Twentieth Century Fox Television v. Empire Distribution

Affirming the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Broadcasting Company, the panel held that Fox’s use of the name “Empire” was protected by the First Amendment, and was therefore outside the reach of the Lanham Act. Fox sought a declaratory judgment that its television show titled Empire and associated music releases did not violate the trademark rights of record label Empire Distribution, Inc. Empire counterclaimed for trademark infringement and other causes of action.

The panel explained that when an allegedly infringing use is in the title or within the body of an expressive work, the Rogers test is used to determine whether the Lanham Act applies. The panel held that the Rogers test applied to Fox’s use of the mark “Empire.” The panel concluded that the first prong of the test was satisfied because it could not say that Fox’s use of the mark had no artistic relevance to the underlying work; rather, the title Empire supported the themes and geographic setting of the work. The second prong of the test also was satisfied because the use of the mark “Empire” did not explicitly mislead consumers.

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Dan Farr Productions v. USDC-CASD

This petition for a writ of mandamus arises in the context of a hotly contested trademark action initiated by San Diego Comic Convention (“SDCC”) against the producers of the Salt Lake Comic Con—Dan Farr Productions, Daniel Farr, and Bryan Brandenburg (“Petitioners”)—over the use of the mark “comiccon” or “comic con.” The case has drawn nationwide attention and discussion on traditional and social media alike, in part because “comic cons” have been held in hundreds of venues across the United States. Because defendants actively participated in the public discussions over the internet, on various websites and through social media platforms, including Twitter feeds and Facebook postings, SDCC successfully moved for a sweeping set of “suppression orders” prohibiting Petitioners from expressing their views on the pending litigation and from republishing public documents over social media platforms. Instead, the court ordered Petitioners to prominently post on their social media outlets its order prohibiting comments about the litigation on social media, dubbing this posting a “disclaimer.” Petitioners assert that the court-ordered prior restraints on their speech violate the First Amendment. We agree, and order that the district court vacate the “suppression” and “disclaimer” orders.

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AuSable River Trading Post, LLC v. Dovetail Solutions, Inc.

Plaintiff-Appellant AuSable River Trading Post, LLC (the “Trading Post”) filed this action against Defendants-Appellees Dovetail Solutions, Inc. (“Dovetail”) and Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce (the “Chamber”) for a declaratory judgment as to whether Defendants hold a valid, enforceable trademark for the term “Perchville,” and for damages under Michigan state law claims. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants, finding that Plaintiff’s trademark challenge is barred by the doctrine of res judicata and remanding the state court claims. In reaching its conclusion, the district court determined that Plaintiff was in privity with an hourly employee who had previously consented to a permanent injunction barring his use of the “Perchville” mark. Plaintiff challenges the district court’s finding that it is in privity with its employee for purposes of res judicata. We REVERSE.

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Savannah College of Art and Design, Inc. v. Sportswear, Inc.

“Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery,” Charles C. Colton, Lacon, Vol. 1, No. 183 (1820–22), in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations 393:5 (16th ed. 1992), but when the imitation consists of commercial reproduction for profit, all bets are off. So when Sportswear, Inc. began using the federally-registered service marks of the Savannah College of Art and Design without a license to sell apparel and other goods on its website, SCAD did not take kindly to the copying and sued for equitable and monetary relief. SCAD asserted a number of claims against Sportswear, including service mark infringement under 15 U.S.C. § 1114; unfair competition and false designation of origin under 15 U.S.C. § 1125; and unfair competition under O.C.G.A. § 10-1-372.

This is SCAD’s appeal from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Sportswear. The district court, relying on Crystal Entertainment & Filmworks, Inc. v. Jurado, 643 F.3d 1313, 1315–16 (11th Cir. 2011)—a case involving a dispute over common-law trademark rights to a band name— concluded that SCAD had failed to establish that it had enforceable rights in its marks that extended to apparel. SCAD, which validly registered its marks only in connection with the provision of “education services,” did not show that it had used its marks on apparel earlier than Sportswear in order to claim common-law ownership (and priority) over its marks for “goods.” See Savannah Coll. of Art & Design, Inc. v. Sportswear, Inc., 2015 WL 4626911, at *2 (N.D. Ga. 2015).

We reverse. This case, unlike Jurado, does not involve the alleged infringement of a common-law trademark, and as a result the date of SCAD’s first use of its marks on goods is not determinative. One of our older trademark cases, Boston Prof’l Hockey Ass’n, Inc. v. Dallas Cap & Emblem Mfg., Inc., 510 F.2d 1004 (5th Cir. 1975), controls, as it extends protection for federally-registered service marks to goods. Although Boston Hockey does not explain how or why this is so, it constitutes binding precedent that we are bound to follow.

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Wine & Canvas Development, LLC v. Muylle

Wine and Canvas Develop‐ ment, LLC, Anthony Scott, Tamara McCracken, and Donald McCracken sued Christopher Muylle, Theodore Weisser, YN Canvas CA, LLC, Art Uncorked LLC, and Weisser Manage‐ ment Group LLC, bringing federal trademark and state law claims. Muylle brought several counterclaims, including one for abuse of process under Indiana law. Weisser defaulted, and it appears that Weisser and Muylle were the only mem‐ bers of the defendant LLCs, so practically speaking the case ultimately amounted to Plaintiffs against Muylle. Pretrial motions disposed of much of the case, and the jury found for Muylle on Plaintiffs’ trademark infringement and false des‐ ignation of origin claims and on Muylle’s abuse of process counterclaim. Plaintiffs appeal, and we affirm.

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In re: North Carolina Lottery

Appellant North Carolina Lottery (“N.C. Lottery”) seeks to register the mark “FIRST TUESDAY” in connection with lottery services and games, to market the introduction of new scratch-off lottery games on the first Tuesday of each month. It appeals the decision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (“PTO”) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) denying registration of the mark. We affirm.

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Earnhardt v. Kerry Earnhardt, Inc.

This case arises from Kerry Earnhardt, Inc.’s (KEI) trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to register the mark EARNHARDT COLLECTION for “furniture” in class 20 and “custom construction of homes” in class 37. Teresa Earnhardt opposed registration based on an asserted likelihood of confusion with her registered marks in DALE EARNHARDT for goods and services in various classes and her common law rights in EARNHARDT and DALE EARNHARDT acquired by use with various goods and services. She also opposed registration because in her view EARNHARDT COLLECTION is “primarily merely a surname” under Section 2(e)(4) of the Lanham Act. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(e)(4) (2012). The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board) dismissed Teresa Earnhardt’s opposition because it found that there was no likelihood of confusion between EARNHARDT COLLECTION and Teresa Earnhardt’s marks, and it found that EARNHARDT COLLECTION is not primarily merely a surname. J.A. 38. Teresa Earnhardt appeals the Board’s finding that EARNHARDT COLLECTION is not primarily merely a surname. Because it is unclear whether the Board’s analysis properly applied our decision in In re Hutchinson Technology Inc., 852 F.2d 552, 554 (Fed. Cir. 1988), we vacate and remand for reconsideration.

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Parks LLC v. Tyson Foods Inc

This case concerns a trademark that once enjoyed widespread recognition but has since grown considerably weaker. Since the 1950s, Parks Sausage Company has manufactured or licensed sausage under the brand name “PARKS.” the owners of the frankfurter brand BALL PARK, launched a premium frankfurter product called PARK’S FINEST. Parks sued, arguing that Tyson was engaged in false advertising and was infringing Parks’s trademark.

The District Court determined that Parks’s claim for false advertising was really a repetition of its trademark claim, and that the PARKS mark was too weak to merit protection against Tyson’s use of the PARK’S FINEST name. We agree with the District Court and will affirm in all respects.

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Stone Creek, Inc. v. Omnia Italian Design, Inc.

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment, after a bench trial, in favor of the defendant in a trademark infringement action under the Lanham Act.

Defendant Omnia Italian Design, Inc., copied and began selling the same goods branded with the mark of its (now ex) business partner, retail furniture company Stone Creek, Inc. Reversing in part, the panel held that Omnia’s use of Stone Creek’s mark was likely to cause confusion. The panel rejected Omnia’s invocation of the common law defense, known as the Tea Rose-Rectanus doctrine, that protects the use of a mark in a remote geographic area when the use is in good faith. Agreeing with the Seventh and Eighth Circuits, the panel held that Omnia’s knowledge of Stone Creek’s prior use defeated any claim of good faith. Accordingly, Omnia was liable for infringement of the Stone Creek mark.

Agreeing with the Federal Circuit, the panel confirmed that a 1999 amendment to the trademark statutes did not sweep away precedent requiring that a plaintiff prove willfulness to justify an award of the defendant’s profits. The panel remanded for a determination of whether Stone Creek had the requisite intent.

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s imposition of sanctions under 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

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Marketquest Group, Inc. v. BIC Corp.

The panel reversed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the defendants in a trademark infringement suit.

The panel held that the plaintiff adequately pleaded a cause of action for trademark infringement under a “reverse confusion” theory of likely confusion. The panel held that reverse confusion is not a separate claim that must be specifically pleaded, but instead is a theory of likely confusion that may be alleged by itself or in addition to forward confusion. Thus, when reverse confusion is compatible with the theory of infringement alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff need not specifically plead it.

The panel held that consideration of the intent factor in the likelihood of confusion analysis varies with the type of confusion being considered, and no one type of evidence is required to establish intent in trademark infringement cases under either a forward or reverse theory of confusion.

The panel held that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether defendants’ uses of plaintiff’s trademark “All-in-One” was protected by the fair use defense. To establish the defense, a defendant must show that its use is (1) other than as a trademark, (2) descriptive of the defendant’s goods, and (3) in good faith. The degree of customer confusion is also a factor in evaluating fair use.

As to plaintiff’s trademark “The Write Choice,” the panel held that the district court erred by applying the fair use analysis after determining that the plaintiff presented no evidence of likely confusion. The panel remanded the case for further proceedings.

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