The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (in turn affirming a district court decision) finding the mark “Sealtight” (as used in connection with aircraft assembly components) to be merely descriptive, notwithstanding that in the Trademark Trial and Appeal Bound (TTAB) had rejected an attempt (by Hargis Industries) to cancel the registration for that mark (owned by B&B Hardware).  The TTAB found the registration to be incontestable.

In its decision, the TTAB had addressed the issue of likelihood of confusion, but the 8th Circuit concluded that likelihood of confusion in the context of a registration does not equate to a likelihood of confusion in the context of an infringement action.

The questions presented are:

  1. Whether the TTAB’s finding of a likelihood of confusion precludes Hargis from re-litigation that issue in infringement litigation, in which likelihood of confusion is an element.
  2. Whether, if issue preclusion does not apply, the district court was obligated to defer to the TTAB’s finding of likelihood of confusion absent strong evidence to rebut it.

B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc., Case No. 13-352 (Supr. Ct., July 1, 2014).