482 F.3d 135 (2nd Cir. 2007), 05-0933, ITC Ltd. v. Punchgini, Inc.

Docket Nº:Docket No. 05-0933-cv.
Citation:482 F.3d 135, 82 U.S.P.Q.2d 1414
Party Name:ITC LIMITED and ITC Hotels Limited, Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellants, v. PUNCHGINI, INC., Raja Jhanjee, Paragnesh Desai, Vicky Vij, Dhandu Ram, Mahendra Singh, Bachan Rawat, Bukhara Grill II, Inc., Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 28, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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482 F.3d 135 (2nd Cir. 2007)

82 U.S.P.Q.2d 1414

ITC LIMITED and ITC Hotels Limited, Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellants,

v.

PUNCHGINI, INC., Raja Jhanjee, Paragnesh Desai, Vicky Vij, Dhandu Ram, Mahendra Singh, Bachan Rawat, Bukhara Grill II, Inc., Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees.

Docket No. 05-0933-cv.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

March 28, 2007

Argued: Nov. 18, 2005.

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Ethan Horwitz (Kandis M. Koustenis, William F. Sheehan, Robert D. Carroll, Terri L. McHenry, on the brief), Goodwin Procter, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

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Michelle Mancino Marsh (Michael J. Freno, on the brief), Kenyon & Kenyon, New York, NY, for Defendants.

Before STRAUB and RAGGI, Circuit Judges. 1

RAGGI, Circuit Judge.

This case requires us to decide, among other things, the applicability of the "famous marks" doctrine to a claim for unfair competition under federal and state law. Plaintiffs ITC Limited and ITC Hotels Limited (collectively "ITC") held a registered United States trademark for restaurant services: "Bukhara." They sued defendants, Punchgini, Inc., Bukhara Grill II, Inc., and certain named individuals associated with these businesses, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Gerard E. Lynch, Judge) claiming that defendants' use of a similar mark and related trade dress constituted trademark infringement, unfair competition, and false advertising in violation of federal and state law. ITC now appeals from the district court's award of summary judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. See ITC Ltd. v. Punchgini, Inc., 373 F.Supp.2d 275 (S.D.N.Y.2005).

Having reviewed the record de novo, we affirm the award of summary judgment on ITC's infringement claim, concluding, as did the district court, that ITC abandoned its Bukhara mark for restaurant services in the United States. To the extent ITC insists that the "famous marks" doctrine nevertheless permits it to sue defendants for unfair competition because its continued international use of the mark led to a federally protected right, we conclude that Congress has not yet incorporated that doctrine into federal trademark law. 2 Therefore, we affirm the award of summary judgment on ITC's federal unfair competition claim. Whether the famous marks doctrine applies to a New York common law claim for unfair competition and, if so, how famous a mark must be to trigger that application, are issues not easily resolved by reference to existing state law. Accordingly, we certify questions relating to these issues to the New York Court of Appeals, reserving our decision on this part of ITC's appeal pending the state court's response. Finally, because we agree with the district court that ITC lacks standing to pursue a false advertising claim against defendants, we affirm that part of the district court's award of summary judgment. 3

I. Factual Background

A. The Bukhara Restaurant in New Delhi

ITC Limited is a corporation organized under the laws of India. Through its subsidiary,

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ITC Hotels Limited, it owns and operates the Maurya Sheraton & Towers, a five-star hotel in New Delhi, India. One of the restaurants in the Maurya Sheraton complex is "Bukhara." Named after a city in Uzbekistan on the legendary Silk Road between China and the West, Bukhara offers a cuisine and decor inspired by the northwest frontier region of India. Since its opening in 1977, the New Delhi Bukhara has remained in continuous operation, acquiring a measure of international renown. 4

Over the past three decades, ITC has sought to extend the international reach of the Bukhara brand. At various times, it has opened or, through franchise agreements, authorized Bukhara restaurants in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Bahrain, Montreal, Bangladesh, Singapore, Kathmandu, Ajman, New York, and Chicago. As of May 2004, however, ITC-owned or -authorized Bukhara restaurants were in operation only in New Delhi, Singapore, Kathmandu, and Ajman.

B. ITC's Use of the Bukhara Mark in the United States

1. ITC's Use and Registration of the Mark for Restaurants

In 1986, an ITC-owned and -operated Bukhara restaurant opened in Manhattan. In 1987, ITC entered into a franchise agreement for a Bukhara restaurant in Chicago. Shortly after opening its New York restaurant, ITC sought to register the Bukhara mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("Patent and Trademark Office"). On October 13, 1987, ITC obtained United States trademark registration for the Bukhara mark in connection with "restaurant services." See United States Trademark Registration No. 1,461,445 (Oct. 13, 1987). The Manhattan restaurant remained in operation for only five years, closing on December 17, 1991. On August 28, 1997, after a decade in business, ITC cancelled its Chicago franchise. Notwithstanding its registration, ITC concedes that it has not owned, operated, or licensed any restaurant in the United States using the Bukhara mark since terminating the Chicago restaurant franchise.

2. Use of the Mark for Packaged Foods

Over three years later, in 2001, ITC commissioned a marketing study to determine the viability of selling packaged food products in the United States under the Bukhara label, including "Dal Bukhara." 5 In that same year, ITC filed an application with the Patent and Trademark Office to register a "Dal Bukhara" mark in connection with packaged, ready-to-serve foods. In May 2003, ITC sold packaged Dal Bukhara food products to two distributors, one in California and the other in New Jersey. One month later, in June 2003, ITC exhibited Dal Bukhara products at the International Fancy Foods Show in New York City.

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C. The Opening of "Bukhara Grill"

Meanwhile, in 1999, named defendants Raja Jhanjee, Vicky Vij, Dhandu Ram, and Paragnesh Desai, together with Vijay Roa, incorporated "Punchgini, Inc." for the purpose of opening an Indian restaurant in New York City. Jhanjee, Vij, and Ram had all previously worked at the New Delhi Bukhara, and Vij had also previously worked at ITC's New York Bukhara. In selecting a name for their restaurant, the Punchgini shareholders purportedly considered "Far Pavilions" and "Passage to India" before settling on "Bukhara Grill." As Vij candidly acknowledged at his deposition, there was then "no restaurant Bukhara in New York, and we just thought we will take the name." Vij Dep. 25:7-11, May 5, 2004. After some initial success with "Bukhara Grill," several Punchgini shareholders, with the support of two additional partners, defendants Mahendra Singh and Bachan Rawat, organized a second corporation, "Bukhara Grill II, Inc.," in order to open a second New York restaurant, "Bukhara Grill II."

When the record is viewed in the light most favorable to ITC, numerous similarities suggestive of deliberate copying can readily be identified between the defendants' Bukhara Grill restaurants and the Bukhara restaurants owned or licensed by ITC. Quite apart from the obvious similarity in name, defendants' restaurants mimic the ITC Bukharas' logos, decor, staff uniforms, wood-slab menus, and red-checkered customer bibs. Indeed, the similarities were sufficiently obvious to be noted in a press report, wherein defendant Jhanjee is quoted acknowledging that the New York Bukhara Grill restaurant "is quite like Delhi's Bukhara." Shweta Rajpal, "Dal 'Bukhara' in NY: A Bukhara-trained Trio Has Opened a Similar Restaurant in Manhattan," Hindustan Times, May 2, 2000; see also Bob Lape, "Indian Outpost Needs Dash of Spice," Crain's New York Business, Dec. 13-19, 1999, at 18 (noting name similarity between Bukhara Grill and former New York Bukhara).

D. Plaintiffs' Cease and Desist Letter

By letter dated March 22, 2000, ITC, through counsel, demanded that defendants refrain from further use of the Bukhara mark. The letter accused defendants of unlawfully appropriating the reputation and goodwill of ITC's Bukhara restaurants in India and the United States by adopting a virtually identical name for their New York Bukhara Grill restaurants. It further demanded, under threat of legal action, that defendants acknowledge ITC's exclusive rights to the Bukhara mark, disclose the period for which defendants had used the mark, and remit to ITC any profits derived therefrom.

In a response dated March 30, 2000, defendants' counsel expressed an interest in avoiding litigation. Nevertheless, counsel observed that ITC appeared to have abandoned the Bukhara mark by not using it in the United States for several years. Receiving no reply, defendants' counsel sent a second letter to ITC dated June 22, 2000, stating that, if no response was forthcoming "by June 28, 2000, we will assume that ITC Limited has abandoned rights it may have had in the alleged mark and any alleged claim against our client." Marsh Letter to Horwitz, June 22, 2000. The record indicates no timely reply.

Instead, almost two years later, on April 15, 2002, ITC's counsel wrote to defendants reiterating the demands made in March 2000 and complaining of defendants' failure formally to respond to that initial letter. Defendants' counsel promptly challenged the latter assertion; faulted ITC for failing to reply to his March 22, 2000 letter; and reasserted his abandonment contention, a position that he claimed

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was now bolstered by the passage of additional time. There was apparently no further communication among the parties until this lawsuit.

E. The Instant Lawsuit

On February 26, 2003, ITC filed the instant...

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