In an unlikely matchup, a new trademark infringement lawsuit pits a 165-year-old brand against the maker of one of the hottest video games on the market. The case shines a spotlight on two key issues: the duration of trademark rights and the notion that infringement claims require “trademark use.”
In less than three months, Red Dead Redemption 2 became the highest selling video game of 2018. Set in the 1800’s U.S. Wild West, Red Dead 2 is as much a film (with a main storyline that unfolds over more than 60 hours) as it is an interactive action-adventure game with over a hundred “missions” for the player to navigate the story. It was released to universal acclaim and several “perfect” scores from leading critics, due in large part to the game developers’ creation of an immersive and complex environment with a relentless commitment to historical accuracy and detail. Red Dead 2‘s developers, Take-Two Interactive Software and Rockstar Games, spent over seven years with the efforts of more than 2,000 people to create a game with more than 500,000 lines of dialog and 300,000 animations.
Red Dead 2 is widely celebrated for its realism and historical accuracy. The Guardian noted that the developers aim to provide players with a wild west fantasy so authentic that “you can forget it is not real.” Other historically and geographically accurate details (including flora and fauna, music, technology, and wildlife) contribute to the game’s believable and authentic experience. Even the birds are location-appropriate and sing with accurate pitch. Such commitment to realism has garnered attention from unlikely sources: the Audubon Society praised the game’s inclusion of 200 distinct, interactive species of animals and 40 different plant species.
In one of the 100+ “missions” throughout Red Dead 2‘s story, fact meets fiction when the game’s protagonists rob a train. The owner of the train hires Pinkerton security agents to find the culprits. In a cinematic cut-scene, two men introduce themselves to the main character as agents of the “Pinkerton Detective Agency, seconded to the United States government,” and tell him he’s a “wanted man” with a bounty on his head. The detectives are dressed in bowler hats, red vests, ties, and grey coats – apparel typical of the real Pinkerton detectives. They also wear silver shield-shaped badges on their chest, and at times, the “Pinkerton” name can be seen. It is the same badge that the Pinkerton National Detective Agency used from 1850 to 1925. The Pinkerton detectives make appearances in ten of the 100+ game missions. (more…)
Roger Federer is one of the most famous athletes of all time. He currently has won more majors than any male tennis player in the “Open Era,” and he is admired all over the world, not only for his excellence on the court but also for his humble attitude and family man persona off the court. Also, his initials are RF. Ordinarily this would be a banal detail if it weren’t for the fact that sportswear giant Nike currently owns the rights to a stylized version of Federer’s initials: the RF logo. In March 2018, Roger Federer and Nike’s 21-year relationship ended, and in June 2018, Federer entered into a $300 million deal with Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing company. Although Nike no longer has a clothing contract with Federer, Nike still owns the trademark registration in the iconic stylized RF logo in various registries across the world in classes of use covering clothing and footwear. (more…)
As the explosion in popularity of various social media outlets continues, new norms are increasingly clear: once-descriptive social media hashtags and Twitter handles are now valuable assets that we associate with specific parties. Businesses, in particular, should have social media account usernames and hashtags cleared before using them in marketing and advertising their goods or services. (more…)
A “generic” term for a general class of products or services cannot be used as a trademark or service mark for the goods or services in those class(es), because the function of a trademark (or service mark) is to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one seller from those sold by all others. Terms such as “apple” cannot serve as trademarks for goods comprising the edible fruits of the apple tree, but other terms that were once valid trademarks, capable of identifying a single purveyor of certain goods or services, have also fallen victim to “genericide” and lost their trademark significance. Some are now so commonly used that the consuming public may not even recognize that these terms were once considered exclusive trademarks of individual companies, such as escalator, linoleum, thermos, and trampoline. (more…)
Will there ever be an independent Patent Office? Although the idea has been floated for years without gaining traction, some see a brief mention in the FY2018 Budget Resolution, released by the House Budget Committee earlier this fall, as a sign. (more…)
Close your eyes and transport yourself to the cereal aisle of your grocery store: can you picture the design of a box of original Cheerios™, color and all? General Mills recently tried, and failed, to obtain a federal trademark registration for the yellow color of their Cheerios™ boxes that they hope you’re picturing right now, and their struggle illustrates the high burden faced by applicants for federal registration of color marks in the United States. (more…)
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a new random audit procedure for trademarks aimed at removing deadwood from the Register. (more…)
The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down as unconstitutional the ban on disparaging trademark registrations, but that doesn’t mean a dispensary can get a federal trademark registration. (more…)
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a landmark trademark decision that will pave the way for those with so-called “offensive” or disparaging trademarks to secure federal trademark registration for those marks. To date, the poster child for “disparaging” trademarks has been the Washington Redskins football team, whose name and logo have been the subject of increasingly vocal challenges by Native Americans and others as an offensive stereotype against Native Americans. (Ironically, even the members of the band The Slants, whose lawsuit eventually paved the way for the Redskins to maintain trademark registrations for the team name, were allegedly against the team’s use of the arguably offensive name.) (more…)
Trademark owners applying for “intent to use” applications risk loss of trademark rights if the identification of goods services in the intent to use application is broader than the actual intended use of the mark.
Brand owners generally want to protect a potential trademark as broadly as possible. Often, this leads to specifying as many goods or services in their intent-to-use trademark applications as might possibly be covered by the planned mark. If no proof of bona fide intent can be marshaled, the registration is vulnerable to attack.
A recent case demonstrates that dreaming big in trademark applications is not to be encouraged. While Kelly Services v. Creative Harbor did not result in a punitive cancelation of the mark’s resulting registration, it nonetheless made it clear that goods and services with only potential plans for use with a mark will be cut out of the registration when challenged. See Kelly Services, Inc. v. Creative Harbor, LLC, No. 16-1200 (6th Cir. 2017).
Section 1(b) of the Lanham Act does not define “bona fide intent,” but the Federal Circuit in Kelly Services required that “the applicant’s intent must be demonstrable and more than a mere subjective belief.” That is, the applicant must show more than a mere intention to reserve a right in the mark. Particularly suspicious circumstances that cast doubt on the bona fides of the application include: (1) excessive numbers of intent-to-use applications in relation to the number of products the applicant is likely to introduce; (2) unreasonably vague descriptions of the proposed goods; (3) excessive numbers of intended products; and (4) excessive numbers of desirable trademarks intended for use on a single new product.
To demonstrate the presence of their bona fide intent to use a mark, however, brand owners can do a number of things. For example, the owner can: (1) conduct a trademark availability search on the mark; (2) develop marketing materials for the brand; or (3) produce correspondence or documents mentioning the planned use of the mark, the licensing of the brand, the regulatory approval of the branded line or the business development of the brand.
Such evidence shifts the burden of proof back to the challenger, who must then produce a preponderance of evidence to the contrary – a much more difficult task in light of demonstrated bona fide intent.
PRO TIP: Before filing a statement of use, compare the identification of goods and services in the trademark application to the goods and services currently offered under the brand, then tailor the identification to the goods and services in use under the mark.