GM fends off challenge to ‘Super Cruise’ trademark

A self-driving GM Bolt EV is seen during a media event where Cruise, GM’s autonomous car unit, showed off its self-driving cars in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 28, 2017. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

  • Micro Mobio’s nearly identical mark used with different goods
  • TTAB properly affirmed validity of GM’s mark

(Reuters) – General Motors LLC on Tuesday beat back a challenge by computer-component maker Micro Mobio Corp to the “Super Cruise” trademark GM uses for its semi-autonomous vehicle technology.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the companies’ products differ enough that consumers aren’t likely to be confused by the nearly identical marks.

GM spokesperson Darryll Harrison said the company was pleased with the decision. GM’s attorney Dennis Abdelnour of Honigman declined to comment, and Micro Mobio and its attorney Christopher Horgan of Roark IP didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Palo Alto, California-based Micro Mobio sells semiconductors for wireless devices that use “SuperCruise” connectivity technology. It petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2018 to cancel Detroit-based GM’s federal “Super Cruise” trademark, arguing the nearly identical name was likely to cause confusion.

The PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled for GM last year, finding confusion wasn’t likely because the companies’ goods aren’t related and their customer bases don’t overlap, among other things.

Micro Mobio challenged several aspects of the ruling on appeal, arguing the goods were similar because GM’s Super Cruise technology uses products like Micro Mobio’s to function and the board underestimated the strength of its mark.

In Tuesday’s ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge William Bryson, joined by Chief Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore and Circuit Judge Sharon Prost, found “no merit to any of Micro Mobio’s factual or legal challenges.”

The companies’ goods aren’t related, the appeals court affirmed. Bryson said that when the marks are the same, the relevant question is whether the goods could be encountered by the same buyers “under circumstances that could give rise to the mistaken belief that the goods come from a common source,” and that Micro Mobio didn’t meet that standard here.

The parties’ customer bases also don’t overlap, and the court rejected Micro Mobio’s arguments that its products were related because GM’s Super Cruise “contains and depends on computer hardware and software” like Micro Mobio’s.

“The fact that goods such as the computer components that Micro Mobio sells are found in products of all kinds, such as washing machines, watches, toys, and medical instruments, does not mean that computer components of all types are complementary products for each of those devices for purposes of trademark law,” Bryson said.

The Federal Circuit also rejected Micro Mobio’s argument that its trademark was arbitrary, not suggestive of its products, and therefore entitled to stronger protection.

Micro Mobio said its executives chose the “SuperCruise” name simply because they liked the sound of it. But Bryson agreed with the board that the name suggested the technology’s ability to “facilitate the extremely quick and smooth receipt and transfer of signals,” regardless of the company’s reason for choosing it.

Ford had argued earlier this year in a separate case that GM’s “Super Cruise” trademark was generic, as part of a trademark dispute that the two U.S. auto giants have since agreed to settle.

The case is Micro Mobio Corp v. General Motors LLC, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 21-1591.

For Micro Mobio: Christopher Horgan of Roark IP

For GM: Dennis Abdelnour of Honigman

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Blake Brittain

Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com

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