Published 03/16/2022 by CIONCA IP TEAM (BS)
United Trademark Holdings, Inc., appealed the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s (TTAB) decision to deny its use of TINKER BELL and TEEN TINK to advertise its line of dolls. The U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction.
Disney opposed the registration of United’s TEEN TINK mark under the Lanham Act on the grounds of Disney’s priority and the likelihood of confusion with approximately 30 Disney registered marks, including Registration No. 3,636,910 for TINKER BELL. Disney did the same for United’s TEEN TINKER BELL mark.
United stated that the Tinker Bell name was already in the public domain but did not contend that Disney’s Tinker Bell character was in the public domain.
In 2013, United released its Fairy Tale High collection of dolls, illustrating “public domain characters from well-known fairy tales, including Snow White, Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, Tinker Bell and Cinderella” as teenagers. United stated that, for the Tinker Bell dolls and others, it included some important defining characteristics of the public domain character but added details to change the traditional presentation such as new colored streaks in the dolls’ hair, fashion leggings, artful makeup, and fashion-forward accessories. United stated that it has “created its own version of J.M. Barrie’s character, much as Disney did decades ago.”
In response to the evidence of commercial strength, United cited the Board’s finding that Disney had not proven its TINKER BELL mark to be famous for dolls specifically. The federal court replied that it need not decide whether a focus on dolls specifically for the fame-strength analysis is appropriate. The court stated that, “…it is sufficient here that a mark does not have to be famous to be commercially strong.”
As the Board noted, United provided no evidentiary support for its theory that Disney’s TINKER BELL mark brings up for consumers the public domain Tinker Bell character, instead of the version identified with Disney for decades. As a result, it was reasonable for the Board to conclude that both United’s and Disney’s marks would express Disney’s version of the Tinker Bell character, with United’s mark showing Disney’s Tinker Bell character specifically in her adolescent years. The Board “found TINKER BELL a commercially strong source identifier for Disney.”
United argued that the Federal Court should be wary of “ruling for Disney in this case,” as it equaled letting Disney “prolong its copyrights in a fictional, public domain character” through trademark law, and in turn, prevents United from using the public domain to create its own version of the Tinker Bell character.
The Federal Court felt that “United has not shown that Disney’s trademark protection in this particular matter constitutes a ‘misuse or overextension’ of trademark and related protections into areas traditionally occupied…by copyright.” The Court also did not feel it should reverse the decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and so affirmed the Board’s decision to deny United the trademarks of TINKER BELL and TEEN TINK.
Full United Trademark Holdings, Inc. v. Disney Enterprises, Inc. decision can be read here: 21-1056.OPINION.2-24-2022_1913329.pdf (uscourts.gov).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C.
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