corvetteThe Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) takes on another automobile-related trademark case, this time between General Motors and Jim M. Sweeney, who wanted to register CORVOLTTE to identify “electric vehicles, namely, automobiles.”

Of course, general General Motors opposed the registration of CORVOLTTE on grounds of priority and likelihood of confusion with its CORVETTE mark. General Motors alleged that it was continuously using CORVETTE to identify automobiles since 1952. Sweeney admitted General Motors’ contentions but denied that there was any likelihood of confusion.

As in most legal proceedings, the parties are required to submit evidence supporting their allegations. General Motors submitted several trademark registrations that were issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office but, surprisingly, did not submit the registration for CORVETTE for automobiles. Why, is anybody’s guess.  General Motors also submitted to the board an excerpt from “Corvette illustrated Encyclopedia,” and from “Corvette America’s Sports Car,” and a Wikipedia entry for Corvette. Sweeney did not file a brief.

Although extreme deference is accorded to famous marks in terms of the wide latitude of legal protection it receives, and the dominant role fame plays in the likelihood of confusion analysis, the TTAB wrote that it was the duty of the party asserting that its mark is famous to clearly prove it. The TTAB observed that GM had not provided any evidence of sales, advertising or the extent of the Mark’s renown and stated that “suffice it to say, [GM’s] evidence falls far short of establishing the fame or renown of its CORVETTE mark.”  In other words, GM’s case was a shambles.

So why did the Board decide in GM’s favor?  From a legal stand point, the TTAB held that GM’s automobiles are so closely related to electric automobiles as to be legally identical and, therefore, so were the channels of trade for both vehicles. Also, the marks were similar with regard to their appearance and sound. The TTAB, held that “in comparing the marks CORVETTE and CORVOLTTE, we find that the points of similarity outweigh the dissimilarities such that the similarities of both marks would be apparent to anyone exposed to them. Balancing these factors, and despite GM’s inability to prove that it’s Mark was famous, the Board held in favor of GM and refused Sweeney’s application for CORVOLTTE.

— Adam G. Garson, Esq.