B&B HARDWARE INC. v. HARGIS INDUSTRIES INC.
B&B Hardware (B&B) sells a fastener product in the aerospace industry under the trademark “Sealtight,” which it registered in 1993. Hargis Industries (Hargis) sells self-drilling screws under the mark “Sealtite” in the construction industry. After Hargis applied to register its mark in 1996, B&B opposed the application and sued Hargis for infringement. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) eventually determined that there was a likelihood of confusion between the two marks and denied Hargis’ application. On appeal, the district court held that, because the TTAB is not an Article III court, it need not give deference to the TTAB decision and refused to admit the decision into evidence. A jury then found in favor of Hargis. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed and held that, since the Eighth Circuit uses a slightly different likelihood of confusion test from the TTAB, the TTAB did not decide the same likelihood of confusion issues presented to the district court.
(1) Does a finding of a likelihood of confusion by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board preclude re-litigation in federal court?
(2) Alternatively, should a federal court give deference to a finding of a likelihood of confusion by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board?