Libya Loses Court Battle Over Its Own ‘Libyan Embassy’ Trademark

by Ifrah PLLC
Contact

In an interesting recent opinion, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rebuffed the Libyan Government’s bid to obtain a transfer to it of the domain name registration for libyanembassy.com from a “legalization expeditor” – a company that certifies documents as one step in the process of international legalization of documents (such as foreign birth certificates).

The Libyan Government brought an action under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) against Ahmad Miski, who operates the Arab-American Chamber of Commerce, a document certification service. Miski redirected traffic to the domain name to his website promoting his certification services. Libya contended that Miski’s registration and use of the domain name infringed its trademark for “Libyan Embassy.”

The case raised two issues that are often misunderstood. First, the court dealt with a claim under an unregistered trademark – “Libyan Embassy” – and had to determine whether it could be enforced under the ACPA. Second, the court had to examine whether the term “Libyan Embassy” is descriptive or suggestive under trademark law. The determination of whether a trademark is descriptive or suggestive is crucial to determining whether trademark rights in the phrase are enforceable, as a merely “descriptive” phrase is enforceable as a trademark only if it acquires “secondary meaning.”

The court quickly dispensed with the issue surrounding the unregistered trademark. It correctly noted that while an unregistered trademark is not entitled to the presumption of validity enjoyed by a registered trademark, it can nonetheless be enforced. However, the Libyan Government’s claim then collapsed. Libya took the position that the phrase “Libyan Embassy” was suggestive under trademark law (meaning that the term itself tells a customer that it refers to a brand and immediately signals to a consumer a brand or product source), which would have entitled it to protection under trademark law.

Miski, conversely, took the position that the phrase was merely descriptive (meaning that it just describes a product’s features, qualities or ingredients, or describes the use to which a product is put), which would preclude its enforceability under trademark law, unless it acquired secondary meaning in the market (the classic example of a merely descriptive mark clothed with secondary meaning is “American Airlines”).

Ultimately, the court performed a cogent and concise analysis of the issues under trademark law, and determined that the term “Libyan Embassy” was merely descriptive, as little imagination is necessary to understand from the name what services (consular services) are being offered. A suggestive mark, on the other hand, requires that there be some element of imagination necessary to tie the mark to the goods or services offered (think Coppertone™ – for suntan products).

Libya could have overcome this ruling, however, by showing that the term “Libyan Embassy” had obtained secondary meaning – which occurs when in the minds of the public, the primary significance of the mark is to identify the source of the product rather than the product itself. It seems that Libya should have had little trouble making this showing. All it needed to do was present evidence – typically through use of a survey showing public perceptions of what is meant by “Libyan Embassy” and the services it provides – showing that the public associates “Libyan Embassy” with the services provided by the Embassy of Libya. This would seem to be an easy task. But Libya presented no such evidence. Therefore, the Court found that it failed to meet its burden to show secondary meaning.

Libya’s failure in this regard is a cautionary note to those who enter into trademark litigation without adequate preparation. Obtaining evidence through the use of surveys, economic analysis, and tracking down persons who have actually been confused by infringing behavior can be expensive, time-consuming, and difficult. But in the world of trademark litigation, it also can be indispensable. It seems likely that had Libya taken these steps before pursuing the registrant of, it would have had a reasonably strong chance of prevailing. Having not done so, its case was irretrievably compromised.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ifrah PLLC | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Ifrah PLLC
Contact
more
less

Ifrah PLLC on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.