David Lilenfeld Blog The intellectual property blog of David Lilenfeld

17Jan/160

B&B Hardware Trademark Case Gives TTAB a Boost

By David Lilenfeld on January 17, 2016

B&B Hardware Inc. v. Hargis Industries Inc. come from the District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas and then the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. Justice Alito wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court of the United States.

B&B Hardware (“B&B”) sells a fastener for the aerospace industry, called SEALTIGHT, which was federally registered in 1993. The opposing party, Hargis Industries (“Hargis”) sells self-drilling screws under the mark SEALTITE in the construction industry. B&B took action.

 

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) found a likelihood of confusion between the trademarks. On appeal, the district court chose not to give deference to the TTAB ruling because TTAB is not an Article III court, which helped Hargis prevail at in the district court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed that the district court was not required to give deference to TTAB’s decision.

The question presented to the Supreme Court was whether a finding of a likelihood of confusion by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board preclude re-litigation in federal court?

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that re-litigation is frequently precluded and, on appeal, deference should ordinarily be given to TTAB’s ruling. The Court reasoned that when parties have had adequate opportunity to litigate an issue and an administrative agency properly resolves the issue, re-litigation is precluded unless Congress has indicated otherwise. The Court next determined that nothing in federal trademark law prohibited issue preclusion. The Court also held that TTAB’s ruling satisfied the ordinary elements for claim preclusion: (1) likelihood-of-confusion standards for registration and infringement are the same; (2) no reason to doubt the quality, extensiveness, or fairness of the agency’s procedures, and (3) parties are likely to treat both contested registration and infringement seriously.

So, convincing TTAB you are right, could be a great first step. “Filing an opposition or cancelation proceeding with TTAB is typically quicker and less expensive than filing a district court lawsuit,” said David Lilenfeld of Lilenfeld PC, an intellectual property attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. “Now that preclusive effect is confirmed, trademark owners have another compelling reason to file with TTAB.”

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