By Dennis Crouch
In re Charger Ventures, — F.4th. —, 22-1094 (Fed. Cir. 2023)
In this trademark case, the Federal Circuit affirmed a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) denying registration of the mark SPARK LIVING for residential real estate, based upon the prior registration of SPARK for commercial real estate. The prior registration is tied to Spark Co-working spaces that started in Baltimore and have now expanded to several other cities.
Charger presented several arguments centering on the du Point factors used to determine whether a proposed mark “so resemble a registered mark as to be likely, when used on or in connection with the goods or services of the applicant, to cause confusion, mistake, or to deceive.” Section 2(d).
An interesting discussion in the case focuses on the weakness of the prior mark. Although the tribunals agreed that it was potentially weak, it is still a registered mark and therefore subject to protection. Further, Charger’s trademark application proceeding is not a proper arena for challenging the validity of a trademark held by someone else. This is especially true here since the owner of the prior mark did not file an opposition.
A second, interesting aspect of the decision focuses on the “LIVING” portion of the proposed mark. That word is generic with regard to residential housing and, in addition, the applicant had disclaimed the word. Still, likelihood of confusion question should focus on comparing the entire proposed mark. The applicant argued that the TTAB had improperly given no weight to the LIVING portion. But, the appellate court affirmed, holding that the Office was correct to focus attention on the dominant portion of the mark. Here, the TTAB had quickly considered the impact of LIVING, but concluded that it offered no meaningful distinction.
Finally, the appellate court agreed that there was no reason to distinguish between commercial and residential real estate.
Throughout its entire review, the court appeared to agree with the TTABs conclusions, but noted that it would give deference to TTAB factual conclusions so long as supported by substantial evidence.
The Court did find one error by the TTAB, but concluded that it was harmless. In particular, the lower tribunal had failed to expressly indicate what weight it accorded to each of the du Point factors. Although the TTAB decision lacked clarity on this point, the appellate panel concluded it could sufficiently discern the agency’s path of reasoning.