In a precedential Trademark Trial and Appeal board (TTAB) decision, the Board held that an applied-for trademark consisting of multiple colors on product packaging, without any distinct shape, pattern or design, can never be inherently distinctive. See In re Forney Industries, Inc., Serial No. 86269096 (September 10, 2018). Applicant Forney Industries, Inc. sought to register a color scheme on the Principal Register, consisting of a black banner above a yellow to red color gradient for use on the product packaging of its various metal hardware and other small welding tools.
This is part 3 of a 3 part blog. Please click here to read Part 1 – Generic Marks. Please click here to read Part 2 – Merely Descriptive & Geographically Descriptive.
A mark can be refused registration if it bears a significant resemblance to a government insignia. In In re Shabby Chic Brands LLC, 122 USPQ2d 1139 (TTAB 2017), Shabby Chic Brands, LLC sought to register an image of “an ornate, feathered crown” for a variety of furniture and decorative housewares. The Trademark Examining Attorney refused registration based on Section 2(b) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits registration of marks that “consist of or comprise the flag or coat of arms or other insignia. . . of any foreign nation.” The Examining Attorney believed the proposed mark resembled the official emblem of the Prince of Wales, according to the illustration filed in accordance with the Paris Convention.
This is part 2 of a 3 part blog. Please click here to read Part 1 – Generic Marks. Please click here to read Part 3 – Government Insignia & Surname.
Trademarks are also non-registrable under the Lanham Act if the mark, when used in connection with applicant’s goods or services, is merely descriptive of them. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(e)(1). In a recent case, In re Houston Bites, LLC, Serial No. 87170141, applicant Houston Bites LLC attempted to register “Houston Bites” for services identified as “providing a website featuring non-downloadable photographs regarding restaurants, food and beverages.” The examining USPTO attorney refused registration on the ground that the mark was merely descriptive of the service in question: providing a website of photos related to light meals and snacks located in Houston, Texas. Houston was merely descriptive of applicant’s location, and a dictionary entry that defined “bites” as light meals or snacks bolstered the notion that the word bites was merely descriptive of what applicant’s services provided images of. If all individual components of the mark were descriptive, then the composite mark was also descriptive and not registrable. Continue Reading Hurdles to Federal Trademark Registration Part 2 – Merely Descriptive & Geographically Descriptive
Trademarks are product differentiators that help consumers recognize familiar brands that customers have come to associate with a certain perceived level of goodwill, reputation, quality, taste, consistency, and style. A form of shorthand, a unique signature of sorts, a trademark signals to consumers the source or origin of a particular good or service.
Walking into a McDonalds, we know how a cheeseburger is going to taste. Seeing a red and white striped curved awning with green domes that extend above the awning, we can expect to enjoy custard ice cream or Italian ice from Rita’s Italian Ice. Coffee served in a cup with a two tailed mermaid is, as we all know, from Starbucks.
This is part 1 of a 3 part blog. Please click here to read Part 2 – Merely Descriptive & Geographically Descriptive. Please click here to read Part 3 – Government Insignia & Surname.
Despite being used lawfully in commerce, a trade or service mark may be refused registration by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) under Section 2 of the Trademark Act of 1946 (the “Lanham Act”) if the proposed mark is “generic,” “merely descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive,” or likely “to cause confusion” with another registered or used mark.
Courts recognize four trademark categories within which every mark must fall: (1) Generic marks, (2) Descriptive marks, (3) Suggestive marks, and (4) Arbitrary or Fanciful marks.[i] At the far end on the spectrum, warranting the greatest level of trademark protection, stands arbitrary or fanciful marks—those words which offer no inherent description of the product. On the opposite end of the spectrum lies generic marks—those made up of common descriptors to which courts afford no trademark protection.[ii]
In recent years, various government branches and departments across the country who are responsible for policing the government’s own trademarks have been sending cease-and-desist letters and filing suit against local businesses that are using trademarks likely to either cause confusion as to the government’s sponsorship of or affiliation with the companies or dilute the famous qualities of the government’s distinctive marks.
In 2017, two registration prohibiting provisions of the Trademark Act of 1946 (“The Lanham Act”) were found unconstitutional under the First Amendment. These decisions raise important considerations for persons and companies whose trademarks may have been previously denied registration on such grounds or those considering registration of plausibly disparaging or scandalous marks.
In Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744, 1765 (2017), the lead singer of the rock group “THE SLANTS” appealed The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) refusal to register his band name as a trademark on the principal register due to a Lanham Act provision which prohibits registration of marks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” 15 U.S.C. §1052(a).
The band members sought to take control of an Asian ethnic stereotype commonly used to criticize them but were denied registration because “slants” is a derogatory remark used to disparage those of Asian descent.
As you may have read in our last article, a color or a color scheme can sometimes fall under a company’s trademark if they can prove its distinctiveness. However, what isn’t enough to meet the trademark threshold?
General Mills sought registration of the predominant, yellow color of its well-known Cheerios boxes by attempting to prove the sunny yellow alone was distinctive to their brand. They argued that under Section 2(f) of the Lanham Act, the color yellow had acquired distinctiveness because consumers have come to identify the color yellow, when used in connection with toroidal, oat-based breakfast cereal, as coming specifically from the Cheerios brand, as evidenced through consumer surveys and expert reports. The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), however, refused registration of the color mark on the grounds that the General Mills had failed to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness.
The average consumer has probably heard of terms like “trademark” and “copyright” before, but what falls under trademark? Do colors or color schemes fall under the category of a trademark? The answer may surprise you.
Trademarks and service marks are “any word, name, symbol, or device, or of any combination thereof” that identify and distinguish a mark owner’s goods or services from those manufactured or sold by others. They act as source indicators of the goods or services provided by the mark owner. See 15 U.S.C. § 1127. Dilution occurs when an infringer uses a mark similar to that of a famous trademark, thereby lessening or reducing a consumer’s ability to differentiate between the goods and services of each.