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“Clearly Canadian” Likelihood of Confusion – Similarity of Trademarks

By David Lilenfeld on January 30, 2016

David Lilenfeld breaks down the likelihood of confusion section of the court's ruling in this trademark infringement case. The case pits CLEARLY CANADIAN against CLEARLY KUCHABU. In this post, the similarity of the trademarks are assessed.

E.        Infringement

Top Shelf also moves for summary judgment on Clearly Food’s trademark infringement claims. (See Mot. at 19-22.) To assess whether a defendant has infringed a plaintiff’s trademark, courts apply a “likelihood of confusion” test that asks whether use of the plaintiff’s trademark by the defendant is likely to cause confusion or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of the two products.”5  Mattel, Inc. v. Walking Mountain Productions, 353 F.3d 792, 806-07 (9th Cir. 2003); see also New W. Corp. v. NYM Co. of Calif., Inc., 595 F.2d 1194, 1201 (9th Cir. 1997). (David Lilenfeld: although the factors can vary from circuit-to-circuit, all eleven circuits require a likelihood of confusion analysis in trademark infringement cases).

(David Lilenfeld: Clearly Food brought claims under Sections 32 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1), and 43 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)).  (See generally Compl.) Although Section 32 provides protection only to registered marks and Section 43 provides protection to unregistered marks, with respect to proving infringement, the same “likelihood of confusion” standard applies to both    provisions.  See GoTo.com, Inc. v. Walt Disney Co., 202 F.3d 1199, 1207 (9th Cir. 2000); Brookfield Commc’ns, Inc., v. West Coast Entm’t Corp., 174 F.3d 1036, 1046-47 n.8 (9th Cir.1999).  As such, the court’s analysis of the “likelihood of confusion” standard is independent of the prospective outcome of Top Shelf’s cancellation-of-registration claim.  See Grupo Gigante SA De CV v. Dallo & Co., 391 F.3d 1088, 1108 (9th Cir. 2004) (“Ultimately, very little turns on the cancellation-of-registration claim because registration is not necessary to establish trademark protection under federal . . . law.”).

The Ninth Circuit has developed an eight-factor (David Lilenfeld: the number of factors can vary from circuit-to-circuit, but are non-exhaustive) test to guide courts in assessing likelihood of confusion. Id. (citing AMF Inc. v. Sleekcraft Boats, 599 F.2d 341, 348–49    (9th Cir.1979), abrogated on other grounds by Mattel Inc. v. Walking Mountain Prods., 353 F.3d 792, 810 n.19 (9th Cir. 2003)). The non-exclusive factors include (1) strength of the protected mark, (2) proximity and relatedness of the goods, (3) type of goods and degree of consumer care, (4) similarity of the protected mark and the allegedly infringing mark, (5) marketing channel convergence, (6) evidence of actual consumer confusion, (7) the defendant’s intent in selecting the allegedly infringing mark, and (8) likelihood of product expansion. Pom Wonderful LLC v. Hubbard, 775 F.3d 1118, 1125 (9th Cir.  2014).

(David M. Lilenfeld: as the court will point out, all likelihood of confusion analyses are facts intensive). The “ultimate question of likelihood of confusion is predominantly factual in nature, as is each factor.” Entrepreneur Media, 279 F.3d at 1141. Rather than mechanically identifying the number of factors that favor of each party, a court must  “consider what each factor, and—more importantly—what the analysis as a whole, reveals about the ultimate question . . . : the likelihood of consumer confusion as to the origin of the product or service bearing the allegedly infringing mark.” Id. At the end of the day, “it is the totality of facts in a given case that is dispositive.” Pom Wonderful LLC, 775 F.3d at 1125.

1.  Similarity of the marks (David Lilenfeld: Factor #1 - how similar are the trademarks)

“The greater the similarity between the two marks at issue, the greater the likelihood of confusion.” GoTo.com, Inc. v. Walt Disney Co., 202 F.3d 1199, 1206 (9th Cir. 2000). The Ninth Circuit has “developed three axioms that apply to the ‘similarity’ analysis: 1) Marks should be considered in their entirety and as they appear in the marketplace; 2) Similarity is best adjudged by appearance, sound, and meaning; and, 3) Similarities weigh more heavily than differences.” Entrepreneur Media, Inc., 279 F.3d at 1144.

(David Lilenfeld: instead of focusing on the trademarks here, it delves into how the trademarks are presented (i.e., screen-printing v. paper label)). First and foremost, the court notes that both marks appear in the marketplace primarily as labels on the bottles of single-serve beverages. (See Mot. at 21 (showing pictures of the trademarks alone and as used on bottles).) The salient differences are that the Clearly Canadian logo is screen printed, whereas the Clearly Kombucha logo is a paper label, and the Clearly Canadian bottle has a “teardrop” shape, whereas the Clearly Kombucha label has a traditional “beer bottle” shape. (See Ledden Decl. Ex. 21 (side-by-side comparison of the bottled beverages).) Second, the court notes that the appearance of the trademarks as used on the bottle labels is not overly similar: the Clearly Canadian label has horizontal text and a picture of the fruit that represent’s the beverage’s flavor; the Clearly Kombucha label has vertical text and an apparently whimsical drawing; the fonts are also different.6  (See id.) Moreover, the logos as used separately from the bottles are not overly similar: Clearly Canadian’s logo consists of blue, horizontal text, (David Lilenfeld: the court seems to be heading toward no likelihood of confusion conclusion) and a red bottle with a maple leaf; Clearly Kombucha’s label is a black, oversized letter “C” with the work “Clearly” written vertically inside the “C” and the word “kombucha” written in a different font outside of the “C.” (Compare Ledden Decl. Ex. 19 with

(David Lilenfeld: Obviously, the first word in each mark is identical sounding, but we don't normally see courts break down the wounds of words -- instead opting  to assess the sound of the word in its entirety) On the other hand, the sound of the trademarks is quite similar: both begin with the word “clearly” and end with a word that begins with a phonetic hard “c” sound. See Palm Bay Imports, Inc. v. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Maison Fondee En 1772, 396 F.3d 1369, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (finding that the first word in the trademark constituted the “dominant feature in the commercial impression” created by the mark). In addition, as Clearly Food points out, the common word “clearly” is the operative word (David Lilenfeld: determining the "operative" word is tough and which it is in this case is debatable) in both trademarks: the Trademark Office required both registrants to disclaim rights to the use  of the words “Canadian” and “kombucha” without the preceding word “clearly.” (Req. for Not. Ex. C; Ledden Decl. Ex. 2 (Appendix A).) Last, the meaning of the trademarks is also similar, insofar as they both rely on the word “clearly” to describe an aspect of their product. (See Zarrow Dep. at 16:22-17:2.)

Overall, the court finds that the third axiom—that similarities weigh more heavily than differences—controls the result here. Although Top Shelf has identified certain differences between the marks, a reasonable jury could find that the similarities in how the marks are used in the marketplace and the sound and meaning of the marks outweigh those differences. See Entrepreneur Media, Inc., 279 F.3d at 1144. Therefore, the court concludes that a reasonable jury could find that the marks are similar. As such, for summary judgment purposes, this factor weighs in Clearly Food’s favor. (David Lilenfeld: I am surprised at this result.  I think the trademarks are quite different in appearance and sound).


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