An NFL fan who had the foresight to try and get a trademark registration for “Harbowl” says he was threatened by the NFL’s trademark attorneys to abandon his trademark application. Unfortunately for him, he had not consulted a trademark attorney before filing his trademark application or after being threatened by the NFL. Whether or not pursuing the trademark registration was feasible, going up against a juggernaut like the NFL was probably just too intimidating. When it comes to navigating the complex world of intellectual property, the advice of good trademark attorneys can be critical.
Trademark lawyers can be pretty creative and Sony’s recent trademark infringement suit against Bridgestone Tires is a great example. Sony is suing Bridgestone for among other things, trademark infringement. The basis for the lawsuit is Bridgestone’s use of the same actor in one of their ads that Sony had previously used in their PlayStation 3 marketing campaign. Sony says that Bridgestone improperly infringed upon their “trademark” character “Kevin Butler”. Sony did not register a trademark for the Kevin Butler character and has not even filed a trademark application for Butler. Sony recently settled its claims against the actor that played Kevin Butler, but the lawsuit with Bridgestone continues.
As merchandisers get ready to sell their Super Bowl XLVII wares, one term is off the table. Colin Kaepernick, the celebrated quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has filed a trademark application to register a trademark for the term “Kaepernicking.” While this may not be a household word yet (or… ever), fans of 49ers football are familiar with Kaepernick’s bicep-kissing victory dance – some would call it his trademark dance. Combine that with the super profit potential of Super Bowl memorabilia and you get Kaepernick’s aspiration for a trademark registration.
Energy drinks and supplements have become hugely popular in recent years. It is big business for beverage manufacturers and the market is still new enough that smaller companies can try to grab a portion. “5 Hour Energy” is one brand that has quickly risen to establish itself as a market player. Now it looks like it’s the trademark attorneys that are trading energy shots. With its newfound success, imitators have come looking to capitalize on 5 Hour Energy’s brand equity. A Wall Street Journal blog post (http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2012/09/13/daily-writing-sample-a-powerful-appeal/) from September 2012 discusses the legal battle between manufacturers that has taken place over the last few years.
For more than 10 years, Eastern Carolina University has been using the slogan “Tomorrow Starts Here.” ECU has been using their slogan for a variety of goods and services, mainly education services. In fact ECU has a trademark registration covering their slogan in connection with education services. Now Cisco Systems, computer networking behemoth, wants to join the party. Cisco has filed at least three trademark registration applications for the slogan “Tomorrow Starts Here” for various computer related goods and services. Apparently, ECU wants Cisco to leave the party. ECU announced yesterday that it has filed a lawsuit against Cisco in federal court.
Either Kim Kardashian and company didn’t bother with a proper trademark search, didn’t listen to their trademark attorney, or received some bad advice. Last week Kardashian was hit with a $10 million trademark infringement lawsuit and the complaint does not appear frivolous. Lee Tillett Inc. owns a Florida-based cosmetics brand called Kroma. Kardashian’s makeup is called “Khroma.” See any similarities?
The success of Apple’s products has spawned many imitators worldwide. Not too long ago, an entire counterfeit Apple store was identified in China. Apple has also fought several large patent infringement suits with competitors like Samsung over whether Samsung ripped off some of Apple’s exclusive technology. With the enormous popularity of Apple’s brand, this kind of copying is inevitable. But in a surprising trademark registration twist, the copycat role may very well be reversed for Apple in Brazil.
Trademark cases raise lots of interesting legal issues. Sometimes they also simply raise interesting stories. Everyone is a consumer in one form or another, so we usually connect with or have an interest in the issues being litigated. And there are many wild ideas for registering a trademark. For example, a recent court case having the flair of InStyle or People Magazine involves a fight between two high fashion designers over color and incredibly expensive shoe styles. The case raises an interesting trademark issue and leaves one to wonder how crazy the outfits worn to court were.
There’s another sports related US trademark issue that continues in the news. This time it revolves around the NFL’s Washington Redskins. The Redskins have been so named since 1933, but if a group of Native Americans are successful in their legal challenge, the Redskins may have to be the Redskins without the benefit of a United States trademark registration. (Click here to see related Washington Post article.)
Trademarks are typically associated with names, symbols or phrases. Nike’s name, swoosh logo, and slogan “Just Do It” are familiar examples of these three categories. One less common, but equally important, category of trademark that may be registered, at least in the U.S., is the three dimensional trademark. Three dimensional trademarks often comprise nonfunctional shapes or three dimensional designs of products or product packaging. It is also sometimes referred to as a form of “trade dress.” If trade dress is inherently distinctive, or if recognition of the design by the consuming public as a source identifier has been established, trademark rights can be acquired. A good example of trade dress is the shape and style of McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes.