TMEP 1201.07(a): “Single Source” – “Unity of Control”

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1201.07(a)    “Single Source” – “Unity of Control”

Section 2(d) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(d), requires that the examining attorney refuse registration when an applicant’s mark, as applied to the specified goods or services, so resembles a registered mark as to be likely to cause confusion. In general, registration of confusingly similar marks to separate legal entities is barred by §2(d). See TMEP §§1207–1207.01(d)(xi). However, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has held that, where the applicant is related in ownership to a company that owns a registered mark that would otherwise give rise to a likelihood of confusion, the examining attorney must consider whether, in view of all the circumstances, use of the mark by the applicant is likely to confuse the public about the source of the applicant’s goods because of the resemblance of the applicant’s mark to the mark of the other company. The Court stated that:

The question is whether, despite the similarity of the marks and the goods on which they are used, the public is likely to be confused about the source of the hair straightening products carrying the trademark “WELLASTRATE.” In other words, is the public likely to believe that the source of the product is Wella U.S. rather than the German company or the Wella organization.

In re Wella A.G., 787 F.2d 1549, 1552, 229 USPQ 274, 276 (Fed. Cir. 1986); cf. In re Wacker Neuson SE, 97 USPQ2d 1408 (TTAB 2010) (finding that the record made clear that the parties were related and that the goods and services were provided by the applicant).

The Wella Court remanded the case to the Board for consideration of the likelihood of confusion issue. In ruling on that issue, the Board concluded that there was no likelihood of confusion, stating as follows:

[A] determination must be made as to whether there exists a likelihood of confusion as to source, that is, whether purchasers would believe that particular goods or services emanate from a single source, when in fact those goods or services emanate from more than a single source. Clearly, the Court views the concept of “source” as encompassing more than “legal entity.” Thus, in this case, we are required to determine whether Wella A.G. and Wella U.S. are the same source or different sources....

The existence of a related company relationship between Wella U.S. and Wella A.G. is not, in itself, a basis for finding that any “WELLA” product emanating from either of the two companies emanates from the same source. Besides the existence of a legal relationship, there must also be a unity of control over the use of the trademarks. “Control” and “source” are inextricably linked. If, notwithstanding the legal relationship between entities, each entity exclusively controls the nature and quality of the goods to which it applies one or more of the various “WELLA” trademarks, the two entities are in fact separate sources. Wella A.G. has made of record a declaration of the executive vice president of Wella U.S., which declaration states that Wella A.G. owns substantially all the outstanding stock of Wella U.S. and “thus controls the activities and operations of Wella U.S., including the selection, adoption and use of the trademarks.” While the declaration contains no details of how this control is exercised, the declaration is sufficient, absent contradictory evidence in the record, to establish that control over the use of all the “WELLA” trademarks in the United States resides in a single source.

In re Wella A.G., 5 USPQ2d 1359, 1361 (TTAB 1987) (emphasis in original), rev’d on other grounds, 858 F.2d 725, 8 USPQ2d 1365 (Fed. Cir. 1988).

Therefore, in some limited circumstances, the close relationship between related companies will obviate any likelihood of confusion in the public mind because the related companies constitute a single source. See TMEP §§1201.07(b)-1201.07(b)(iv) for further information.