Posts Tagged ‘merely descriptive’

Merely Descriptive/ Disclaimer Requirement – DANK TANK

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

In a 2021 non-precedential decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed a disclaimer requirement for the term DANK in the proposed mark DANK TANK for “Ale; Beer.” The Board found the term to be merely descriptive of the applicant’s goods, and therefore without the disclaimer, the proposed mark was unregistrable under §2(e)(1) and §6(a) of the Trademark Act.

Under §2(e)(1), the determination of descriptiveness of an Applicant’s mark, or portion of one, is based on three elements: (1) The relation of the term to the Applicant’s goods or services, (2) The context in which the mark is being used and (3) the possible significance the mark would have to the average purchaser because of the manner of its use or intended use, not in the abstract or on the basis of guesswork. See In re Chamber of Commerce of the U.S., 675 F.3d 1297, 102 USPQ2d 1217, 1219 (Fed. Cir. 2012). If the term is found to be merely descriptive of an Applicant’s goods or services, it is considered to be an unregistrable component of the mark and must be disclaimed.

The Applicant attempted three arguments: First, the Applicant argued that neither the term DANK nor the unitary mark DANK TANK conveyed an immediate idea of the characteristics of the goods, but rather was suggestive of “a beer or ale product that does not include cannabis.” The Applicant reasoned that “customers must apply multiple mental steps, first associating the term ‘tank’ with a beverage and then associating the unitary mark ‘DANK TANK’ with a particular beverage (beer, ale) that does not include cannabis, demonstrates the suggestiveness of the mark.” Second, the Applicant argued that DANK TANK was a unitary mark for the goods at issue and therefore, it should not be dissected in order to require a disclaimer for the term DANK. In its third and final argument, the Applicant maintained that the proposed mark DANK TANK was a double entendre, because “the term ‘dank’ is used by some to refer to cannabis.”

Starting with the Applicant’s first argument, the Board turned to the definition of the term “dank” submitted by the Examining Attorney, and a third-party usage of the term, which was in line with the submitted definition. As defined on UrbanDictionary.com, the term “dank” “means or refers to ‘…sticky, juicy, very pungent and of a high level’ and ‘[v]ery hoppy, cloudy IPAs with high alcohol content and flavors with a very funky taste.’” Further, the Examining Attorney submitted an article from the Washington Post website that said, “…you see, cannabis and hops are relatives, and both get their flavors and aromas from compounds called terpenes. That’s why brewers like to describe super-hoppy IPAs the way that they might talk about marijuana: ‘dank,’ ‘resinous,’ ‘sticky.’” Regarding the submitted definition, the Board stated that simply because no traditional dictionary contained a definition for the term “dank,” it did not mean that the term was not merely descriptive. See In re Thomas Collators, Inc., 158 USPQ 297, 298 (TTAB 1968). Ultimately, in terms of the Applicant’s first argument, the Board concluded that the term was indeed merely descriptive of the listed goods.

Turning the Applicant’s second argument, which held that DANK TANK was a unitary mark, the Board maintained that “A mark is considered unitary when it creates a single and distinct commercial impression separate and apart from the meaning of its constituent elements.” See Dena v. Belvedere, 21 USPQ2d at 1052. Further, “If the matter that comprises the mark or relevant portion of the mark is unitary, no disclaimer of an element, whether descriptive, generic, or otherwise, is required.” See In re EBS Data Processing, 212 USPQ 964, 966 (TTAB 1981). When looking at the Applicant’s proposed mark DANK TANK, the Board found that prospective purchasers who viewed the proposed mark would know that DANK was descriptive of the listed goods, and TANK was defined as “a usually large receptacle for holding, transporting, or storing liquids (such as water or fuel).” So, they would easily find that the proposed mark was comprised of two separate terms. Therefore, the Board concluded that the proposed mark DANK TANK was not a unitary mark and could indeed be dissected for the purpose of a required disclaimer.

Finally, the Board briefly looked at the Applicant’s last argument that the proposed mark was a double entendre. As stated in the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP), “For trademark purposes, a ‘double entendre’ is an expression that has a double connotation or significance as applied to the goods or services. … The multiple interpretations that make an expression a ‘double entendre’ must be associations that the public would make fairly readily.” The Applicant’s argument that the term “dank” was occasionally used to refer to cannabis was not strong enough for the Board to find a double entendre. It found that when the term “dank” was combined with “tank,” it maintained its descriptive significance in relation to the Applicant’s listed goods. So, the Board stated, “Therefore, “DANK” would be perceived by purchasers of Applicant’s ale and beer as signifying a quality, feature or characteristic of those goods resulting in no unitary meaning or double entendre imparted by DANK TANK.”

In conclusion, the Board found that the proposed mark DANK TANK was merely descriptive of the Applicant’s listed goods, it did not create a unitary mark and it did not form a double entendre, therefore, the Board affirmed the disclaimer requirement of the term “dank” under §2(e)(1) and §6(a) of the Trademark Act.

Is CERTIFIED BISON Generic?

Sunday, April 18th, 2021

In a 2021 non-precedential case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal of registration for the mark CERTIFIED BISON, (BISON disclaimed) for “bison meat; prepackaged meals consisting primarily of bison meat and vegetables, all of the aforementioned bison meat being certified,” on the Supplemental Register. The Board found the mark to be generic under §23(c).

Focusing on the term CERTIFIED, as the term BISON was disclaimed, the Board began its analysis of whether or not the addition of the term created comprised a generic mark in relation to the identified goods. The Board made note of a previous Federal Circuit statement pertaining to generic terms. “A term can be generic for a genus of goods or services if the relevant public . . . understands the term to refer to a key aspect of that genus.” Royal Crown Co. v. The Coca-Cola Co., 127 USPQ2d at 1046

In arguing its case for the term CERTIFIED, the Applicant contended that bison meat is not “certified” or otherwise graded by the USDA. It made the case that the goods were “certified” under its own criteria, which were stated on its website. The website explained that the goods met three original criteria: (1) which quality assurances are ensured by Applicant’s certified bison seal, (2) what ranching and animal welfare standards are met under the seal and (3) what food safety inspections, testing and verification are required for the “Certified Bison” seal.

Further, the Applicant maintained that no third-party websites used “certified bison” as a stand-alone term and, that, at most, the term CERTIFIED is descriptive of its identified goods, not generic.

The Board stated, “when the evidence is viewed in its entirety, it is clear that relevant consumers of meat products have been exposed to the concept that meat products may be certified, whether they are certified as organic, grass-fed, raised in a particular manner or genuine.” Turning to the definition of the term “certified,” the dictionary defines it as “genuine, authentic,” which is how it was used in connection with the identified goods. So, the Board found that it was the “applicable genus of goods.” It stated: “[R]elevant consumers perceive the wording CERTIFIED BISON as the subgenus and key aspect of bison meat that meets certain criteria. We cannot ignore what may be plainly obvious — a term may be generic if, by its very definition, it will be primarily understood as a reference to a genus or subgenus of any of the identified goods.”

Turning quickly to the Applicant’s argument regarding the certification of its goods, the Board found that the fact that the certification was not based on U.S. governmental or industry-wide standards, but instead based on its own criteria, or of a purported affiliate i.e., The Bison Counsel, held no merit.

Finally, the Board dismissed the Applicant’s reliance on the Booking.com case, as it did not correlate to the issues at hand. In the cited case, the Court was determining whether a mark comprised of a generic term and top-level domain name was capable of functioning as a service mark for online hotel reservation services. The issue in the case at hand is whether the combination of the term CERTIFIED with the generic, and disclaimed, term BISON created a mark that was generic of the Applicant’s goods. The Board reasoned that “Booking.com is distinguishable because it is technically impossible for there to be more than one ‘booking.com,’ whereas here, the record shows several uses of ‘certified bison’ and reveals that certain meat products are commonly identified as ‘certified.’”

In conclusion, the Board affirmed the refusal to register the mark CERTIFIED BISON and found it to be generic under §23(c) and therefore barred from registration on the Supplemental Register. “We conclude that, taken as a whole, the wording CERTIFIED BISON identifies a subgenus and key aspect of bison meat and, therefore, is the generic name of Applicant’s goods.”

Precedential Decision in CO-OP Bikes Case

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

In a 2020 precedential case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board reversed a refusal for registration for the mark CO-OP for “Bicycles, bicycle seats, bicycle wheels, bicycle tires, bicycle handlebars, bicycle forks and bicycle handlebar stems,” which the USPTO deemed merely descriptive under §2(e)(1).

Under §2(e)(1), marks that are merely descriptive are barred from registration on the Principal Registration. These are marks that immediately convey information about a quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the goods with which it is used. In this case, the Applicant, Recreation Equipment, Inc. (REI), argued that the word “co-op” does not describe the goods cited on the application, which are bikes and bike parts. Moreover, the Applicant argued that other registrants successfully registered marks that included the term “co-op.” The Applicant then cited multiple registrations from the Principal Register, which showed that an entity identifier, i.e., “co-op,” is not technically merely descriptive. The Examining Attorney held firm that the term “co-op” was indeed merely descriptive as it conveyed something about the Applicant, specifically that the Applicant was a cooperative business. The Examining Attorney furthered her argument by citing the Meriam Webster’s definition of the term and pulling evidence from the Applicant’s website that shows the Applicant advertising the fact that it was the “nation’s largest consumer cooperative.” Aside from this evidence, there was no other specific finding to show that the term “co-op” otherwise described the goods.

After reviewing the arguments, the TTAB first explained that there was no per se rule of law that a term descriptive of the source of the goods was necessarily descriptive of the goods themselves. The Board determined that the Examining Attorney had relied on the on broad language in In re Major League Umpires, 60 USPQ2d 1059 and used it as a per serule that a mark merely descriptive of the source of goods, was merely descriptive of the goods themselves. She relied on the Board’s citation in that case that, “[i]t is well-established that a term which describes the provider of goods or services is also merely descriptive of those goods and services.” Id. at 1060 (citing In re E. I. Kane Inc., 221 USPQ 1203 (TTAB 1984) and cases cited therein). In doing so, she refused the registration. However, as the Board stated, that The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) does not have a per se rule equating descriptiveness of the source with descriptiveness of the goods provided. TMEP § 1209.03(q) (Oct. 2018) Since much of this appeal relied on In re Major League Umpires the Board found it imperative to review it. The Board found that in that case specifically, the facts were unusual and did not correlate to the case at hand. In the Umpires case, the Board found that the mark went beyond simply describing something about the source of the goods, but also described characteristics of the goods as well. Specifically, the Board stated that the mark, “also immediately conveys to purchasers’ information about a designer of at least some of the goods.” Major League Umpires, 60 USPQ2d at 1061. Moreover, the Board found that umpires were among a class of purchasers, so the mark was merely descriptive of the goods and the type of purchasers, not simply the general public. Finally, the Board found that, “Consumers will therefore understand the mark MAJOR LEAGUE UMPIRE, if used on the identified goods, to describe goods which are used by major league umpires.” Ultimately, this case had nothing to do with the source of goods specifically, but three different ways in which the mark was merely descriptive of the goods at hand. The Board found that even though the Applicant conceded to the fact that the mark CO-OP described the provider of the product, the evidence was insufficient to support a §2(e)(1) refusal and that there was no evidence to suggest that consumers would perceive the mark as merely descriptive of a quality, feature or characteristic of the applied-for goods.

Second, the Board looked at the term CO-OP in connection with the applied-for goods, which were bikes and bike parts. It found that the record lacked evidence showing what consumers would think when they saw the term in connection with bikes or bike parts. There was no recorded evidence of third-party use of CO-OP or “cooperative” in connection with the type of goods the Applicant was applying for. Had there been, it would have been evidence that potentially signaled mere descriptiveness. Further, the record did not contain any advertising with any descriptive use of the mark in connection with the goods, as existed in Major League Umpires. (In that case, the Applicant was a group of umpires advertising goods made by, and for, umpires.) Finally, there was no evidence that consumers used the term CO-OP in connection with the goods, or that any trade publication referenced the term in connection with bikes or bike parts. The Board cited Dan Robbins & Assocs., Inc. v. Questor Corp., 599 F.2d 1009, 202 USPQ 100, 105 (CCPA 1979) in concluding, “Many types of evidence can shed light on what a term means within a particular context, but no such evidence is of record here.”

In summation, the Board concluded that while some consumers may have been aware that the Applicant was a co-op, the evidence did not support a finding that the mark CO-OP immediately conveyed, to the average consumer, information about a quality, feature or characteristic of bikes and bike parts. It found that the term merely described the Applicant’s business structure and that alone was insufficient for the Board to affirm a §2(e)(1) refusal to register. Therefore, the Board reversed the refusal to register.

TTAB Mere Descriptiveness Case

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021

In a 2020 non-precedential decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the mere descriptiveness refusal for THE CARDIO GROUP for “retail store services featuring medical devices,” along with medical training, teaching and non-downloadable instructional videos.  The TTAB agreed with the examining attorney’s findings and ultimately found that the Applicant’s mark was merely descriptive of the provided services as it described the features of all listed services.

Given that the mark was a composite mark, the examining attorney examined each portion of the mark separately to determine whether or not the mark as a whole was merely descriptive. First examining the portion CARDIO, the examining attorney found that the term, in connection with the Applicant’s services, was descriptive in both meaning and connotation. Turning to the term GROUP, the examining attorney argued that the term “group,” when used in a mark, is “commonly considered generic for a provider of services.” That statement aside, the next task was to figure out whether the commonly generic term was descriptive of the Applicant’s services. The examining attorney found that not only did the term refer to a cardio medical group as the source of the applicant’s services, but also described features of the services themselves. Finally, the examining attorney looked at the term THE and argued that the term had no independent meaning and was simply a definite article preceding the nouns “CARDIO” and “GROUP.”  In light of CARDIO’s descriptiveness, and GROUP’s genericness, the portion THE added no extra source-indicating significance to the Applicant’s mark.

In defense of the mark, the Applicant argued that the proposed mark did not retain the meaning of each of the words that comprise the mark. Moreover, the Applicant argued that there was no dictionary definition listed for “the cardio group,” and therefore, “consumers could have latitude to interpret its meaning.” The Court dismissed the latter argument quickly in reiterating that a mark does not have to appear in a dictionary in order for it to be merely descriptive of the Applicant’s services. In a final argument, the applicant reasoned that consumers would need to “undergo a multi-stage research and reasoning process” in order to understand what goods were provided under the mark and claimed the mark should be suggestive for the provided services. Turning to excerpts from the Applicant’s website, the Court found that the term CARDIO, in reference to heart-related services, immediately conveyed information about the Applicant’s services.

Ultimately, the Court found that the proposed mark, in connection with the specified services, conveyed information immediately about the services, and the wording, THE CARDIO GROUP, did not signify anything more than the plain meaning of each separate term. The mark was deemed to be merely descriptive under §2 (e)(1) and therefore unregistrable.

Most Recent Rulings on Descriptiveness

Friday, January 31st, 2020

As discussed on the post regarding merely descriptive marks, when determining whether a mark is merely descriptive or not, the decision must be made in direct relation to the goods or services with which it is being used. An examining attorney at the USPTO must look at the possible significance that the mark would have to the general consumers of the goods or services in the marketplace. Often, marks are considered merely descriptive under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act because they are terms that could be used to describe an entire category of goods or services. If a mark has been deemed merely descriptive and therefore unregistrable with the USPTO, an applicant may go before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board on appeal. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board will either affirm the refusal for registration or reverse the decision in favor of the applicant. Below are some of the most recent 2019 Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decisions affirming refusal for registration under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act:

In a 2019 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration of the merely descriptive mark 19 CRIMES, for video and audio works and production, distribution and rental of recorded entertainment. The Board agreed with the Examining Attorney that the mark conveys an immediate knowledge of a feature of the goods or services, “namely, that the information and entertainment provided relates to the 19 crimes of 18thand 19th Century Britain that led to involuntary colonization in Australia.” The applicant argued that the mark was more suggestive than descriptive because the term 19 CRIMES does not directly provide any information about the goods or services for which it is being used. He explained that though his intended goods and services may revolve around that period of time, the material will be centered on unique stories of a few “incorrigible rogues” and their lives. The Board then stated that the mark could not be looked at in such a specific light, but in the context of the applicant’s goods and services. Continuing, the Board said that mark was broadly worded and encapsulated the 19 crimes wholly. In turn, the applicant argued that the mark was suggestive because his goods and services related to the individuals who were transported to Australia, not the crimes themselves; therefore, the mark does not “immediately or directly describe any feature, characteristic or quality of those goods or services.” The applicant said it would take the consuming public some stretch of the imagination to relate the mark to the goods and services for which it is being used. The Board disagreed but still gave an observation on the mark: “…merely describe[s] the nineteen crimes themselves under the broadly stated subject matter of Applicant’s goods and services.” In this fashion, the Board held the mark to be merely descriptive.

In a 2019 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration of the merely descriptive mark SKEETER BAND, in connection with “mosquito repellent bracelets.”  In the first step of examination, the Examining Attorney submitted dictionary definitions for each term, “skeeter” and “band.” In doing so, the Examining Attorney found “skeeter” to mean a mosquito and “band” to mean “a flat, narrow band of material that you put around something.” Not only did the Attorney submit dictionary definitions, but multiple third-party registrations where either the word “skeeter” or “band” was disclaimed. The Board concurred that the terms SKEETER and BAND were merely descriptive when used in connection with the product. Furthermore, the Board also found that the two words taken together did not create a new or incongruous meaning, they held their original meaning and merely conveyed knowledge of a quality, feature, function or characteristic of the good. The applicant argued that SKEETER had more than one meaning in the dictionary, but the Board pointed out that the meaning of the term must be determined in direct relation to the goods, not in the abstract. Following, the applicant argued that SKEETER is an informal term meaning “mosquito,” however, the dictionary recognizes SKEETER as a common synonym for mosquito and, “is not so informal or obscure as to defy consumer understanding.” In a final argument, the applicant argued that SKEETER BAND did not instantly translate to “mosquito repellent band,” but the Board dismissed this argument in saying, “it is well settled that consumers have a habit of shortening names.” In light of this, the Board held that the mark was merely descriptive.

In another 2019 non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the refusal for registration of the merely descriptive mark BIKESTYLE, in connection with cycling apparel ranging from gloves to cycling jerseys and rainwear. The Examining Attorney found that the mark’s “wording merely describes a characteristic of applicant’s goods, specifically, a type of fashion made for riding a bicycle.” To support this statement, the Attorney provided dictionary definitions for the terms “cycling,” “bike” and “style.” In response, the applicant said that the mark did not refer directly to “fashion made for riding a bicycle…” rather it referred to the cyclists’ “way of life.” The applicant went on to argue that the mark was suggestive because it did not immediately convey the idea of clothing, and it would take the consuming public a moment to connect the mark with the goods. In consensus with the Examining Attorney, the Board maintained that the terms together, as a composite, were merely descriptive and did not evoke a “new or unique commercial impression.” As a result, the applicant argued that the term “style” had multiple meanings. Again, the Board rejected this argument saying, “That a term may have other meanings in different contexts is not controlling.” Simply, the mark is to be examined in direct relation with the goods or services for which it is used, not in the abstract. In a final argument, the applicant reasoned that no other third-party used the terms “bikestyle,” “bike style” or “bicycle style.” However, the Board reiterated that it is not necessary for the USPTO to show that others have used the mark or term in a similar fashion. The Board stated, “it is well established that even if an applicant is the only user of a merely descriptive term, this does not justify registration of that term.” In sum, the Board concluded that the mark was merely descriptive in accordance with the three reasons above.

When it comes to determining whether or not a mark is merely descriptive, each case is determined based upon its own set of facts. The three cases above were all deemed merely descriptive and therefore the marks were not afforded protection under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act. In order for a merely descriptive mark to be afforded protection, it must acquire a secondary meaning. However, even if a mark acquires a secondary meaning, it is not a guarantee that it will be eligible for registration with the USPTO.

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.

 

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