A New Deference Standard: The Rebuttable Presumption of Validity for USPTO Trademark Likelihood-of-Confusion Determinations

Author:Lauren A. Taylor
Position:J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2018; B.S.E., Industrial Engineering, The University of Iowa College of Engineering, 2015
Pages:367-393
SUMMARY

Circuit courts are split on how much deference should be given to a United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") trademark likelihood-of-confusion determination during litigation under Lanham Act section 43(a)(1)(A). While some courts afford a substantial amount of deference to the USPTO's findings regarding a likelihood of confusion when it refuses to register a mark on the principal... (see full summary)

 
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A New Deference Standard:
The Rebuttable Presumption of Validity
for USPTO Trademark
Likelihood-of-Confusion Determinations
Lauren A. Taylor*
ABSTRACT: Circuit courts are split on how much deference should be given
to a United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) trademark
likelihood-of-confusion determination during litigation under Lanham Act
section 43(a)(1)(A). While some courts afford a substantial amount of
deference to the USPTO’s findings regarding a likelihood of confusion when
it refuses to register a mark on the principal register, other courts afford little
to no deference to the USPTO’s findings regarding a likelihood of confusion.
This disparity among courts outlines a need for a solution that best fulfills
the goals of the various courts in order to create a unified precedent of
deference. By analyzing each court’s approach as to how much deference to
give and by taking a closer look into the deference given to USPTO patent
determinations, this Note proposes that USPTO likelihood-of-confusion
determinations receive a presumption of validity in subsequent litigation. A
challenger can rebut this when (1) a USPTO examiner failed to consider or
was unaware of relevant evidence; (2) an examiner’s actions were arbitrary
and capricious; or (3) there exists evidence of unfair prejudice. This solution
better fulfills efficiency than reasonable alternatives, and in an overarching
effort to create homogeny, better creates a uniform precedent of deference.
I.INTRODUCTION ............................................................................. 368
II.BACKGROUND ............................................................................... 371
A.WHAT IS A TRADEMARK? ......................................................... 372
B.FILING A TRADEMARK APPLICATION ......................................... 373
C.THE USPTO’S REVIEW OF TRADEMARK APPLICATIONS .............. 374
*
J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2018; B.S.E., Industrial
Engineering, The University of Iowa College of Engineering, 2015.
368 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 103:367
D.DEVELOPMENT OF SUBSEQUENT LITIGATION REGARDING A
LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION BETWEEN MARKS .......................... 377
E.WEIGHT GIVEN BY VARIOUS CIRCUITS TO USPTO
DETERMINATIONS ................................................................... 379
III.DISCUSSION ................................................................................... 380
A.EXAMINATION OF CIRCUIT APPROACHES ................................... 381
1.Circuits Giving Substantial Weight to USPTO
Likelihood-of-Confusion Determinations ................... 381
2.Circuits Giving Little to No Weight to USPTO
Likelihood-of-Confusion Determinations ................... 383
B.EXAMINATION OF PATENT LAW AND DEFERENCE TO USPTO
FACTUAL DETERMINATIONS ..................................................... 385
C.A SOLUTION IS NECESSARY TO PROMOTE THE PRINCIPLES OF
ACCURACY AND EFFICIENCY TO INCREASE UNIFORMITY ACROSS
FEDERAL CIRCUITS .................................................................. 387
IV. REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION OF VALIDITY ..................................... 388
A.SUBSEQUENT LITIGATION SHOULD DEFER TO A USPTO
DETERMINATION UNLESS LIMITING CRITERIA ESTABLISH
THAT DEFERENCE WOULD NOT BE ACCURATE AND
EFFICIENT ............................................................................... 388
1.Presuming Validity of a USPTO’s Likelihood-of-
Confusion Determination ............................................ 389
2.Limiting Criteria That Must Be Satisfied to Rebut
Presumption of Validity ................................................ 389
B.ALTERNATIVES TO THE PROPOSED SOLUTION ............................ 392
C.THE PROPOSED SOLUTION BETTER FULFILLS ACCURACY AND
EFFICIENCY ............................................................................. 392
V.CONCLUSION ................................................................................ 393
I. INTRODUCTION
Circuits are split as to how much deference should be given to a United
States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) trademark likelihood-of-
confusion factual determination. Likelihood of confusion with an existing
mark can be grounds for denial of a trademark application.1 Some courts
afford a substantial amount of deference to the USPTO’s findings regarding
1. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(d) (2012).

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