The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) affirmed the refusal to register Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid’s trademark application for “Trust the Process” in connection with shoes in a precedential decision on May 26, 2021. In the decision, the TTAB found that the mark is likely to cause confusion with Marcus Lemonis’ “Trust the Process” registered trademark for clothing. Lemonis is the host of the CNBC show “The Profit,” and his trademark registration dates back to April 19, 2016.
Section 2(d) of the Lanham Act prohibits registration of a trademark that is likely to cause confusion with a registered mark when used in connection with the goods or services of the applicant. In determining whether there is a likelihood of confusion, the TTAB analyzes the thirteen DuPont factors – which assess things such as the similarity of the marks, goods, trade channels, and average purchaser, among other factors. Here, the TTAB held that since the “Trust the Process” marks are identical in appearance in sound, it outweighs any difference the marks may have in commercial impression with respect to the meaning of the mark in the world of basketball versus the CNBC show “The Profit.”
Embiid also tried to rely on his existing trademark registration for “The Process” in connection with apparel and clothing, which has existed alongside Lemonis’ mark for two years without instances of confusion, to show that the “Trust the Process” mark was also unlikely to create confusion. The TTAB rejected this argument since the “The Process” mark has only been registered since 2019, is still susceptible to a cancellation proceeding, and there are meaningful differences between “The Process” and “Trust the Process.”
Does this mean that Joel Embiid can no longer shout “trust the process” in news conferences and in his social media posts? Not at all. A trademark only protects the right to use a word or phrase in commerce in connection with specific goods or services. Here, the issue was whether Joel Embiid could obtain a trademark registration for “Trust the Process” in connection with shoes. Embiid already has a trademark registration for “The Process” in connection with apparel, and he has numerous pending trademark applications for “The Process” and “Trust the Process” in connection with a variety of goods and services, including phone cases, books, and basketball camps, to name a few.
The major takeaway here is that no matter how famous or ubiquitous a phrase like “Trust the Process” may become, if you were not the first to use it in commerce for a specific set of goods and services, or if you did not file an intent-to-use trademark application before someone else began using the mark, you will most likely be denied a trademark registration for the mark.
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