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Robert E. Warden, et al. v. Pamela Senk Falk


September 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sanchez, J.


Plaintiffs Robert E. Warden and ReWarden, Inc. ask this Court to enter summary judgment in their favor on Counts I through VI of the Complaint and seek cancellation of the "Bob Warden" trademark, Trademark Registration Number 3,635,725, which is currently registered in the name of Defendant Dynamic Housewares, Inc. (DHI). For the following reasons, this Court will grant in part and deny in part Plaintiffs' motion.*fn1


Warden is a television personality who has appeared on the QVC shopping network since 1987 to sell cookbooks and endorse the cookware products of others. The parties do not dispute that, through his appearances on QVC and elsewhere, Warden developed a common law trademark in his personal name, likeness, and professional image through his use in commerce of his name to sell cookbooks and endorse and promote the products of others.

In late 2006, Warden and Defendant Pamela Senk Falk, with whom Warden was previously involved in both business and romantic relationships at the time, decided to register a "Bob Warden" trademark (the Mark) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and sought the assistance of attorney Christine Redfield to complete the trademark registration application. The trademark was to be registered in DHI's name. Before submitting the application, Redfield advised Warden and Falk that, for DHI to own the Bob Warden name and trademark in connection with cookware, housewares, and cookbooks, Warden would have to "assign all rights, title and interest in his name to [DHI]." Redfield email, Nov. 10, 2006. She further advised:

If the application is to be filed in the name of [DHI] based on an oral license agreement from Bob to [DHI], we can go ahead and file the application now. However, if Bob decides to assign his name to [DHI], we should have an assignment agreement executed prior to filing the application.

Id. At a preliminary injunction hearing held in July 2011, Falk stated she did not receive an assignment of Warden's rights, title, goodwill, and/or interest in his name before the trademark registration application was filed, and further conceded she has never received such an assignment. Instead, Falk testified that Warden refused to execute an assignment.*fn3 No material issue of fact exists as to whether Falk or DHI received an assignment from Warden of the ownership of his name and the goodwill and assets associated with his name.*fn4

On November 13, 2006, Redfield submitted an application for trademark registration on DHI's behalf, which stated DHI owned the Bob Warden trademark. The November 2006 application asserted "Bob Warden" had been used as a trademark to promote the goods of others through infomercials, books, and personal appearances since at least December 31, 1986, and that "Bob Warden" had been used to sell cookware, including utensils, electric knives, food processors, electric mixers, other products, and cookbooks since at least December 31, 1993.

On March 31, 2007, the USPTO sent notification of an "Office Action" regarding registration of the Mark which identified a number of deficiencies in the trademark application, including that the application did not specify whether "Bob Warden" identified a particular living individual. The notice further stated that, "[i]f the name in the mark identifies a particular living individual," DHI was required to submit "a signed, written consent from that individual, authorizing applicant to register the name as a trademark with the USPTO." Pl.'s Mot. for Prelim. Injunction, Ex. 25. Thereafter, DHI obtained a consent form from Warden, dated May 14, 2007, stating "The undersigned Bob Warden, hereby consents to the use and registration as a trademark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office of his name by Dynamic Housewares, Inc." Id., Ex. 31. Warden received no consideration from DHI for signing this consent form. The Bob Warden trademark was registered, effective June 9, 2009.*fn5

On June 23, 2011, approximately two months after filing his Complaint, Warden sent a letter to Falk, stating

In addition to the Complaint filed in Federal Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, this letter is formal notice that I hereby revoke the Consent dated May 14, 2007, to the use and registration of my name[,] Bob Warden[,] as a trademark in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. . . .

This letter is also formal notice that I hereby revoke any and all licenses that I may have granted to [DHI] or to you personally, for the use of my name BOB WARDEN, or the trademark BOB WARDEN, in connection with the sale or distribution of any goods or services, whether oral, in writing, or implied by my ownership in, association with and/or by working with you and/or with Dynamic Housewares, Inc. Please be advised that [DHI] no longer has the right to use my name, or the trademark BOB WARDEN.

Pl.'s Mot. for Prelim. Injunction, Ex. 28.

Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction asking this Court to bar Falk from asserting she owned the Bob Warden name and Warden could not do business without her permission. On July 27, 2011, after finding Plaintiffs satisfied the standard for obtaining a preliminary injunction, this Court granted Plaintiffs' motion and enjoined Defendants from contacting Plaintiffs' business relations with the intent to interfere with Plaintiffs' right to contract, representing or suggesting they had control over Bob Warden's name, commercial appearances, and publications, and otherwise representing or suggesting they owned a trademark in Bob Warden's name. Plaintiffs now ask this Court to cancel DHI's registration of the Mark, arguing either the registration was void ab initio because DHI falsely represented it owned the Mark or that the only interest DHI had in the Mark was a license to use which has since been revoked by Warden and the trademark in DHI's name should be canceled because DHI's continued use of the Mark is likely to cause confusion in the marketplaces about the source of "Bob Warden" goods.


Summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion," Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986), and must cite "particular parts of the materials in the record" which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp.,. 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

Plaintiffs assert DHI has no legitimate claim of ownership to the Mark, and argue the Mark should therefore be canceled pursuant to 15 U.S.C. §§ 1064 and 1119 because the registration was void ab initio. Section 1119 provides that, "[i]n any action involving a registered mark the court may determine the right to registration, [or] order the cancellation of registrations, in whole or in part." 15 U.S.C. § 1119; see also Ditri v. Coldwell Banker Residential Affiliates, 954 F.2d 869, 873 (3d Cir. 1992) (explaining § 1119 gives federal courts concurrent authority with the USPTO to cancel a registered mark when the validity of the mark is challenged in a judicial proceeding). A petition to cancel the registration of a mark may be filed within five years from the date of the registration of the mark.*fn6 Id. The party seeking cancellation bears the "burden to establish a prima facie case" and must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the trademark is invalid. Cold War Museum, Inc. v. Cold War Air Museum, Inc., 586 F.3d 1352, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2009).

A party seeking cancellation of a trademark must prove it has standing and that valid grounds exist for cancellation of the trademark registration. Cunningham v. Laser Golf Corp., 222 F.3d 943, 945 (Fed. Cir. 2000). The Mark is Warden's personal name, which the parties agree he developed as a trademark through use in commerce since 1986. Warden intends to continue using his name commercially, by appearing on QVC and selling and/or promoting cookbooks and cooking products authored, developed, or endorsed by him. Thus, Warden indisputably has standing to seek cancellation of the Mark. See id. (explaining the standing requirement is satisfied if the party seeking cancellation shows he has a direct commercial interest that is damaged by the registration). When a mark has been registered for less than five years, it may be canceled upon a showing of "any ground that would have prevented registration in the first place." Cunningham, 222 F.3d at 946. A trademark cannot be registered if the applicant does not own the trademark, thus, a mark may be cancelled upon a showing that the entity holding the mark's registration is not the lawful owner. See 15 U.S.C. § 1051 (stating only the owner of a trademark can apply for trademark registration). A trademark can also be canceled if the party seeking cancellation shows the registration creates a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace about the source of the goods affiliated with the trademark. See McCarthy, § 20:53.

To register a trademark, the mark which is the subject of the application must already operate as a trademark insofar as the public must recognize that a certain quality of goods and services are associated with the mark. See Berner Int'l Corp. v. Mars Sales Co., 987 F.2d 975, 979 (3d Cir. 1993) (explaining "a term is protectable as a trademark only if the public recognizes it as identifying the [trademark owner's] goods or services and distinguishing them from those of others" (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). Trademark rights are acquired and maintained through priority of use, not through registration with the USPTO. ITC Ltd. v. Punchgini, Inc., 482 F.3d 135, 146-47 (2d Cir. 2007) (explaining that registration of a trademark "shall constitute constructive use of the mark, conferring a right of priority, nationwide in effect . . . against any other person except for a person whose mark has not been abandoned and who, prior to [registration] . . . has used the mark" (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1057(c)); see also Basile, S.P.A. v. Basile, 899 F.2d 35, 37 n.1 (D.C. Cir. 1990) ("Although [trademark] registration is a predicate to [trademark] protection under the Lanham Act, the underlying right depends not on registration but rather on use.").

The parties agree the name Bob Warden had acquired secondary meaning in 2006 insofar as "the public ha[d] come to recognize the personal name as a symbol that identifie[d] and distinguishe[d] the goods or services of only one seller."*fn7 J. McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition § 13:28 (4th ed. 2011) (hereinafter McCarthy). There is also no dispute that Falk did not meet Warden until 2005, and that DHI was not created or incorporated until 2006. Thus, at the time the trademark application was filed, the secondary meaning associated with " Bob Warden" had been developed solely by Warden through his use of his name in commerce through collaborations with QVC and sale of his cookbooks and cookware products for the previous 18 years. See 15 U.S.C. § 1127. Therefore, prior to DHI's registration attempt, Warden owned the common law trademark associated with his name. Because DHI indisputably did not own the mark before 2006, DHI must show it otherwise lawfully acquired ownership rights to the Mark to avoid cancellation.

Because Warden owned the Mark in 2006, DHI can only claim ownership of the Mark if Warden assigned DHI the rights to his name. See Beauty Time, Inc. v. Beauty Makers, Inc., 118 F.3d 140, 150 (3d Cir. 1997) (explaining effective assignment of the rights to atrademark is a prerequisite to ownership rights in the trademark). In addition to receiving an assignment of the rights to Warden's name, DHI also must have received from Warden the goodwill associated with his name and business for such assignment to be valid. See id. (stating a trademark assignment "represent[s] the transfer of goodwill connected with a particular business . . . and [a trademark] cannot be transferred separately from the goodwill of the business"). Falk concedes neither she nor DHI ever received an assignment from Warden of the Mark, the assets associated with his trademark, or the goodwill established through his use of his name.*fn8 Indeed, Falk testified she asked Warden to execute an assignment and he refused.*fn9 Rather, Warden consented to DHI's use and registration of his name as a trademark.*fn10

Because there is no genuine dispute that Defendants did not receive an assignment of the Bob Warden trademark, Plaintiffs have shown by a preponderance of the evidence that DHI never owned the Mark because Warden developed the trademark himself, never assigned rights in the trademark to DHI, and to the extent Warden's consent to use his name operated as a license, he terminated that license by letter of June 23, 2011. See Trace Minerals Research, L.C. v. Mineral Res. Int'l, Inc., 505 F. Supp. 2d 1233, 1241 (D. Utah 2007) ("A [trademark] license containing no time frame is generally terminable at will.") (citing Bunn-O-Matic Corp. v. Bunn Coffee Serv., Inc., 88 F. Supp. 2d 914, 922 (C.D. Ill. 2000)). Cancellation of the Mark is appropriate. Because material issues of fact remain with regard to Counts I through VI of the Complaint, this Court will deny summary judgment as to those claims.

An appropriate order follows.


Juan R. Sanchez, J.

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