469 U.S. 189 (1985), 83-1132, Park N' Fly Inc. v. Dollar Park and Fly, Inc.,

Docket Nº:No. 83-1132
Citation:469 U.S. 189, 105 S.Ct. 658, 83 L.Ed.2d 582, 53 U.S.L.W. 4044
Party Name:Park N' Fly Inc. v. Dollar Park and Fly, Inc.,
Case Date:January 08, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 189

469 U.S. 189 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 658, 83 L.Ed.2d 582, 53 U.S.L.W. 4044

Park N' Fly Inc.

v.

Dollar Park and Fly, Inc.,

No. 83-1132

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 8, 1985

Argued October 9, 1984

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner operates long-term parking lots near airports in St. Louis Cleveland, Houston, Boston, Memphis, and San Francisco. In 1969, petitioner applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to register a service mark consisting of the logo of an airplane and the words "Park 'N Fly." The registration issued in 1971, and [105 S.Ct. 659] nearly six years later petitioner filed an affidavit with the Patent and Trademark Office to establish the incontestable status of the mark under § 33(b) of the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), which provides that "registration shall be conclusive evidence of the registrant's exclusive right to use the registered mark," subject to the provisions of § 15 and § 33(b) itself. Respondent provides long-term airport parking services called "Dollar Park and Fly," but only operates in Portland, Ore. Petitioner filed an infringement action in Federal District Court seeking to enjoin respondent from using the words "Park and Fly" in connection with its business. The District Court granted the injunction, rejecting, inter alia, respondent's defense that petitioner's mark is unenforceable because it is merely descriptive. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that incontestability provides a defense against the cancellation of a mark but may not be used offensively to enjoin another's use, that, under this analysis, petitioner could obtain an injunction only if its mark would be entitled to continued registration without regard to its incontestable status, and that therefore respondent could defend by showing that the mark was merely descriptive. The court then determined that petitioner's mark is merely descriptive and respondent should not be enjoined from using the words "Park and Fly."

Held: The holder of a registered mark may rely on incontestability to enjoin infringement, and an infringement action may not be defended on the grounds that the mark is merely descriptive. Pp. 193-205.

(a) The Lanham Act nowhere distinguishes between a registrant's offensive and defensive use of an incontestable mark, but, on the contrary, § 33(b)'s declaration that the registrant has an "exclusive right" to use the mark indicates that incontestable status may be used to enjoin infringement. The Act's language also refutes any conclusion that an incontestable mark may be challenged as merely descriptive. Pp. 193-197.

Page 190

(b) Nothing in the Lanham Act's legislative history supports a departure from the plain language of the provisions concerning incontestability. Indeed, a conclusion that incontestable status may provide the basis for enforcement of the registrant's exclusive right to use a mark promotes the Act's goals in providing national protection of trademarks in order to secure to the mark's owner the goodwill of his business and to protect the ability of consumers to distinguish among competing producers. Pp. 197-202.

(c) There is no merit to respondent's argument that the Court of Appeals' decision should be upheld because trademark registrations are issued after an ex parte proceeding and generally without inquiry into the merits of an application. The facts of this case belie the suggestion that registration is virtually automatic, and respondent is simply wrong to suggest that third parties do not have an opportunity to challenge applications for trademark registration. The power of courts under § 34 of the Lanham Act to grant injunctions "according to principles of equity" does not encompass a substantive challenge to the validity of an incontestable mark on the grounds that it lacks secondary meaning. Otherwise, the meaning of "equity" would be expanded to the point of vitiating the Act's more specific provisions. Similarly, the power of courts to cancel registrations and "otherwise rectify the register" under § 37 of the Act must be subject to the specific provisions concerning incontestability. Pp. 202-203.

(d) The Court of Appeals was not justified in relying on its decision in Tillamook County Creamery v. Tillamook Cheese & Dairy Assn., 345 F.2d 158, cert. denied, 382 U.S. 903, for the proposition that a registrant may not rely on incontestability to enjoin the use of a mark. Pp. 203-205.

718 F.2d 327, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 206.

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O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we consider whether an action to enjoin the infringement of an incontestable trade or service mark may be defended on the grounds that the mark is merely descriptive. We conclude that neither the language of the relevant statutes nor the legislative history supports such a defense.

I

Petitioner operates long-term parking lots near airports. After starting business in St. Louis in 1967, petitioner subsequently opened facilities in Cleveland, Houston, Boston, Memphis, and San Francisco. Petitioner applied in 1969 to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (Patent Office) to register a service mark consisting of the logo of an airplane and the words "Park 'N Fly."1 The registration issued in August 1971. Nearly six years later, petitioner filed an affidavit with the Patent Office to establish the incontestable status of the mark.2 As required by § 15 of the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), 60 Stat. 433, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 1065, the affidavit stated that the mark had been registered and in continuous use for five consecutive years, that there had been no final adverse decision to petitioner's claim of ownership or right to registration, and

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that no proceedings involving such rights were pending. Incontestable status provides, subject to the provisions of § 15 and § 33(b) of the Lanham Act, "conclusive evidence of the registrant's exclusive right to use the registered mark. . . ." § 33(b), 15 U.S.C. § 1115(b).

Respondent also provides long-term airport parking services, but only has operations in Portland, Oregon. Respondent calls its business "Dollar Park and Fly." Petitioner filed this infringement action in 1978 in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon and requested the court permanently to enjoin respondent from using the words "Park and Fly" in connection with its business. Respondent counterclaimed and sought cancellation of petitioner's mark on the grounds that it is a generic term. See § 14(c), 15 U.S.C. § 1064(c). Respondent also argued that petitioner's mark is unenforceable because it is merely descriptive. See § 2(e), 15 U.S.C. § 1052(e). As two additional defenses, respondent maintained that it is in privity with a Seattle corporation that has used the expression "Park and Fly" since a date prior to the registration of petitioner's mark, see § 33(b)(5), 15 U.S.C. § 1115(b)(5), and that it has not infringed because there is no likelihood of confusion. See § 32(1), 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1).

After a bench trial, the District Court found that petitioner's mark is not generic and observed that an incontestable mark cannot be challenged on the grounds that it is merely descriptive. App. 75. The District Court also concluded that there was no evidence of privity between respondent and the Seattle corporation. App. 76. Finally, the District Court found sufficient evidence of likelihood of confusion. App. 76. The District Court permanently enjoined [105 S.Ct. 661] respondent from using the words "Park and Fly" and any other mark confusingly similar to "Park 'N Fly." App. 77.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. 718 F.2d 327 (1983). The District Court did not err, the Court of Appeals held, in refusing to invalidate petitioner's mark. Id. at 331. The Court of Appeals noted, however, that it

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previously had held that incontestability provides a defense against the cancellation of a mark, but it may not be used offensively to enjoin another's use. Ibid. Petitioner, under this analysis, could obtain an injunction only if its mark would be entitled to continued registration without regard to its incontestable status. Thus, respondent could defend the infringement action by showing that the mark was merely descriptive. Based on its own examination of the record, the Court of Appeals then determined that petitioner's mark is in fact merely descriptive, and therefore respondent should not be enjoined from using the name "Park and Fly." Ibid.

The decision below is in direct conflict with the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Union Carbide Corp. v. Ever-Ready, Inc., 531 F.2d 366, cert. denied, 429 U.S. 830 (1976). We granted certiorari to resolve this conflict, 465 U.S. 1078 (1984), and we now reverse.

II

Congress enacted the Lanham Act in 1946 in order to provide national protection for trademarks used in interstate and foreign commerce. S.Rep. No. 1333, 79th Cong., 2d Sess., 5 (1946). Previous federal legislation, such as the Federal Trademark Act of 1905, 33 Stat. 724, reflected the view that protection of trademarks was a matter of state concern and that the right to a mark depended solely on the common law. S.Rep. No. 1333, at 5. Consequently, rights to trademarks were uncertain and subject to variation in different parts of the country. Because trademarks desirably promote competition and the maintenance of product quality, Congress determined that "a...

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