In Sportswear, Inc. v. Savannah College of Art and Design, the justices have been asked to wade into a dispute over the scope of a federally registered service mark. The case arose after Sportwear, Inc., began to sell apparel bearing the words “Savannah College of Art and Design” and “SCAD.” In 2014, the college filed a lawsuit, alleging that the company had infringed its mark, which it had registered 11 years earlier. Under the Lanham Act, the college’s registration of the mark serves as evidence of the college’s “exclusive right to use the registered mark in commerce on or in connection with the goods or services specified in the registration.”
A federal district judge disagreed and ruled for the company, concluding that the college had only registered the words as marks for educational services – not for apparel. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed and ruled for the college. It acknowledged that other courts of appeals might reach a different result, but it deemed itself bound by a 43-year-old decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit (which at the time included the geographic area that now makes up the 11th Circuit) holding that protection for federally registered service marks also extends to goods.
After the full 11th Circuit declined to rehear the case, Sportswear went to the justices to seek review. It argues that the lower court’s decision conflicts not only with those of other courts of appeals, but also with the “Federal Circuit’s jurisprudence concerning the requirements to register a mark.” In that circuit, Sportswear suggests, the college “would have had no chance of obtaining a federally-registered mark covering apparel” at all, but here the college was able to rely on prior precedent to leverage its educational services mark to cover apparel too.
The justices are slated to consider the case at their September 24 conference; they could announce whether they will take up the case as soon as Thursday, September 27.