Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Rat Pack is . . . Generic! -- Ninth Circuit Affirms Nevada District Court’s Decision that “The Rat Pack” is Generic in connection with “Rat Pack” tribute shows

The title of this blog post could also be entitled “How I won at the Ninth Circuit without doing a thing.” 

On February 16, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling in the appeal that was filed in 2013 by TRP Entertainment, LLC, seeking to overturn the Nevada district court’s 2009 decision which found that the “Rat Pack” was generic and ordered a disclaimer of the term “RAT PACK” on TRP’s trademark registration for “THE RAT PACK IS BACK.”  A copy of the decision can be downloaded here.   See TRP Entertainment, LLC v. BC Entertainment et al., Case No. 13-16754 (9th Cir.)

In upholding the lower court’s decision, the Ninth Circuit found that “the record demonstrates that the term ‘The Rat Pack’ describes a type of live entertainment show and does not identify any particular producer of a Rat Pack tribute show.”  The Court noted that even TRP had referred to “Rat Pack performances as a ‘genre’ of entertainment.”  As such, the district court did not err in determining that “The Rat Pack” is generic in the context of live shows about or in tribute to members of the Rat Pack.  The Ninth Circuit also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering a disclaimer of the term “The Rat Pack” modifying TRP’s trademark registration (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1119, which allows a court to order the modification of a trademark registration to include a disclaimer of generic components).  As such, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment and remanded the case back to the district court to instruct the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to enter a disclaimer of the term “THE RAT PACK” on TRP’s trademark registration for ““THE RAT PACK IS BACK.” 

In order to understand how this victory is one for which I can claim some credit, I will defer to my prior detailed post on the district court’s decision when it was first handed down.  I was no longer Defendants’ counsel of record on the case at the time the decision was handed down, but it was the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment that I prepared and filed on behalf of the Defendants in that case that the district court ultimately ruled on in deciding that “Rat Pack” was generic – a decision that the Ninth Circuit has now affirmed.

Moreover, I was not involved in any briefings relative to TRP’s appeal, so that is why I write that I won at the Ninth Circuit without doing a thing – because indeed I did not.   In fact, the Ninth Circuit ruled against TRP despite having no substantive opposing briefs filed by the Defendants.  Original Defendant Barrie Cunningham did send a one page letter to the Ninth Circuit asking for the lower court’s decision to be upheld, but otherwise, no briefs were filed by the Defendants arguing in favor of upholding the lower court’s decision – which makes the decision of the Ninth Circuit to uphold the decision anyway all the more sweeter.  This victory for Defendants also demonstrates that just because no one opposes you on appeal does not necessarily mean you are going to win your appeal.

So short of an appeal by TRP of the Ninth Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court or possibly a request for reconsideration with the Ninth Circuit, this decision marks the end of the great “Rat Pack Generic” saga that started as far back as 13 years ago.  The glory days of TRP claiming to have exclusive rights to the term “THE RAT PACK”  in connection with a “Rat Pack” tribute show – much like the “Rat Pack” itself – is forever gone.