Punchbowl News wins fight over ‘Punchbowl’ name at U.S. appeals court

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  • Party-planning site Punchbowl sued D.C. news outlet over trademarks
  • Court says Punchbowl News name is not misleading

(Reuters) – Political news outlet Punchbowl News persuaded a U.S. appeals court to rule on Monday that its name does not violate the trademark rights of online party-planning service Punchbowl Inc.

Punchbowl News’ use of its name is protected by the U.S. constitution and would not mislead potential consumers, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday.

The companies and their attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.

Punchbowl Inc sued Punchbowl News’ parent company, AJ Press LLC, for trademark infringement last year in Los Angeles federal court. District Judge Stephen Wilson found that the Punchbowl News name was entitled to enhanced First Amendment protection as part of an “expressive work” and that Punchbowl Inc could not meet the heightened standard of showing that the name was explicitly misleading.

The 9th Circuit upheld the decision on Monday. It rejected Punchbowl Inc’s argument that Punchbowl News, as a brand name, was not expressive.

“The Punchbowl Mark is being used to promote articles and other materials that are clearly expressive in nature and core First Amendment material,” U.S. Circuit Judge Daniel Bress wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.

The appeals court also agreed with the lower court that AJ Press’ name was not misleading.

“No reasonable buyer would believe that a company that operates a D.C. insider news publication is related to a ‘technology company’ with a ‘focus on celebrations, holidays, events and memory-making,'” Bress said.

The case is Punchbowl Inc v. AJ Press LLC, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-55881.

For Punchbowl Inc: Peter Willsey of Brown Rudnick

For Punchbowl News: Ian Ballon of Greenberg Traurig

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Blake Brittain

Thomson Reuters

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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