Federal Circuit Upholds TTAB Ruling on Specimens of Use
Part of the trademark registration process is submitting a specimen of the mark as used in commerce (“specimen of use”). Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) upheld the decision of a split Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) panel that refused to register the trademark “CASALANA” for “knit pile fabric made with wool for use as a textile in the manufacture of outerwear, gloves, apparel, and accessories,” stating that Siny Corp. (the applicant) did not submit an acceptable specimen of use. See In Re: Siny Corp. (Fed. Cir. Case. No. 18-1077).
Siny Corp. had submitted a specimen where the mark was not shown on images of the goods or on images of the packaging. Also, the Siny Corp. website did not allow direct ordering. Instead, it listed a phone number and e-mail “for sales information.” Nonetheless, Siny Corp. maintained that its website qualified as a display of goods at their point-of-sale because its web-page specimen had the phrasing “for sales information” (i.e., it was a “display associated with the goods” that should be considered a specimen of use sufficient to purchase those goods).
During prosecution the examining attorney disagreed with the reasoning of Siny Corp., stating that the phrasing “for sales information” was not enough to enable customers to make the sale. Rather, it was just a way to obtain more information and lacked details to complete the order – such as cost, quantity, payment and shipping.
The TTAB panel, in reviewing the determination of the examining attorney, found that even though Siny Corp. customers would need the support of sales staff because their goods were industrial materials for use in manufacturing, nearly all details needed to complete a transaction were not present on the website. Thus, the website could not be considered a display for point-of-sale.
On appeal to the CAFC, Siny Corp. maintained that its website specimen established a “display associated with the goods” and argued that the Board used “overly rigid requirements” in determining that the specimen did not qualify as a display associated with the goods.
The CAFC agreed with Siny Corp. about the Board holding of In re Sones, 590 F.3d 1282 (Fed. Cir. 2009), cautioning against bright-line rules in this context. However, it disagreed with Siny Corp. that the Board in the instant case had used improperly “rigid” requirements stating, in fact, that the TTAB had prudently considered the website specimen’s contents and ruled the specimen does not cross the line from advertising to suitable display associated with the goods.
In hindsight, the website could have been modified a few ways that may have been acceptable: (1) providing pricing information on the site; (2) providing an e-commerce option to purchase; (3) putting the mark on the images of the goods or on images of the packaging rather than just the surrounding website text; and/or (4) changing the general “for sales information” statement to “call to purchase, pricing available on request.” Alternatively, documentary evidence of the sales process may have been acceptable, showing that purchasing consumers saw the website, called the number, and in fact bought the goods. The foregoing are all considerations to keep in mind when presented with issues regarding specimens which claim use in commerce.
By: Stewart Mesher