Use in Commerce for Infringement is Different than Use in Commerce for Registration

In Versatop Support Systems, LLC v. Georgia Expo, Inc., [2018-1208](April 19, 2019), the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s finding that defendant’s advertising using plaintiff’s PIPE & DRAPE 2.0™ and 2.0™ trademarks did not constitute an infringement because advertising did not constitute a use in commerce.

Federal trademark infringement requires that the infringing mark be used in commerce. Relying on the definition of use in commerce in 15 USC 1127, which requires that the mark be placed on goods or containers, the district court concluded that defendant’s use of plaintiff’s marks in these advertisements:

did not constitute infringement because the plaintiff’s marks were not actually applied to products.

The Federal Circuit made quick work of this, first pointing out that the legislative history for the use in commerce definition expressly contemplated that it did not apply to infringement: “Clearly, how-ever, use of any type will continue to be considered in an infringement action.” The Federal Circuit noted that the Ninth Circuit has recognized the distinction between “use in commerce” as a requirement for federal trademark registration—as defined in Section 1127—and infringing uses of a mark. Treatises, such as McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition likewise recognizes that Section 1127 “defines the kinds of ‘use’ needed to acquire registerable trademark rights—not to infringe them.”

The Federal Circuit concluded that contrary to this precedent, the district court in this case incorrectly applied the definition of “use in commerce” that is included in the statute for purposes of trademark registration, instructing “[t]his definition does not apply to trademark infringement.”

Turning to the likelihood of confusion, the Federal Circuit found ample evidence infringement, so it not only reversed summary judgment, but entered judgment in favor of plaintiff.

A Fine Specimen of a Mark

In In re Siny Corp., [2018-1077] (January 14, 2019, April 10, 2019), the Federal Circuit affirmed the TTAB’s decision affirming the Examiner’s refusal to register CASALANA because the applicant failed to provide an acceptable specimen of use.

The issue on appeal was whether Siny’s webpage specimen qualified as a “display associated with the goods” under the Lanham Act. The Federal Circuit began its analysis noting that mere advertising is not enough to qualify as such a display. The Federal Circuit disagreed that the TTAB applied improperly rigid requirements, noting that the Board carefully considered the webpage’s contents and determined, on the record before it, that the specimen did not cross the line from mere advertising to an acceptable display associated with the goods.

In particular the Board relied upon the absence of information essential to a purchasing decision, such as a price or or range of prices for the goods, the minimum quantities one may order, accepted methods of payment, or how the goods would be shipped. The Board noted that “if virtually all important aspects of the transaction must be determined from information extraneous to the web page, then the web page is not a point of sale.” The Board further noted the absence of any evidence (as opposed to attorney argument) of how sales are actually made—e.g., documentation or verified statements from knowledgeable personnel as to what happens and how.

The best trademark specimens are, of course, pictures showing the mark actually applied to the product, or to the packages for the product, when these are not available, point of purchase displays, including catalogs and web pages may do, provided they really at the point of purchase and not mere advertising. The only time an advertisement would be an acceptable specimen is to show use of a service mark.

Posted in Use