Bertini v. Apple Inc., No. 21-2301 (Fed. Cir. 2023). Apple, Inc. attempted to register the trademark APPLE MUSIC for both sound recordings and live musical performances (among other things). Bertini, a professional musician, filed an opposition, claiming to have used the mark APPLE JAZZ in connection with live performances since 1985, and to have started using it in connection with sound recordings in the 1990s. Bertini argued that APPLE MUSIC would likely cause confusion with APPLE JAZZ.
The first question that popped into my head, of course, was whether a consumer would really be likely to confuse jazz with music. I mean, come on.
Sadly, however, that was not the legal issue in this case. The legal issue was whether, and in what circumstances, priority of use can be established by “tacking” a new trademark registration onto an earlier one for a mark in a different category of goods or services.
The Opposition Proceeding
Apple applied to register APPLE MUSIC as a trademark in several categories of services in IC 41, including the production and distribution of sound recordings, and organizing and presenting live musical performances. Bertini, a professional jazz musician, filed a notice of opposition to Apple’s application, on the basis that he has used the mark APPLE JAZZ in connection with live performances since 1985. In the mid-1990s, Bertini began using APPLE JAZZ to issue and distribute sound recordings. Bertini opposed Apple’s registration of APPLE MUSIC on the ground that it would likely cause confusion with Bertini’s common law trademark APPLE JAZZ.
The Trademark Trials and Appeals Board (TTAB) dismissed the opposition. Bertini appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
On appeal, the parties did not dispute that there was a likelihood consumers would confuse Bertini’s use of APPLE JAZZ and Apple’s use of APPLE MUSIC. The only dispute on appeal was priority of use.
Apple, Inc. began using APPLE MUSIC in 2015, when it launched its music streaming service, nearly thirty years after Bertini had begun using APPLE JAZZ. Apple, however, argued that it was entitled to an earlier priority dating back to a 1968 registration of the mark APPLE for “Gramophone records featuring music” and “audio compact discs featuring music.” (The company had purchased the registration from Apple Corps, the Beatles’ record company.)
The TTAB agreed with Apple’s argument, holding that Apple was entitled to tack its 2015 use of APPLE MUSIC onto Apple Corp’s 1968 use of APPLE and therefore had priority over Bertini’s APPLE JAZZ.
The appellate court reversed, holding that Apple cannot tack its use of APPLE MUSIC for live musical performances onto Apple Corps’ use of APPLE for gramophone records, and that its application to register APPLE MUSIC must therefore be denied.
The Court of Appeals construed the tacking doctrine narrowly. Framing the question as “[W]hether a trademark applicant can establish priority for every good or service in its application merely because it has priority through tacking in a single good or service listed in its application,” the Court answered no. While Apple might have been able to use tacking to claim priority in connection with the production and distribution of sound recordings, it could not use that priority to establish priority with respect to other categories of services, such as organizing and presenting live performances.