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Belmora LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG—The Well-Known Marks Doctrine Reconsidered


Wee Jin Yeo


June 28, 2016

The territoriality principle, basic to United States trademark law, provides that foreign uses of a trademark do not give the user trademark rights in the United States. An important exception to this principle is the well-known marks doctrine, which allows a foreign user to obtain priority rights in the United States over a mark used exclusively overseas, if it has achieved a measure of renown in the United States. However, until now, it remains uncertain whether the doctrine is part of United States federal trademark law, given the split between the Ninth and the Second Circuits on the issue.

On March 23, 2016, the Fourth Circuit handed down the decision of Belmora LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG, which protected foreign marks neither registered nor used in the United States.

This Article takes this timely opportunity to revive the debate on the applicability of the well-known marks doctrine in trademark law. Analyzing the Fourth Circuit’s decision, this Article argues that it provides a useful insight on how the circuit split should be resolved, but cautions future courts not to mechanically apply the Fourth Circuit’s decision.