The U.S. Supreme Court does not get to tackle trademark law issues very often. The decision in Hana Financial, Inc. v. Hana Bank, (No. 13-1211; January 21, 2015) is the first pronouncement of the highest Court on trademark matters in more than a decade, and it deals with the issue known as tacking. Trademarks often experience changes in appearance and overall look in the course of many years. These changes can take various forms, such as a modification in lettering style, a rearrangement in the order of words, the dropping of a background design, or the addition of new stylized elements. The tacking doctrine allows a party to claim the earlier priority date of an old mark for a new trademark, if the later involves slight changes over the prior version. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hana Financial addresses narrowly the question as to whether tacking is a matter of law reserved to a judge, or a matter of fact decided by a jury.
Dispelling some prior concerns, the decision does not attempt to make a broader statement regarding the legal standard behind a likelihood of confusion determination. Justice Sotomayor, affirming the Ninth Circuit’s decision, delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court whether two marks may be tacked to determine priority is a question of fact for the jury.