Posts Tagged ‘acquired distinctiveness’

Is BARSKI Primarily Merely a Surname?

Friday, April 30th, 2021

In a 2021 non-precedential case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board reversed the §2(e)(4) refusal to register the mark BARSKI for or beverage glassware, pitchers, ice buckets and various other items in Class 21 and found that the mark was not primarily merely a surname.

Under §2(e)(4)  a term is primarily merely a surname “if, when viewed in relation to the goods or services for which registration is sought, its primary significance to the purchasing public is that of a surname.” See Earnhardt v. Kerry Earnhardt, Inc., 864 F.3d 1374, 123 USPQ2d 1411, 1413 (Fed. Cir. 2017). If the mark is primarily merely a surname, and absent acquired distinctiveness, it cannot be registered on the Principal Register. When determining whether or not a term is primarily merely a surname there is no specific rule or  amount of evidence necessary to show that the mark would be perceived as primarily merely a surname – the Board must base its decision on the facts at hand in each case. See In re Pohang Iron & Steel Co., 230 USPQ 79, 79 (TTAB 1986). Though there is no test, there are certain circumstances that are taken into consideration when examining the mark to decide if the public would perceive the mark as primarily merely a surname. Following are the circumstances applicable in the case at hand: (1) The frequency and extent of public exposure to the term as a surname, (2) Whether the term is the surname of anyone connected with Applicant, (3) Whether the term has any recognized meaning other than as a surname (4) And whether the term has the structure and pronunciation of a surname. See Darty, 225 USPQ at 653-54; In re Eximius Coffee, LLC, 120 USPQ2d 1276, 1278 n.4 (TTAB 2016).

The Board began its examination of the proposed mark BARSKI by first determining whether or not the term was indeed a surname. It found that though the BARSKI was not associated with the Applicant, the evidence of record showed that multiple people in the United States did have the surname BARSKI. Moreover, the name, which is of Polish origin, had no “ordinary language meaning,” and “ surnames of Polish origin often end with the letters ‘SKI.’”

The Applicant argued that the proposed mark BARSKI is not primarily merely a surname, and the public would perceive it as a fanciful term. The Board dismissed the Applicant’s evidence from that showed multiple definitions for the terms “BARSKY” and “BARSKIES,” as neither of which were the actual proposed mark BARSKI. The Applicant then argued that BARSKI was a coined term that was a combination of the Applicant’s founders’ names (“BaumgARten and ZablotSKY [pronounced ‘ski’]”). However, the Board stated, “Applicant’s argument concerning the origin of ‘Barski’ as a combination of Applicant’s founders’ surnames, neither of which includes the three-letter strings ‘bar’ or ‘ski,’ is unconvincing.”

Finally, the Board turned back to the question at hand: When applied to Applicant’s goods, would the purchasing public be more likely to perceive the mark BARSKI, in standard characters, as a surname rather than as anything else? “[I]t is that impact or impression which should be evaluated in determining whether or not the primary significance of a word when applied to a product is a surname significance. If it is, and it is only that, then it is primarily merely a surname.” See Ex parte Rivera Watch Corp., 106 USPQ 145, 149 (Comm’r Pat. 1955). Ultimately, the Board stated, “The evidence in this case does not show sufficient public exposure to the uncommon surname BARSKI from which we can conclude that consumers likely would perceive BARSKI as a surname.” Further it found that when the proposed mark was associated with the identified goods, consumers would likely perceive BARSKI as a coined term, and “particularly as a clever bar-related play on the noun ‘brewski’ (a U.S. slang term for ‘beer’), and that this meaning would be the primary perception of BARSKI to the public.” So, the Board reversed the §2(e)(4)  refusal to register the mark BARSKI.


Friday, April 9th, 2021

In a 2021 non-precedential case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board reversed a §2(d) likelihood of confusion refusal of registration for the mark VALLKREE for “electric bicycles, electric go-karts, electric tricycles and various parts, ‘all of the foregoing not for use with motorcycles and their parts…’” It found that the applied-for mark was not likely to be confused with the registered mark VALKYRIE for “land motor vehicles, namely, motorcycles and structural parts therefor.”

Using the relevant DuPont factors, the Board began its analysis starting with the strength of the marks. “A mark’s strength is measured both by its conceptual strength (distinctiveness) and its marketplace strength (secondary meaning).” In re Chippendales USA Inc., 622 F.3d 1346, 96 USPQ2d 1681, 1686 (Fed. Cir. 2010). Beginning with the inherent strength of the registered mark VALKYRIE, which is defined as “any of the beautiful maidens attendant upon Odin who bring the souls of slain warriors chosen by Odin or Tyr to Valhalla and there wait upon them.”  The Board found the term, in relation to the cited goods, “at most evokes beauty, divinity or fortitude and thus mildly suggests a quality of the recited goods or the experience of riding them.” Therefore, in terms of inherent strength, it found VALKYRIE inherently distinctive in relation to the identified goods. Moreover, as the mark VALKYRIE is on the Principal Register, and did not require a claim of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f), the Board stated that it must presume that the mark was inherently distinctive, with no need to acquire a secondary meaning.

Turning to the first DuPont factor, the Board looked at the marks in their entirety in regard to their similarities and dissimilarities. “It is sufficient if the similarity in either form, spelling or sound alone is likely to cause confusion.” In re Inn at St. John’s, LLC, 126 USPQ2d 1742, 1746 (TTAB 2018).  Comparing the Applicant’s mark VALLKREE to the registered mark VALKYRIE, the Board first pointed out the obvious similarities: (1) Both marks have eight letters, (2) Six of the eight letters are the same and (3) the six identical letters are in the same sequence. So, the marks were found to be visually similar. In terms of the sound of the marks, the Board found that they sounded phonetically similar as the two letters in the marks that are not the same sound similar and are in similar spots. And, while the Board maintained that there is no correct pronunciation of trademarks, it held that “it stands to reason that the two marks will be verbalized in a very similar manner by consumers.” In addition, the Applicant indicated that the term VALLKREE had no meaning in a foreign language, nor was it recognized in the English language. So, the Board concluded that VALLKREE could likely be perceived by consumers as a clever or fanciful take on the known term VALKYRIE. Given these conditions, the first DuPont factor weighed in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion.

Finally, the Board examined the second DuPont factor, the similarity or dissimilarity of the goods, channels of trade and class of consumer. The Examining Attorney argued that the goods cited in the registrations for both VALLKREE and VALKYRIE were related, “because the same entities frequently provide both applicants’ and registrant’s goods and market the goods in the same channels of trade. As the evidence of record shows, it is common for entities to offer both applicant[’s] and registrant’s goods.” The Board found that the Examining Attorney submitted insufficient evidence to establish that the goods in the cited registration were related to the Applicant’s goods or that consumers were likely to believe the Applicant’s goods came from the same source as those in the cited registration. Thus, the second DuPont factor weighed in favor of finding confusion unlikely.

In conclusion, while the Board found that the marks VALKREE and VALKYRIE were highly similar in their appearance, sound and connotation, the Applicant’s goods were not related to those under the cited mark. So, the refusal to register the Applicant’s mark VALLKREE under §2(d) was reversed.

USPTO’s Updated Genericness Guide

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

In the highly followed 2020 case USPTO v. the Supreme Court rejected the USPTO’s per se rule that a proposed mark that consisted of a generic term and a generic top-level domain, such as .com, .net, .org, .biz or .info, is automatically generic. The Court stated that “[w]hether any given ‘’ term is generic … depends on whether consumers in fact perceive that term as the name of a class or, instead, as a term capable of distinguishing among members of the class.” Ultimately, the Court ruled that the mark BOOKING.COM was non-generic for travel services and eligible for registration. So, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Examining Attorney in such a case must evaluate the mark using the standard generic analysis. Further, these terms, known as “” terms, may be registrable on the Principal or Supplemental Register if the Applicant can show sufficient acquired distinctiveness. However, it must be noted that these marks may still be refused as generic marks when appropriate.

In the wake of Supreme Court’s decision, the USPTO released an updated version of Examination Guide 3-20 for Terms after USPTO v. In this new guide, the USPTO stated:

  1. Though the ruling in com stated that marks are neither per se generic or per se non-generic, they are likely to be, at minimum, highly descriptive, under §2(e). This then increases the applicant’s burden of proving that the mark has previously acquired distinctiveness under §2(f).
  2. In supporting a claim under §2(f), an applicant maybe submit the following as evidence: (1) consumer surveys, (2) consumer declarations, (3) relevant and probative evidence displaying the duration, extent and nature of the usage of the proposed mark and (4) any other appropriate evidence that shows the proposed mark distinguishes the goods or services to consumers.
  3. In terms of consumer surveys, any consumer surveys submitted by the applicant to support a §2(f) claim must be accurately designed and interpreted in order to ensure they are reliable representations of the consumers’ perception of the proposed mark.
  4. In terms of a §2(f) claim, if the mark is found to be generic for the proposed goods or services, the Examining Attorney must refuse registration of the mark due to genericness and indicate that a claim of acquired distinctiveness cannot override the refusal.
  5. In regard to the protection of a proposed mark, the updated guidelines warn that this type of mark may be limited to a narrow scope of protection and the Examining Attorney must be wary of this when considering whether or not to cite an existing mark against a later-filed proposed mark with the same terms.
  6. Finally, the updated guide reviews the existing procedure for reviewing generic marks and states that the previous generic analysis test is still appropriate when analyzing generic marks.

In conclusion, though the decision affords marks the possibility of registration, an Applicant must be able to prove acquired distinctiveness, and there is no guarantee that a mark will not be barred from registration under the existing genericness guidelines. In the updated guide, the USPTO reminds Applicants and Examining Attorneys alike that all cases must be considered of their own merit with consideration given to all likelihood-of-confusion factors for which there is evidence of record. Go to for the complete updated Examination Guide 3-20.


What is Secondary Meaning/Acquired Distinctiveness?

Monday, January 20th, 2020

When it comes to choosing a trademark, it is important to understand that trademarks are categorized on the Spectrum of Distinctiveness. There are five categories of marks from weakest to strongest: generic, descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary and fanciful. Generic terms may not be trademarked.

Descriptive marks, which are the second weakest, may become eligible for trademark protection under the Lanham Act if they acquire a secondary meaning (i.e. acquires distinctiveness). A secondary meaning is when a descriptive term having a common meaning, takes on a different meaning so that, over time, in the minds of the public, the term becomes synonymous with an owner’s specific goods or services. An owner is required to prove that the term’s secondary meaning is associated with the owner and not the goods or services in general. An example of a descriptive mark that has acquired a secondary meaning is SHARP for the brand of televisions. While the general public knows the meaning of the term “sharp” as a general descriptor, that is descriptive of the picture on the television, it has acquired a secondary meaning, and is now associated with the specific brand of televisions, not just televisions in general.

When determining whether or not a mark has acquired distinctiveness the courts consider four factors: (1) the length and nature of a mark’s use, (2) the nature and extent of advertising and promotion of the name, (3) the efforts of the owner to promote a conscious connection between the name and the business and (4) the degree of actual recognition by the public that the name designates the owner’s product or service.

Regarding the length and nature of a mark’s use, the mark must be used for a minimum period of five years exclusively and continuously in order to be considered eligible for protection. However, even if the owner has met the five-year minimum period of exclusive and continuous use, it is not a guarantee that the Trademark Office and courts will accept that the mark has acquired distinctiveness.

In terms of the second factor, the Trademark Office and courts consider the extent to which the owner advertised and promoted the name in connection with his/her goods or services. Examples of what courts consider when assessing this factor include the geographical extent of the advertisements and promotional efforts, advertising expenditure reports and the number of sales or consumers in correlation with the advertisements and promotions.

The third factor, the owner’s efforts to promote a conscious connection between the name and the business, relates to what steps the owner has taken to make his/her mark synonymous with his/her goods or services. Promotional films highlighting the product or service’s unique strengths and qualities in connection to the mark are an example of this.

Finally, the fourth and often most telling factor is the degree of actual recognition by the public that the name designates the owner’s product or service. Actual recognition can be proven through direct evidence such as consumer testimonies and market surveys. Testimonies or signed statements by other providers in the industry are powerful indicators of actual recognition as well.

Though these are the four criteria that the Trademark Office and courts assess when considering if a mark has acquired secondary meaning, there are no absolutes. Meaning, an owner who can provide minimal evidence to support each of the four components may be denied protection, while an owner who can provide strong evidence for three of the four components may be deemed eligible for protection. If the Trademark Office or a court fails to find secondary meaning strong enough for federal protection, an owner can continue to use his/her mark under common law use.


Hot Topics


Practice Areas

Trade Secrets
Internet Law
The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. Before you decide, ask us to send you free written information about our qualifications and experience. This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.