Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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In regulating the practice of engineering, Mississippi restricts the use of the term “engineer.” Express operates automotive service centers in Mississippi and other states under the Tire Engineers mark. The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors informed Express that the name Tire Engineers violated Miss. Code 73-13-39 and requested that it change its company advertisement name. Express sought a declaratory judgment, citing Express’s “rights of commercial free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment”; and “rights under preemptive federal trademark law” under 15 U.S.C. 1051–1127. The district court granted the Board summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Board’s decision violates the First Amendment’s commercial speech protections. Because its essential character is not deceptive, Tire Engineers is not inherently misleading. The name, trademarked since 1948, apparently refers to the work of mechanics using their skills “not usu[ally] considered to fall within the scope of engineering” to solve “technical problems” related to selecting, rotating, balancing, and aligning tires. Nor is the name actually misleading. Because the name is potentially misleading, the Board’s asserted interests are substantial but the record does not support the need for a total ban on the name. Other states with similar statutes have not challenged the use of the trademark and the Board did not address why less-restrictive means, such as a disclaimer, would not accomplish its goal. View "Express Oil Change, L.L.C. v. Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors" on Justia Law

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Springboards filed suit against the school district under the Lanham Act, alleging that the school district used the company's marks in the course of operating a summer reading program. At issue was the school district's use of "Houston ISD Millionaire Club" on its incentive items and informational material. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the school district, holding that a reasonable jury could not find that the allegedly infringing use of the marks created a likelihood of confusion. The court held that no reasonably jury could conclude that it was likely potential purchasers of Springboards' products would have believed that Springboards was affiliated with HISD's summer reading program. View "Springboards to Education, Inc. v. Houston Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Alliance filed suit seeking to enjoin Coalition's use of its logo for federal trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Alliance and enjoined Coalition from using both its name and logo in political advertisements. The Fifth Circuit affirmed and held that Coalition failed to properly raise threshold questions concerning the applicability of the Lanham Act to what it characterized as political non-commercial speech. Therefore, the court declined to reach those questions. The court also held that the district court did not err in deciding that the birds on the logos at issue were identical. The panel held that the evidence established without dispute that Alliance's logo was a valid composite mark and that the use of Coalition's logo infringed Alliance's composite mark as a matter of law. The panel did modify the court's injunction in one respect, finding that the injunction restrained Coalition from using its name as well as its logo. Therefore, that aspect of the injunction was overbroad. View "Alliance for Good Government v. Coalition for Better Government" on Justia Law

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Specific elements from within a television show—as opposed to the title of the show itself—can receive trademark protection. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Viacom on its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims related to the common law trademark of The Krusty Krab. The Krusty Krab is a fictional restaurant in the "SpongeBob SquarePants" animated television series, and IJR took steps to open seafood restaurants using the same name. The court held that The Krusty Krab's key role in "SpongeBob SquarePants" coupled with the consistent use of the mark on licensed products established ownership of the mark because of its immediate recognition as an identifier of the source for goods and services; Viacom's mark has acquired distinctiveness through secondary meaning as a matter of law; and Viacom met its burden by proving that IJR's use of The Krusty Krab created a likelihood of confusion as to source, affiliation, or sponsorship. View "Viacom International, Inc. v. IJR Capital Investments, LLC" on Justia Law