Consumer surveys can be a powerful tool to prove or disprove likelihood of confusion in TTAB cases. A failure to conduct one may ultimately result in the Board, even with little to no evidence, determining for themselves whether confusion exists in the marketplace. While there is an additional reason as to why the Chicago Cubs won a recent opposition against the application to register CUBNOXIOUS, the opposition demonstrates the consequences of failing to provide any evidence to defend against a Section 2(d) likelihood of confusion claim.
In the recent Chicago Cub Baseball Club, LLC v. Ronald Mark Huber TTAB Opposition, the Chicago Cubs opposed an application to register the mark CUBNOXIOUS for “shirts.” The opposition centered around an allegation that Mr. Huber lacked bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce, as well as, alleged likelihood of confusion with Chicago Cubs’ registered marks such as CHICAGO CUBS, MR. CUB, CUBS, CUBBIES, and THAT’S CUB. Such registrations include a shirt of some kind among the identified goods.
To assess likelihood of confusion, the Board considered the DuPont factors. The Board found that the Cubs’ marks were commercially strong, the goods identified in the marks at issue overlapped, and as a result, the Board presumed the channels of trade and potential consumers also overlapped. The key question arose when analyzing the similarity of the marks as it relates to connotation and commercial impression. Although the CUBNOXIOUS mark would likely be simply perceived as a combination of the term CUB and the word “obnoxious,” the end result is not a flattering term. None of the Chicago Cub marks at issue were self-disparaging to the team or fans, so are the marks similar enough to cause confusion? The Board accepted the Chicago Cubs’ argument that the fan base is “notorious for its undying allegiance to the Cubs” and that the “CUBNOXIOUS designation at issue in this case would surely be taken by many as a badge of honor that fits quite comfortably within the Club’s creative and expansive merchandising program.” The Board ultimately found that the evidence was convincing to demonstrate that the connotation and commercial impression of the marks at issue were similar. Accordingly, the Board held that such similarity weighed in favor of likelihood of confusion.
There is no guarantee that a likelihood of confusion survey would have shown no confusion between CUBNOXIOUS and the Chicago Cubs’ marks mentioned above, or changed the outcome of the opposition. However, it is certain that the lack of a survey allowed the Board to make a determination that may or may not be representative of whether confusion exists in the marketplace. To learn more about using likelihood of confusion surveys to defend against Section 2(d) claims, please contact us.