Prior to 2021, amateurism in college sports prohibited college athletes from capitalizing on their names, images, and likenesses, commonly known as “NIL.” However, recent developments have led to a plethora of states enacting NIL laws permitting collegiate athletes, and in some instances high school athletes, to profit from their names, images, and likenesses. As a result, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) has paused enforcement of its prohibitory rules, revolutionizing the concept of amateurism.
You may be able to assert “use analogous to trademark use” to claim priority over someone else who actually made technical use of a confusingly similar trademark or service mark before you did.
The Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority, which dates back to 1898 and is popularly known as ZTA, was refused registration of ZTA for jewelry (claiming use since at least 1915) and clothing items (claiming use since at least 1940), despite its ownership of an existing 2001 registration of this mark for association services, because of a 2020 registration of ZTA for a variety of housewares and kitchen items owned by a Chinese company (claiming use since 2019). The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) affirmed this refusal. Why did this happen, and how can you avoid the same result?
A trademark combining two words may evoke its own unique commercial impression—separate from the meanings of its component words--and be inherently registrable as a unitary term. But if each component word is merely descriptive or laudatory, the combination mark may retain the same meaning as its component words and may not be registrable on the Principal Register (which is for marks that are inherently distinctive) unless the mark has acquired a source identification distinctiveness (called “secondary meaning”).
A trademark is supposed to identify the source of the goods for which it is used and to distinguish them from the goods of others. Do you think the word “THE,” standing alone, has those qualities when it appears on clothing?
The Ohio State University (Ohio State) and Marc Jacobs Trademarks, L.L.C. (Marc Jacobs) both believe that THE identifies and distinguishes their respective identical clothing items.
Under a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit), if you enter into a contract requiring disputes to be resolved by lawsuits brought in a specified court, you may be precluded from challenging the validity of a patent or trademark in a proceeding in the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) or the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board (TTAB) of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
If you file a U.S. application to register a service mark based on its use in commerce, take care to select an acceptable specimen of use to support that application.
Unacceptable Specimen of use of PVPW for water delivery services
Section 45 of the Trademark Act says that a service mark is used in commerce “when it is used or displayed in the sale or advertising of services.” This has been interpreted as requiring, at a minimum, that there be some direct association between the mark and the services so that purchasers would perceive the mark as identifying the services.
Two decisions by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) illustrate the difficulty of predicting whether a likelihood of confusion will be found when comparing virtually identical marks for different goods or services. What would you think?
If your mark is found to describe any of the goods or services identified in your application for registration, and they are in the same class as other goods or services identified in your application, the registration may be refused for that entire class.
If you advertise a service, take preliminary steps to render the service, or both, and apply to register the service mark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) based on a claim that you have commenced use of the mark before you actually are in a position to offer the service in U.S. commerce, your application may be rejected.