TMEP 1207.01(b)(x): Parody Marks

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1207.01(b)(x)    Parody Marks

The fact that a mark is intended to be a parody of another trademark is not, by itself, sufficient to overcome a likelihood of confusion refusal, because "[t]here are confusing parodies and non-confusing parodies." J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition, §31.153 (4th ed. 2010); see also Nike, Inc. v. Maher, 100 USPQ2d 1018, 1023 (TTAB 2011) ("[P]arody is not a defense if the marks would otherwise be considered confusingly similar."). "A true parody actually decreases the likelihood of confusion because the effect of the parody is to create a distinction in the viewer’s mind between the actual product and the joke." Mutual of Omaha Ins. Co. v. Novak, 648 F. Supp. 905, 910, 231 USPQ 963, 965 (D. Neb. 1986), aff’d, 836 F.2d 397, 5 USPQ2d 1314 (8th Cir. 1987). Thus, "[w]hile a parody must call to mind the actual product to be successful, the same success also necessarily distinguishes the parody from the actual product." Id.

Cases involving a discussion of parody include the following: Research in Motion Ltd. v. Defining Presence Mktg. Grp., Inc., 102 USPQ2d 1187, 1192 (TTAB 2012) (sustaining oppositions to applications for the mark CRACKBERRY, for a variety of online computer services and clothing items, on the bases of a likelihood of confusion and likelihood of dilution by blurring with the mark BLACKBERRY, for handheld devices, including smartphones, and related goods and services, noting that "likelihood of confusion will usually trump any First Amendment concerns"); Starbucks U.S. Brands, LLC v. Ruben, 78 USPQ2d 1741 (TTAB 2006) (holding contemporaneous use of applicant’s mark, LESSBUCKS COFFEE, and opposer’s marks, STARBUCKS and STARBUCKS COFFEE, for identical goods and services, likely to cause confusion, noting that "parody is unavailing to applicant as an outright defense and, further, does not serve to distinguish the marks"); Columbia Pictures Indus., Inc. v. Miller, 211 USPQ 816, 820 (TTAB 1981) (holding CLOTHES ENCOUNTERS for clothing, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND for t-shirts, likely to cause confusion, noting that the "right of the public to use words in the English language in a humorous and parodic manner does not extend to use of such words as trademarks if such use conflicts with the prior use and/or registration of the substantially same mark by another"); see also Jordache Enters. v. Hogg Wyld Ltd., 828 F.2d 1482, 4 USPQ2d 1216, 1220, 1222 (10 th Cir. 1987) (noting that "a parody of an existing trademark can cause a likelihood of confusion," but affirming district court’s holding that contemporaneous use of LARDASHE and JORDACHE, both for jeans, is not likely to cause confusion).