The TTAB’s Decision on a Mere Descriptiveness Case

In a 2020 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal of registration for the proposed mark SPIDER WOOD for “Decorative ornaments in the nature of natural sculptures of wood for use in terrariums, animal habitats, bird cages, floral arrangements, and interiorscape installations.” The TTAB found the mark to be merely descriptive under §2(e)(1).

When determining whether a mark is merely descriptive or suggestive, the Examining Attorney must look at the mark in its entirety, and if the mark “immediately conveys information concerning a feature, quality, or characteristic of the goods or services for which registration is sought,” then it is considered merely descriptive under §2(e)(1). Further, when determining whether a mark is merely descriptive, the Examining Attorney must consider the mark as a whole, and “do so in the context of the goods or services at issue.” See Real Foods Pty Ltd. v. Frito-Lay N. Am., Inc., 906 F.3d 965, 128 USPQ2d 1370, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2018) and DuoProSS Meditech Corp. v. Inviro Med. Devices, Ltd., 695 F.3d 1247, 103 USPQ2d 1753, 1757 (Fed. Cir. 2012).

 The applicant, Petglobe, first argued that the mark was suggestive, and not descriptive because the product “is a tangled mass of wood roots used in animal habitats,” that “does not have any other clear connection to spiders.” The Examining Attorney submitted a slew of evidence in the form of website excerpts that referred to, and offered, the sale of “spider wood” for terrariums and aquariums. The Board found that the applicant’s argument that the mark was suggestive because there was no clear connection to spiders was invalid. It concluded that the term, SPIDER WOOD, in connection with the goods listed in the application, did indeed have a distinct and commercial impression. It stated that the owners of terrariums, animal habitats and birdcages looking to buy “decorative ornaments in the nature of natural sculptures of wood,” would encounter the term SPIDER WOOD and “[would] immediately know that it is a type of driftwood without having to resort to a multi-step reasoning process, thought, or cogitation.” Therefore, the applicant’s argument that the addition of the word SPIDER before WOOD was negated by the evidence provided. It is important to note that in order for a mark to be found merely descriptive it does not have to describe all of the purposes, functions, characteristics or features of a good or service to be considered merely descriptive. It can be classified as such if the term describes one important function, attribute or property. In a similar fashion, the term does not need to describe all of the goods or services identified on the application, so long as it describes one of them.

The applicant then argued that it was the first to “develop” the mark and the first to use it. Therefore, it claimed that any other industry usage of the mark, for the same goods, was an infringement against its established unregistered trademark. This argument was quickly dismissed as the Board stated that simply because an applicant was the first user or “developer” of merely descriptive mark did not justify its registration if the only significance conveyed by the term was merely descriptive. “Trademark law does not countenance someone obtaining “a complete monopoly on use of a descriptive term simply by grabbing it first.” See KP Permanent Make-Up, Inc. v. Lasting Impression I, Inc., 543 U.S. 111, 122, 72 USPQ2d 1833, 1838 (2004)

In conclusion, the Board affirmed the refusal of registration for the mark SPIDER WOOD as it was found to be merely descriptive under § 2(e)(1).

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