Showing posts with label distinctiveness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label distinctiveness. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Despite Legal Threat, Rights to MUMBO Sauce Trademark Stay in Chicago

Argia B. Collins' Chicago Area Restaurant

"Mumbo sauce" is sometimes used as the colloquial name for a tangy sauce served in Washington, D.C. restaurants and local eateries. However, a legal challenge to the validity of the name as a unique trademark appears to have been resolved in favor of the Windy City as the owner's locale.

The Washington Post describes the D.C. sauce's flavor as somewhere between barbecue and sweet-and-sour sauce.  The sauce is also sometimes called "Mambo sauce."  It is a versatile condiment that can be used for anything from fried rice to ribs or wings.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 2007 that Argia B. Collins, who died in 2005, and who had been one of Chicago's premier African American restauranteurs, first coined the term in the 1950's.  Collins' heirs ultimately transferred the rights to the name to Select Brands, LLC.

According to the Select Brands' website:  "A perfectionist when it came to his restaurants, Argia B. was not satisfied with the bland, watered-downed sauces served in other establishments or the tart, over-powering national brands sold by restaurant supply houses....Drawing on his southern roots, he wanted to create a sauce with the savory flavors reminiscent of the homemade Sunday dinners that he had enjoyed on his family's farm."

An image displayed on the Select Brands' website documents Collins' use of "Mumbo Bar-B-Q Sauce" in 3 flavors.

Capital City's Mumbo Sauce
In the 1990's, Select Brands LLC filed for a federal trademark on "MUMBO" for barbecue sauce in International Class 36, and it was granted.

Subsequently, a petition to cancel this trademark on the basis that it had become the "generic" name for a type of sauce was filed by Capital City, LLC, the makers of Capital City Mumbo Sauce, a D.C.-based company.

The petition cited printed materials taken from several different websites that showed a variety of sauces described as unauthorized "Mumbo sauces."

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board was not persuaded, however, finding that while this evidence showed "some generic use of the term 'Mumbo' in connection with sauces," that evidence consisted of printouts from only a few websites, and was not an overwhelming evidence of widespread generic usage.

Further, the Board seemed persuaded that Collins' heirs had undertaken serious efforts to police what they deemed as improper use of the trademark, and did not find the level of widespread and unrestricted usage necessary to deem a registered mark totally unworthy of protection.  The Board refused to cancel Select Brands' trademark.

The federally registered Mumbo trademark will therefore remain owned by Select Brands LLC.

However, in the event that Select sues Capital or the other unauthorized Mumbo sauce users for trademark infringement, the jury and judge would get the final say in the matter, as genericness as well as lack of likely confusion can be used as complete defenses in an infringement case in court.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Partially Functional Product Designs Can Become a Trademark

Do you recognize this shape?

According to a recent decision issued by the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the "TTAB"), this rectangular shape is a valid trademark belonging to Hershey's for its iconic chocolate bars.
By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One key issue in such product configuration trademark cases is whether the design features sought to be protected as a trademark are primarily “functional."  If the overall design is functional, trademark protection is barred.  Primarily functional products can be protected by patents, but trademark law ends where functionality begins.

The TTAB held that while the individual rectangular shapes scored within the chocolate bar are functional (because they make it more convenient to easily divide the bar into equal pieces), the candy bar's overall design, when considered in its entirety, was not primarily functional.

Instead, the TTAB determined, based on the evidence presented that reflected a wide variety of shapes and designs used for chocolate bars, that the combination of rectangles with a raised border in Hershey's design is not primarily functional and, therefore, may be protected as a trademark.

The second issue that the TTAB considered was whether Hershey's product design had “acquired distinctiveness” in the marketplace for candy.

Product designs and configurations are not considered “inherently distinctive” as are many other types of trademarks. Therefore, in order to be protected as a trademark and registered on the Principal Register, Hershey's must demonstrate that relevant consumers considered the product design to be a source identifier. 

Evidence of distinctiveness can consist of consumer surveys, evidence as to the length of time a mark has been in continuous and substantially exclusive use, revenue of products bearing the trademark, advertising expenditures to promote goods bearing the mark, unsolicited media coverage, and evidence that the product configuration has been promoted in advertisements as a source indicator. 

Hershey's submitted all of these types of evidence to exceed its burden of proof. In addition, Hershey's also provided evidence that Williams-Sonoma attempted to copy the design of the candy bar to use as the shape of a brownie baking pan:

The TTAB ultimately found that the evidence demonstrated that the candy bar design had acquired distinctiveness and could be registered on the Principal Register as a trademark.

Do you recognize these other trademarked product designs?