United States: SCOTUS: Preclusive Effect Should Be Given To TTAB Decisions When The Other Elements Of Issue Preclusion Are Met

In an opinion written by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court recently held that preclusive effect should be given to Trademark Trial and Appeal Board administrative decisions if the other elements of issue preclusion are met. B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc. dba Sealtite Building Fasteners et al., No. 13-352, 575 U.S. ___ (March 24, 2015). Although administrative proceedings before the TTAB are certainly different from those in district court, the Court noted that there is no reason to categorically doubt the quality of those proceedings. When an agency has acted in its judicial capacity to resolve disputed issues and providing adequate opportunity to litigate and when the same legal standard is applied to decide the same issues, preclusion applies in later actions. Because the TTAB decides issues of registrability, there are many instances in which issue preclusion will not apply in later infringement actions. However, this ruling will undoubtedly affect the way parties approach contested TTAB proceedings.

Both parties to the action manufacture metal fasteners—B&B Hardware for the aerospace industry and Hargis Industries for the construction industry. B&B offers products under the mark SEALTIGHT and Hargis under SEALTITE. Though there are obvious differences between these industries, both companies naturally want their products associated with a tight seal. In 1933, B&B registered its SEALTIGHT mark. Decades later, Hargis applied to register SEALTITE. B&B opposed that application in the TTAB in 2002, claiming that the SEALTITE mark is confusingly similar to its SEALTIGHT mark. The TTAB proceeding was complete with discovery, even depositions. The TTAB sided with B&B, finding that SEALTITE so resembles the SEALTIGHT mark that it is likely to cause consumer confusion and it denied registration.

Concurrently, B&B sued Hargis in federal court for trademark infringement. The question addressed by SCOTUS was whether Hargis should have been precluded from relitigating the issue of likelihood of confusion based on the TTAB's prior decision.

Held: "[A] court should give preclusive effect to TTAB decisions if the ordinary elements of issue preclusion are met." Slip Op. at 2. First, issue preclusion can apply in situations in which an administrative agency makes a final decision—both SCOTUS case law and the Restatement (Second) of Judgments make clear that issue preclusion is not limited to matters before two courts, but instead can apply when an agency is acting in its judicial capacity and parties have had adequate opportunity to litigate the issues. Second, nothing in the Lanham Act bars giving TTAB rulings preclusive effect. Finally, the TTAB's registration decisions can meet the ordinary elements of issue preclusion. In this case, the TTAB applied the same likelihood-of-confusion standard as is applied in the context of infringement. That the TTAB and district courts use different factors to reach a conclusion does not mean that they apply a different standard. Moreover, those factors are "not fundamentally different." Slip Op. at 16. Where the TTAB has already decided the same issue, and where the other elements of the collateral estoppel doctrine are met, issue preclusion applies.

Additionally, the procedural differences between TTAB and federal court proceedings do not, themselves, defeat issue preclusion. The inquiry is not whether they are different but is instead "whether the procedures used in the first proceeding were fundamentally poor, cursory, or unfair" such that issue preclusion should not apply in the second. Slip Op. at 20. Naturally, situations may arise when the TTAB's proceedings were ill-suited for deciding a particular issue, in which case a party can make a showing that it would be unfair to apply issue preclusion. Additionally, as both the Majority's opinion and Justice Ginsburg's concurring opinion note, for many of the TTAB's registration decisions, issue preclusion will not apply because the required elements of the doctrine will not have been met (i.e. the identical issue must have been actually litigated in a prior proceeding and ultimately decided as a necessary part of the tribunal's final judgment).

The main take away from the Court's ruling is that a TTAB decision can be a final judgment for purposes of collateral estoppel where a party does not exercise its right to appeal, as Hargis failed to do here. However,  contested registrations often are decided by comparing the marks "in the abstract" and apart from actual use in the marketplace. In the majority of cases, then, issue preclusion likely would not be appropriate in a later infringement action. Nonetheless, the Court's ruling undoubtedly will change the way parties approach TTAB proceedings.

The decision raises the stakes for all parties in TTAB proceedings, which previously have been relatively quick and inexpensive in comparison to federal litigation. More time, energy and money will go into the proceedings because the petitioner may not get a "do over" in a later infringement action in court. Similarly, TTAB defendants may invest more in the proceedings if the preclusive effect of the TTAB's judgment in the defendant's favor could essentially function as a declaratory judgment of non-infringement. Alternatively, a defendant may choose simply not to answer a petition to cancel or oppose a registration, opting to take a default judgment and lose the registration instead of proceeding when there is the possibility of an adverse judgment that can pave the way for litigation over damages and injunctive relief. Many trademark owners may forego TTAB proceedings and go directly to court to pursue infringement action and cancellation simultaneously. In court they can seek damages, not available in TTAB proceedings, and can take advantage of more robust proceedings that include live testimony and consideration of a greater scope of facts. Additionally, we are likely to see more appeals from TTAB likelihood-of-confusion decisions. In any event, parties must seriously consider their strategy with respect to both trademark prosecution and enforcement.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions