United States Supreme Court Holds That Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Determination of Likelihood of Confusion May Bind Subsequent Court Infringement Case
On March 24, 2015, in a case covered here in a previous posting (On Tap at the U.S. Supreme Court: An Important Trademark Case, September 3, 2014), the United States Supreme Court (Supreme Court) held that a determination of likelihood of confusion by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), in an administrative tribunal which determines registerability, may preclude further litigation of the issue in a subsequent infringement case. In B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc., the Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had determined that a TTAB finding would not bind an infringement court because, among other reasons, the factors considered by the TTAB were not identical to those considered by the trial court. The Supreme Court, though, by a 7-2 vote, held that when the ordinary elements of issue preclusion are met and where the issues in the two cases are identical, the ruling by the agency tribunal controls. The Supreme Court also found that even though the specific factors considered in a likelihood of confusion analysis may vary somewhat, they are not ‘fundamentally different’ and that the ‘likelihood of confusion’ standard is the same for registration and infringement purposes.