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.
A long litigation battle by sculptor Frank Gaylord against the U.S. government has resulted in the confirmation of an award of more than US$540,000. In 1990, Mr. Gaylord won a competition to work on a federal memorial to veterans of the Korean War (Memorial), which had been authorized by the U.S. Congress. Ultimately, the Memorial comprised 19 stainless steel statues, designed to represent a platoon of soldiers in formation on the ground. The Memorial was completed, installed, and opened to the public in Washington, DC, in 1995. Mr. Gaylord filed a number of copyright registrations, covering the various statues. Read More
In a recent decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Seventh Circuit), Judge Frank Easterbrook expressly joined the ongoing debate over the scope of ‘transformative use’ analysis in the ‘fair use’ defense to copyright infringement. In Kienitz v. Sconnie Nation LLC, the court reviewed the trial court’s determination that the using of a photograph of the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, on a critical T-shirt was ‘fair use’ and did not create liability under the Copyright Act. In finding ‘fair use’, the trial court found support in the recent opinion in Cariou v. Prince, in which the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the use of a photographic image in a work of ‘appropriation art’ was ‘transformative’ and thus a ‘fair use’.
During its next term, which begins in October 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court will continue to decide important intellectual property cases.
In B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc., the Court will tackle an issue that has long vexed trademark owners and their lawyers: ‘how much deference to give determinations by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) on the issue of likelihood of confusion, when a subsequent infringement action is brought in federal court?’. In other words, must a court accept the TTAB’s decision on likelihood of confusion, even though the TTAB’s jurisdiction is limited to a trademark’s registrability? Read More