Most everyone knows of the phrase “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. The phrase associates with legendary heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, a.k.a. Muhammad Ali.  In 61 total fights, he obtained 56 wins with 37 of those wins being by knockout. Accordingly, he is widely considered the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. He first used the iconic phrase to defend his fighting style before entering the ring for what would be a life-changing fight with Sonny Liston. As the underdog, Muhammad Ali won the fight by technical knockout to take home his first heavyweight title.

Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

Muhammad Ali Enterprises, LLC (“Ali”) owns all rights to the name, likeness and image of the legendary boxer. They also own numerous trademarks associated with the boxer. Such marks include FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE® for a variety of goods.

Ascend Concepts. Inc. (“Ascend”) recently filed a trademark application for FLOAT & STING. The mark lists digital media production services and development of advertising campaigns for various media in class 35. Ali instituted an opposition proceeding with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to oppose registration of the mark. Ali alleges a likelihood of confusion and a false connection with their FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE® marks.

Likelihood of Confusion

Ali alleges a likelihood of confusion given the similarity between the marks. They allege Ascend’s mark is confusingly similar in sight, sound, and overall commercial impression. Ali alleges the mark so closely resembles Ali’s marks, its use falsely suggests a connection with the boxer Muhammad Ali. Such connection implies that the services offered by Ascend are either associated with or authorized by Ali.

The Examiner for Ascend’s mark did not cite any of the FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE® marks against it. However, this is not dispositive of a lack of likelihood of confusion. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board will weigh the evidence presented by both sides and evaluate the similarity of the marks using the Dupont factors.

In a likelihood of confusion case, the important consideration is whether an ordinary consumer would be confused as to the source of the goods.  Given the similarity of the marks as a whole and the potential association in consumer’s minds with Muhammad Ali, Ascend may have a difficult time overcoming a likelihood of confusion. Ascend has until May 3rd to file their response.

Michele Lawson

Michele Lawson is a U.S. Registered Patent Attorney.