Deceptively Misdescriptive Marks

Under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act, there are several types of marks that may not be registered with the USPTO: merely descriptive marks, deceptively misdescriptive marks, primarily geographically descriptive marks, geographically deceptively misdescriptive marks, marks that are primarily a surname and marks that compromise any matter, used wholly, is functional. This article will explore marks that are deceptively misdescriptive. A mark is deceptively misdescriptive if it immediately conveys a certain idea, but the idea is false, although plausible. Simply, a mark may not be registered, if people who encounter the mark, in connection with the goods or services for which it is being used, are likely to believe the misrepresentation. Deceptively misdescriptive marks fall somewhere between marks that consist of (or) comprise immoral, deceptive or scandalous matter, which may not be registered under §2(a), and arbitrary marks which may be registered on the Principal Register.

The Federal Circuit devised a two-prong test to determine whether a mark is deceptively misdescriptive or merely deceptive.

The trademark examining attorney must first decide if the term is misdescriptive of the character, quality, function, composition or use of the goods or services for which it is being used.  It is the examining attorney’s job to record evidence demonstrating why the mark is misdescriptive. Specifically, the record must show the meaning of the term in question, and that the identification indicates that the applicant’s goods or services do not have the feature or characteristic. Several examples of evidence are dictionary definitions, Internet websites, point-of-purchase displays, advertising materials, product information sheets, hang tags and trade journals. An applicant’s statement in reference to his/her goods or services may also satisfy the first component of the test. An example of a misdescriptive term is APPLE for computer products. However, the consuming public is unlikely to believe the misrepresentation conveyed through the mark. This would make the misdescriptive term an arbitrary mark.

The second component of the test examines whether the idea conveyed is plausible, and how likely the consuming public would be to believe the misrepresentation of the mark in connection with goods or services for which it is being used. In order to prove this prong of the test, an examining attorney must provide evidence that the description conveyed by the mark is plausible by demonstrating that potential consumers regularly encounter goods or services that contain the features or services in the mark. For example, in a 1988 Federal Circuit case, an applicant attempted to register the mark LOVEE LAMB for seat covers that were not made of the lamb. In order to demonstrate the believability of the idea conveyed in the mark, the examining attorney provided evidence that seat covers can be made of lambskin and sometimes are made of lambskin, therein proving that the consuming public would be likely to believe the misrepresentation conveyed by the mark. Much like the first prong, an applicant’s hangtags, labels, advertising and product information may also provide evidence of the believability of the misdescription.

Furthermore, the fact that the true nature of the goods or services is revealed by other elements on the labels, advertisements or other materials with which the mark is connected does not preclude a determination that a mark is deceptively misdescriptive.

Following is an example of a mark that was refused registration because it was deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act.

In a 2006 precedential opinion by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the Board affirmed refusal for registration of the deceptively misdescriptive mark SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, for books and media services. The examining attorney provided evidence that established that the date of Sept. 11, 2001, “acquired special significance in America.” The examining attorney went on to clarify that the date was used as a common reference to the terrorist attacks that occurred on that date. In satisfying the first prong of the two-prong test, the Board determined that the term was misdescriptive in connection to the applicant’s goods which did not in any way cover the events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. In a similar fashion, the second prong was satisfied when the Board ruled that in light of the many books, articles and shows about the events that took place on that date, it would be likely for consumers to believe the misdescription of the mark. The Board concluded, “While the nature of the misdescription would become known after consumers studied applicant’s books and entertainment services, that does not prevent the mark from being deceptively misdescriptive.”

Marks that have been refused registration under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act on the ground of deceptive misdescriptiveness may be registerable under §2(f) of the Act if they have acquired distinctiveness, or on the Supplemental Register if appropriate. Marks that have been found deceptive under §2(a) of the Act may not be registered on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register in any case.


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