Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’

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.


The End of the Disparagement Clause

Saturday, February 8th, 2020

Under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, there are certain types of marks that may never be registered with the USPTO. Last week, one of the posts discussed deceptive marks, under Section 2(a), which is one type of mark that may not be registered. Under 15 U.S.C. §1052(a) other marks that may not be registered include those which consist or are comprised of “immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute; or a geographical indication which, when used on or in connection with wines or spirits, identifies a place other than the origin of the goods …”

The Disparagement Clause was brought into question in the case Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017).  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Disparagement Clause violates the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause and that it is no longer a valid ground on which to refuse registration or cancel a registration.

In 2015, Simon Tam applied to register his trademark THE SLANTS for the name of his Asian-American band. The registration was denied under §2(a) of the Lanham Act because it was considered disparaging to those of Asian descent. When determining whether or not a mark is potentially disparaging, an examining attorney conducts a two-prong test, (1) The likely meaning of the mark at issue and, “if that meaning is found to refer to identifiable persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols,” the examining attorney will move to the second part of the test, (2) “Whether that meaning may be disparaging to a substantial composite of the referenced group …” If the examiner finds that a “substantial composite, although not necessarily a majority, of the referenced group would find the proposed mark…to be disparaging in the context of contemporary attitudes,” a prima facie case for disparagement is created. At that point, it is the applicant’s burden to prove that the trademark is not disparaging.

Tam argued that he was using the mark to “reclaim” and “take ownership” of stereotypes about people of Asian ethnicity. Regardless, his mark was denied, and he appealed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that affirmed the refusal for registration. Ultimately, Tam appealed to the Supreme Court that concluded that the Disparagement Clause was unconstitutional. The majority found that the clause: “engages in viewpoint-based discrimination, regulates the expressive component of trademarks, and consequently cannot be treated as commercial speech and that the clause is subject to and cannot satisfy strict scrutiny.”(Citation omitted) Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said: “We have said time and again that ‘the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.’”

In Matal the central issue was how the public would perceive the potentially offensive mark. While Tam’s goal was to “reclaim” the disparaging phrase, the USPTO originally denied the trademark registration because it was worried that instead of helping dissolve the negative connotation of the term “slant,” it would have the opposite effect for those who identified as Asian American. Something of note that this case has brought to light, is the portion of the two-prong disparagement test which says, “…to be disparaging in the context of contemporary attitudes.” In 2017, 71 years after the Disparagement Clause was written, contemporary attitudes may be shifting and by finding the Disparagement provision a violation of the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause, it can potentially help in contributing to a more liberal marketplace of ideas.

One of the most immediate and potent effects of the Supreme Court’s official ban on the Disparagement Clause under §2(a) of the Lanham Act, was in regard to the Washington Redskins football team. The Washington Redskins, founded in 1932, was originally named the Boston Braves until they relocated to Washington, D.C. and took on their current moniker in 1933. Between 1967 and 1990, the USPTO registered six trademarks affiliated with the Washington Redskins, each trademark containing the term REDSKIN. Since 1992, the registrations, the previous team owners and current owner, Dan Snyder, have been in constant legal battle with Native American groups who’ve opposed the name and contended that it is in fact disparaging. In 2015, a federal judge canceled the trademark registrations and revoked their trademark protections. However, in light of the 2017 Matal decision, in 2018,  the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the decisions that had previously canceled the Washington NFL team’s federal trademark registrations.

In wake of the Matal decision, the portions of the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) §1203, that specifically apply to the disparagement provision no longer apply. The USPTO Examination Guide 01-17  provides examination guidance after Matal v. Tam for the Disparagement Clause and was issued on June 26, 2017. The guide states: “Applicants that received an advisory refusal under the disparagement provision and were suspended pursuant to Examination Guide 01-16 will be removed from suspension and examined for any other requirements or refusals. If an application was previously abandoned after being refused registration under the disparagement provision, and is beyond the deadline for filing a petition to revive, a new application may be filed.”

After the official barring of the Disparagement Clause, another trademark case, Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019), was heard before the Supreme Court. The trademark, FUCT,  was previously deemed unregistrable under §2(a) which bars registration of marks that consist of or comprise immoral or scandalous matter.   On June 24, 2019, the Supreme Court held that the Scandalous Clause violates the First Amendment of the Constitution because it “impermissibly restricts free speech.” Much like the Disparagement Clause, the Supreme Court held that the scandalous provision was unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause because it was facially viewpoint-based. On July 3, 2019, the USPTO issued Examination Guide 2-19 which provides guidance for §2(a)’s Scandalous Marks Provision after Iancu v. Brunetti. The Examination Guide states: “that a mark may consist of or comprise “immoral” or “scandalous” matter is no longer a valid ground on which to refuse registration or cancel a registration.”  As stated by the Harvard Law Review, “If other provisions are invalidated due to their content-based nature, there will be little left for the government to use as a basis for restricting trademarks.” 133 Harv. L. Rev. 292 (2019)


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.