The U.S. Supreme Court navigated around some minor hiccups as it held its first-ever telephone argument, a session that was broadcast live and included two rare sets of questions from the usually silent Justice
The argument Monday in a trademark case gave people across the country an unprecedented chance to hear a Supreme Court hearing as it happened. It’s the first of 10 arguments the court will hold by phone over the next two weeks, as the justices press ahead with their work amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The 75-minute session, which ran 15 minutes longer than planned, went mostly smoothly. The justices rolled out a new questioning format, going one-by-one in order of seniority rather than following their usual practice of jumping in as they see fit.
The format at one point seemed to catch Justice
Ross had a similar bump when it was her turn to offer rebuttal, with Roberts having to call on her twice.
At another point, Justice
The case being argued Monday will determine whether businesses can get federal trademark protection for website names such as Booking.com that center on a commonly used word. Booking.com, owned by
Thomas, who has said he thinks his colleagues ask too many questions, once went 10 years without speaking at an argument. He last
As with most of the justices, his queries Monday didn’t give a clear indication of his leanings. He began by telling Ross he had a “couple of questions.” He asked what would happen if Booking.com acquired a “vanity” phone number, like 1-800-BOOKING, and added that 1-800-PLUMBING is a registered trademark.
During Blatt’s argument, Thomas asked her about the test she said should determine whether a website name can be registered as a federal trademark.
Federal registration gives trademark owners protections on top of the rights they already have under state law. Registration can confer exclusive rights in parts of the country where no one was already using the name or image, help owners win lawsuits and put would-be competitors on notice that a trademark is legally protected.
The administration says registration might let Booking.com sue competitors for using such internet domain names as ebooking.com or hotelbooking.com.
The company says consumers have come to identify Booking.com as a brand that provides valuable reservation services. The company contends that the rejection of its registration applications would put consumers at risk of being misled.
The court will hear three more arguments this week, including a clash Wednesday over the Trump administration’s bid to create a sweeping religious and moral exemption from the Obamacare requirement that employers and universities offer free birth control through their health-care plans. Next week the court will hear two clashes over House and grand jury subpoenas for Trump’s financial records.
The case is U.S. Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com, 19-46.
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