Monday, March 29, 2010
When is a farm boy just like any other farm boy? That's the question at the heart of a recent Federal Circuit decision (Odom's Tennessee Pride Sausage, Inc. v. FF Acquisition, LLC, No. 09-1473) involving a decision by the USPTO to grant a trademark registration to FF Acquisitions (a SuperValu company) over the objection of Odom (a retail food conglomerate).
Despite the fact that the registration in question was merely adding the body onto an already registered mark making up the torso of a farm boy (mark on the right), Odom was concerned that the mark was now likely to confuse consumers and opposed the registration, citing its own registrations. Even though Odom argued that there were other factors to be considered under the DuPont test for likelihood of confusion, the USPTO and the Circuit court summarily dispatched the complaint by noting that the registered marks differed in the size and shape of the hands, styles of hats, shoes on the feet, and apiece of straw hanging from his mouth.
In its appeal to the Federal Circuit, Odom argued that the USPTO was wrong in basing its decision that there was no likelihood of confusion based a single DuPont factor and not considering other factors. The legal question was whether consideration of the single DuPont factor involving similarity of the marks was enough for the court to conclude that there was no likelihood of confusion and to allow registration - it was. The Circuit court went further and noted that even if the USPTO had considered all the other factors, the dissimilarity of the marks was , by itself, a strong enough reason to deny Odom's claims and to allow registration of FF Acquisitions' mark.
This opinion is a reminder that trademarks are limited and do not create ownership in an entire concept. The focus when adopting a mark is its overall distinctiveness. A mark cannot be deconstructed into individual pieces for the purpose of eliminating distinctive qualities, because that is not what a consumer does. It is the overall impression that makes the difference.