Robert John Burck, better known as Time Square's "Naked Cowboy", has filed a federal trademark infringement suit against another New York City entertainer known as "Naked Cowgirl".    Burck, who has registered the "Naked Cowboy" mark with the USPTO, has been serenading New York tourists while wearing only white briefs, cowboy boots, and a hat since 1997.  According to Burck, the Naked Cowgirl -- whose act also, coincidentally, entails serenading tourists while wearing only her underwear, cowboy boots, and a hat -- is causing "confusion" and may "permanent[ly] devaluat[e] . . . a real American Brand and Icon."   

The complaint, which inevitably led to multiple news stories making tongue-in-cheek references to trade "dress", legal "briefs", and "naked licensing," seeks unspecified damages and a court order blocking the Naked Cowgirl from, ostensibly, appearing in public as a semi-naked cowgirl.  The Naked Cowgirl, for her part, has cited her First Amendment rights and countered that Burck does not have "a monopoly on scantily clad guitar-playing." 

You may remember the character Dan Tanna from Vega$,

but you may not know that the character's name was based on the name of a West Hollywood, California restaurant owner named Dan Tana (used with his permission), whose restaurant, "Dan Tana's," appears below:

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 19:57


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In a unanimous decision released yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the National Football League (NFL) is not immune from antitrust laws and should be considered an umbrella organization consisting of thirty-two separate teams rather than a single entity. The Court's ruling will allow an antitrust lawsuit filed against the NFL by American Needle -- a clothing manufacturer -- to move forward. Writing for the Court, Justice Stevens stated that "[d]ecisions by NFL teams to license their separately owned trademarks . . . to only one vendor are decisions that deprive the marketplace of . . . actual or potential competition."

American Needle filed the suit after it was prohibited from continuing to produce branded clothing for NFL teams following the NFL's execution of a ten-year exclusive licensing agreement with Reebok. Should American Needle ultimately prevail, the structure of NFL license schemes will change dramatically and individual teams will be permitted to negotiate their own license deals.  For this reason, the decision may likego down as one of the landmark sports law and licensing decisions of the past few decades.

For more information click here.

Monday, 24 May 2010 19:56


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On April 6, 2010, the District of Delaware ruled in favor of defendant Bacardi U.S.A., Inc. in a false advertising action brought by Pernod Ricard USA LLC. This was the latest development in a lengthy dispute over the right to use “HAVANA CLUB” on rum, in the United States.
In finding that Bacardi U.S.A.’s rum labels were neither false nor misleading, the Court pointed to two alternative interpretations regarding the scope of “geographical origin” as used in Lanham Act Section 43(a)(1)(B). One interpretation was that “geographical origin” would implicate the place of manufacture. A broader interpretation would take “geographical origin” to encompass the source of a product’s heritage or some aspect of a product’s history. The Court indicated that it reached the same result under both alternatives, due to the prominent display of the actual place of manufacture (Puerto Rico) on the labels as well as a clear demonstration of the product’s Cuban heritage (Bacardi was originally a Cuban company, and the recipe for its Havana Club rum was derived primarily from a historically Cuban recipe).
Wednesday, 31 March 2010 19:48


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A Fort Lauderdale company that claims ownership of trademark rights for the term "MEANAGER" in connection with clothing has sued Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary of slang words and phrases, and another Defendant, for allegedly selling competing goods that use the term "MEANAGER".   The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and is pending before Chief Judge Federico A. Moreno. 

The complaint alleges that Urban Dictionary is infringing the Florida company's trademark by using the term "MEANAGER" on articles that it sells through its website.  According to the complaint, Urban Dictionary sells articles that feature the slang words and phrases that appear on its website, and takes issue with the sale of articles bearing the term "MEANAGER".  The term has three definitions on the web site, one as a slang phrase for a mean boss, i.e. a "MEANAGER" (as a play on words for Manager); and the other two relating to teenagers that exhibit hurtful behavior (a play on words for the terms Mean and Teenager).  According to Wikipedia, another online dictionary, Urban Dictionary currently has 4.79 million definitions on its website. 

The Florida company alleges that it has promoted its mark through websites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn.  With the ever increasing amount of business that is done through the internet, it is no surprise that cases such as these are being filed a more rapid rate.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 19:48


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In a decision released earlier today, the European Court of Justice held that Google was not liable for the sale of AdWords to a retailer who, in turn, used the trademarked keywords in connection with the sale of counterfeit goods. The decision stemmed from Google's nearly five-year old appeal of a French decision in favor of Louis Vitton. Pursuant to the Court's holding, Google is not responsible for investigating the authenticity of a retailer's goods prior to selling its keywords. Nevertheless, with an eye toward future litigation, the Court did call for more transparency from companies such as Google with respect to the identity of sellers purchasing and using the trademarked keywords.

Read the decision here.

Thursday, 11 March 2010 19:31


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Currently in Tallahassee, State Senator Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, who is the chairman of the transportation budget committee, is drafting legislation that may allow your logo to go further than ever before in Florida. Specifically, the legislation would allow corporations to sponsor license plates and place their trademarks on the same.  The proposed legislation is being drafted to generate funds for the state and would use some of the proceeds received to give drivers who purchase the corporate tags a discount on annual registration fees. 
It is rumored that the legislation is being modeled after legislation passed in Texas in 2009 which began by featuring the RE/MAX logo and slogan.  It is also rumored that Disney is interested in being the first to put their trademarks on Florida license plates. Whether the legislation is passed this session, the mere consideration evidences the value of trademarks and the need to adequately protect the same.
Friday, 05 March 2010 19:19


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Days after the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the breath of the United States Embargo against Cuba is presently before Congress. What may surprise you, however, is that the issue is being raised by Section 211 (a)(2) of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1998, which is not about human rights, but rather about trademarks. Specifically, Section 211 is about whom can use trademarks and is a product of the Havana Club controversy. And while the issue has been litigated for years and in several countries, Section 211 is designed to protect trademarks that belonged to businesses whose assets were confiscated by the Cuban government after the communist revolution of 1959 and establishes that no court in the United States may recognize any claim regarding trademarks and commercial names related to properties confiscated by the Cuban government. The change was challenged by the European Union and ultimately criticized by the World Trade Organization when it was first introduced. 
The present debate however, given the political climate may call into question the US Embargo and the purpose of its Intellectual Property carve out and as such promises to be a historic one. To read more click here.
Friday, 29 January 2010 19:13


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As the New Orleans Saints get ready to take the field in their first SuperBowl on February 6th in Miami, the game is not the only battle that has the Who Dat Nation talking. The National Football League, who claims to be the owner of the "Who Dat" phrase, has sent cease and desist letters to retailers, including mom and pop shops, who are selling  merchandise with the "Who Dat"  phrase.  The NFL claims that such sales would cause confusion among Saints fans about whether such merchandise is officially licensed by the NFL.

However, the ownership of the "Who Dat" phrase may not be so clear cut.  Sal and Steve Monistere, who recorded a version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" in the early eighties incorporating the "Who Dat" chant, claim that they are the owners of the phrase.

To attain legal status as a trademark, a term must be deemed to be "distinctive" as used in connection with the goods and/or services being offered.  However, the degree of distinctiveness – and, therefore, the strength of a mark – can range from marks that are inherently distinctive (arbitrary, fanciful, and suggestive marks) to marks deemed unworthy of protection (generic marks and descriptive marks lacking secondary meaning.) The middle ground is occupied by descriptive marks that have achieved secondary meaning among the consuming public.   Because a party cannot prevail on a trademark claim unless its mark is distinctive, determining where a particular mark falls within the “distinctiveness” scale is a crucial determination in any trademark infringement suit.

As such, the recently decided Lahoti v. Vericheck – which overturned a lower court’s more rigid application of the “descriptiveness” analysis – has the potential to significantly impact future trademark litigation.  In Lahoti, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the lower District Court had made several errors of law in its descriptiveness analysis. Specifically, the lower court had held (1) that a trademark was descriptive only if it described all of the trademark owner’s businesses; and (2) that a trademark could be examined only by taking the entire mark into account.  Using this analysis, the lower held that the mark “VERICHECK” was not descriptive – even though one of the services offered was ‘check verification’ – as the mark did not “immediately call to mind the broad array of electronic transaction processing services” offered by the trademark owner.  

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