation of a trademark in every top level domain. Therefore, trademark owners must make sure that the people who register domain names that are either the same as or confusingly similar to a trademark are not using the domain name in a way that infringes on the trademark. One way to ensure that the trademark owner will not lose its rights in the mark is to file a UDRP complaint so that the Panel can decide whether the domain was registered in order to take unfair advantage of the mark owner. The Panel may decide that the trademark owner was wrong and had nothing to worry about, but unless the trademark owner is vigilant and files the complaint, it may never know for sure whether its rights were being abused.


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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.


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Question: Where can I find federal trademark registrations?

Answer: The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) keeps the US federal registry of trademarks. It has an online search capability, TESS, which contains more than 3 million pending, registered and dead federal trademarks. This database may not be complete. One should check the News page to see how current the information actually is.

Be aware: not all trademarks are contained in the US federal register. There are state trademarks, unregistered (common law marks) and foreign marks as well. A mark does not have to be registered to be valid.


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Question: What is a trade name?

Answer: Answer: A trade name is the actual name of the company. It may or may not also be a trademark. Trademarks are used to label specific goods or services; trade names identify the organization itself. For example, "Ford Motor Company" is a trade name as well as a trademark. "Bronco" is a trademark only. In those cases, if the trade name is registered as a domain name, the name owner is protected against cyber-squatting under traditional trademark provisions and also under the newer Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) and the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) of ICANN.

If a trade name is not used as a trademark, it may still be protected under other kinds of laws (having different criteria and remedies), such as unfair competition. However, if the trade name is registered as domain name, the owner will not be protected against cyber-squatting under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) or the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) of ICANN since they both apply only to trademarks.


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Question: What is the difference between a trademark and a service mark?

Answer: Trademarks refer to goods and products, that is, physical commodities which may be natural or manufactured or produced, and which are sold or otherwise transported or distributed.

Service marks refer to intangible activities which are performed by one person for the benefit of a person or persons other than himself, either for pay or otherwise.

Because the legal rights are essentially the same, the term "trademark" is frequently used to refer to both types of marks.

To learn about other types of marks, see Chapter 100 of the USPTO's Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure.

To tell whether something is a good or a service, see 37 C.F.R. ?6.1.


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Question: Why do trademarks get such special protection?

Answer: Consumers reap the benefit when trademarks are protected. By preventing anyone but the actual mark owner from labeling goods with the mark, it helps prevent consumers getting cheated by shoddy knock-off imitators. It encourages mark owners to maintain quality goods so that customers will reward them by looking for their label as an indication of excellence. Consumers as well as mark owners benefit from trademark laws.

Trademark owners spend a lot of time, money, and effort to protect the distinctiveness of their trademark. Once trademarks have become diluted to the point where the general public no longer recognizes them as distinctly applying to a particular manufacturer, they lose their value to the trademark owner because they no longer attract customers to his particular goods. For example,


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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 are "common law" rights in a trademark?

Answer: Common law rights are those that are recognized by courts as a matter of traditional equitable principles and fairness, even when there is no statute or other law that has been enacted by the legislative branch of government to cover the situation. It also arises from the leeway that judges have in interpretating the language of the written laws when the meaning is not clear. Common law is often known as "judge-made" law. Common law is learned by reading the actual decisions made by courts.


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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: How do I know which marks are famous and what difference does it make?

Answer: Owners of "famous" marks have special privileges. They can block new uses of any similar name even if consumers wouldn't be confused by it. They are protected against "dilution" and "tarnishment" as well.

If you walk up to someone on the street and ask someone if they recognize the word or symbol, and they recognize it right away, it is probably famous. If you have to remind them ("The Berkman Center is this crazy thing at Harvard


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Question: What does "distinctive" mean?

Answer: "Distinctive" is a term of art in trademark law and is determined by analyzing several factors. Essentially, a mark is distinctive when the consumers have come to recognize it as the source or origin of certain goods or services. Take the word "bronco": consumers recognize it as a brand of automobile; therefore it is distinctive as to automobiles. But it is not distinctive as to horses, where it would be generic, nor as to baby diapers since there is no one offering such goods under that label. Some words can never become distinctive as marks if they generically describe the very good or service for which they are used (i.e., one cannot trademark the word "basketball" to describe a brand of basketballs.) In general, if a word has been in substantially exclusive and continuous use as a mark in commerce for five years, it will be deemed distinctive as to those goods/services 15 USC 1052(f).


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Question: What is trademark dilution?

Answer: A type of infringement of a famous trademark in which the defendant's use, while not causing a likelihood of confusion, tarnishes the image or blurs the distintiveness of the plaintiff's mark. For example, if someone tries to sell "KODAK" pianos, KODAK could stop the person--even if consumers were not confused--because "KODAK" is a famous mark, and its use on products other than film and film-printing accessories (or other products on which Eastman Kodak places the mark) dilutes its uniqueness.

Many states have anti-dilution laws. The federal government only recently enacted anti-dilution legislation; see the Federal Trademark Dilution Act at 15 USC 1125(c).


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Question: What is a preliminary injunction?

Answer: An order by the court requiring the defendant to do or refrain from doing some action pending a full trial on the merits of the lawsuit. Sometimes in intellectual property litigation, the property owner, soon after filing the complaint, will make a motion for a preliminary injunction requiring the defendant to stop doing those things the plaintiff alleges are infringing the plaintiff's intellectual property rights.


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Question: What about noncommercial uses?

Answer: According to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, "the Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995 ("FTDA") and the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 ("ACPA"), Congress left little doubt that it did not intend for trademark laws to impinge the First Amendment rights of critics and commentators. The dilution statute applies to only a 'commercial use in commerce of a mark,' 15 U.S.C.


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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


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Question: I do not know what these cases or statutes cited in the C&D mean.

Answer: If your opponent has cited cases and statutes in the C&D, do not freak out. The fact that your opponent can include some legal authority in the C&D does not mean that the law is on its side. If you can, go look up the cases and statutes to see what they say. You can go to the nearest law school's law library for help, or you can try a free legal resource web site like Findlaw. Many of them are accessible on the Internet by keyword search using the full case name or it's citation (the numbers and abbreviations that follow the names of the parties).

If your opponent is relying on federal law, it will probably cite one or more of the following sections of the Lanham Act:
(1) section 32 (also known as section 1114);
(2) section 43(a) [a/k/a section 1125(a)]; or
(3) section 43(c) [a/k/a section 1125(c)]. (The smaller numbers indicate how the statutory sections were numbered when the law was a bill in Congress; the larger numbers indicate how the statutory sections were re-numbered when the law was codified in the U.S. Code. Under either numbering system, the laws say the same thing). An additional statute, the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) [a/k/a section 1125(d) relates specifically to domain names.

Section 32 (codified as 15 U.S.C. 1114) is the basic statute governing trademark infringement of registered marks. If you use a mark in commerce that is confusingly similar to a registered trademark, you may be civilly liable under section 32. This section describes how to determine infringement, what the remedies are, and what defenses are available.

Section 43(a) [codified as 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)] is the "false designation of origin" statute. If you use a mark in commerce that is likely to cause confusion or deception as to affiliation, association, origin, or sponsorship with another trademark, you may be civilly liable under section 43(a). Section 43(a) does not require that any of the marks be registered.

Section 43(c)[codified as 15 U.S.C. 1125(c)] is the "anti-dilution" provision. This section allows the owner of a famous trademark to prevent use of the mark by junior users whose use


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Question: I have an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach about the tone of the C&D I received. Does the tone of the c & d mean I am going to lose this dispute?

Answer: "Gorilla Chest Thumping" refers to the tone of most C&Ds: it?s nasty. The first thing to do is take a deep breath. The second thing to do is to acknowledge that the tone of the letter is a function of the letter writer?s perception that aggression is the best defense: do not take it personally. The third thing to do is ignore the tone and focus on the facts. You may eventually choose to respond aggressively yourself, but do not do so because your opponent has egged you into a useless game of whose gorilla is bigger. Take a tip from Ani Di Franco: "If you play their game, girl, you?re never gonna win." Face Up and Sing, Out of Range, Righteous Babe Records (1994).


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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 if I need to contact an attorney?

Answer: This website is meant as an aid to help you decipher Cease and Desist notices so you can make informed decisions about your course of action. If, after reading this, you think the C&D you received might have some merit, or you think you might engage your opponent in battle even if the C&D is, in your opinion, baseless, consultation with an attorney is always a good idea.

The Online Media Legal Network (OMLN) is a network of law firms, law school clinics, in-house counsel, and individual lawyers throughout the United States willing to provide pro bono (free) and reduced fee legal assistance to qualifying online journalism ventures and other digital media creators.

You can find an intellectual property attorney at www.martindale.com or by calling your state or local Bar Association and asking for a referral.


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