By Michael Fuller, Esq.
Anyone who has ever visited Ocean City or Rehoboth Beach for vacation is familiar with the Skee-Ball bowling games that can be found in nearly any arcade. A bar in Brooklyn, NY is hoping to prove that the term “Skee-Ball” is actually generic and therefore ineligible for trademark protection.
The bar, called Full Circle, started a “Brewskee-Ball” league in 2005 at their bar. The co-owner of the Brewskee-Ball league insists that Skee-Ball Inc., the owners of the Skee-Ball mark, gave him permission to start his league and to use the Brewskee-Ball name, but in 2010 they sent Full Circle LLC a cease and desist letter ordering them to stop using the name. In 2011 Skee-Ball Inc. sued Full Circle LLC for infringing the Skee-Ball trademark. Full Circle LLC countersued, alleging that the Skee-Ball mark is generic and therefore invalid. The two cases were consolidated in the Eastern District of New York but both cases failed to progress very far beyond that.
Now Full Circle LLC has retained John Johnson and Kristen McCallion, partners at Fish & Richardson, an Am Law 100 IP firm, to reignite the case. They are petitioning TTAB to cancel Skee-Ball’s registered trademark by arguing that it is a generic term that describes a sport and therefore not registrable.
If Skee-Ball Inc. doesn’t respond to this argument, their mark will become generic. However, retaining Fish & Richardson will cost Full Circle LLC a lot of money, so they have actually launched a crowdfunding campaign called “Skee the People” to help with their legal costs.
So the next time you’re “down the ocean” playing Skee-Ball, ask yourself—are you engaged in the sport of “skee-ball”, or in your mind will it always be “Skee-Ball™”? If it’s the former (and TTAB agrees with you), you could see many more Skee-Ball games in the future.