In American trademark law, trademark rights are gained through use – use of the mark in connection with the goods and services. A recent Second Circuit decision, Excelled Sheepskin & Leather Coat Corp. v. Oregon Brewing Company (2018), indicates that the rights gained through use can be broader than might have been previously supposed.
Specifically, the Second Circuit held, contrary to the district court’s decision, that a trademark owner had priority in certain types of goods (t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and other apparel) over the defendant. Although, at first, the plaintiff had only been using the mark for apparel as an adjunct to support its main business, beer, and even though it did not commence selling these products in clothing stores until after the defendant has already done so, it nevertheless had priority. It could therefore assert an infringement claim after it had begun distributing these products in clothing stores.
The appellate court held that once the plaintiff established priority in these types of apparel, it has that with respect to any distribution channel for the same goods.
The takeaway is that when researching prior uses of a mark (for example, in clearing use of a mark), one must look to any uses of the mark in connection with the same or similar goods. That another party might be marketing the goods in a different manner or a different purpose may not change the fact that it has prior rights.