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Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure
April 2014
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1202    Use of Subject Matter as Trademark

In an application under §1 of the Act, the examining attorney must determine whether the subject matter for which registration is sought is used as a trademark by reviewing all evidence (e.g., the specimen and any promotional material) of record in the application. See In re Safariland Hunting Corp., 24 USPQ2d 1380, 1381 (TTAB 1992) (examining attorney should look primarily to the specimen to determine whether a designation would be perceived as a source indicator, but may also consider other evidence, if there is other evidence of record).

Not everything that a party adopts and uses with the intent that it function as a trademark necessarily achieves this goal or is legally capable of doing so, and not everything that is recognized or associated with a party is necessarily a registrable trademark. As the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals observed in In re The Standard Oil Co., 275 F.2d 945, 947, 125 USPQ 227, 229 (C.C.P.A. 1960):

The Trademark Act is not an act to register words but to register trademarks. Before there can be registrability, there must be a trademark (or a service mark) and, unless words have been so used, they cannot qualify for registration. Words are not registrable merely because they do not happen to be descriptive of the goods or services with which they are associated.

Sections 1 and 2 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051 and 1052, require that the subject matter presented for registration be a “trademark.” Section 45 of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1127, defines that term as follows:

The term “trademark” includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof–

  • (1) used by a person, or
  • (2) which a person has a bona fide intention to use in commerce and applies to register on the principal register established by this Act,

to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown.

Thus, §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, provide the statutory basis for refusal to register on the Principal Register subject matter that, due to its inherent nature or the manner in which it is used, does not function as a mark to identify and distinguish the applicant’s goods. The statutory basis for refusal of registration on the Supplemental Register of matter that does not function as a trademark because it does not fit within the statutory definition of a trademark is §§23 and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1091 and 1127.

When the examining attorney refuses registration on the ground that the subject matter is not used as a trademark, the examining attorney must explain the specific reason for the conclusion that the subject matter is not used as a trademark. See TMEP §§1202.01–1202.16 for a discussion of situations in which it may be appropriate, depending on the circumstances, for the examining attorney to refuse registration on the ground that the proposed mark does not function as a trademark, e.g., TMEP §§1202.01 (trade names), 1202.02(a)–1202.02(a)(viii) (functionality), 1202.03–1202.03(g) (ornamentation), 1202.04 (informational matter), 1202.05–1202.05(i) (color marks), 1202.06–1202.06(c) (goods in trade), 1202.07–1202.07(b) (columns or sections of publications), 1202.08–1202.08(f) (title of single creative work), 1202.09–1202.09(b) (names of artists and authors), 1202.11 (background designs and shapes), 1202.12 (varietal and cultivar names), and 1202.16 (model or grade designations).

The presence of the letters “SM” or “TM” cannot transform an otherwise unregistrable designation into a registrable mark. In re Remington Prods. Inc., 3 USPQ2d 1714, 1715 (TTAB 1987); In re Anchor Hocking Corp., 223 USPQ 85, 88 (TTAB 1984); In re Minnetonka, Inc., 212 USPQ 772, 779 n.12 (TTAB 1981).

The issue of whether a designation functions as a mark usually is tied to the use of the mark, as evidenced by the specimen. Therefore, unless the drawing and description of the mark are dispositive of the failure to function without the need to consider a specimen, generally, no refusal on this basis will be issued in an intent-to-use application under §1(b) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(b), until the applicant has submitted a specimen(s) with an allegation of use (i.e., either an amendment to allege use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or a statement of use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(d)). However, in a §1(b) application for which no specimen has been submitted, if the examining attorney anticipates that a refusal will be made on the ground that the matter presented for registration does not function as a mark, the potential refusal should be brought to the applicant’s attention in the first Office action. This is done strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding this possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant before the allegation of use is filed, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration on this basis.

In an application under §44 or §66(a), where a specimen of use is not required prior to registration, it is appropriate for the examining attorney to issue a failure to function refusal where the mark on its face, as shown on the drawing and described in the description, reflects a failure to function. See In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal in a §66(a) application).

See TMEP §§1301.02–1301.02(f) regarding use of subject matter as a service mark; TMEP §§1302-1305 regarding use of subject matter as a collective mark; and TMEP §§1306-1306.08 regarding use of subject matter as a certification mark.

1202.01   Refusal of Matter Used Solely as a Trade Name

The name of a business or company is a trade name. The Trademark Act distinguishes trade names from trademarks and service marks by definition. While a trademark is used to identify and distinguish the trademark owner’s goods from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, “trade name” and “commercial name” are defined in §45 of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1127, as follows:

The terms “trade name” and “commercial name” mean any name used by a person to identify his or her business or vocation.

The Trademark Act does not provide for registration of trade names. See In re Letica Corp., 226 USPQ 276, 277 (TTAB 1985) (“[T]here was a clear intention by the Congress to draw a line between indicia which perform only trade name functions and indicia which perform or also perform the function of trademarks or service marks.”).

If the examining attorney determines that matter for which registration is requested is merely a trade name, registration must be refused both on the Principal Register and on the Supplemental Register. The statutory basis for refusal of trademark registration on the ground that the matter is used merely as a trade name is §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, and, in the case of matter sought to be registered for services, §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127.

A designation may function as both a trade name and a trademark or service mark. See In re Walker Process Equip. Inc., 233 F.2d 329, 332, 110 USPQ 41, 43 (C.C.P.A. 1956), aff’g 102 USPQ 443 (Comm’r Pats. 1954).

If subject matter presented for registration in an application is a trade name or part of a trade name, the examining attorney must determine whether it is also used as a trademark or service mark, by examining the specimen and other evidence of record in the application file. See In re Diamond Hill Farms, 32 USPQ2d 1383, 1384 (TTAB 1994) (holding that DIAMOND HILL FARMS, as used on containers for goods, is a trade name that identifies applicant as a business entity rather than a mark that identifies applicant’s goods and distinguishes them from those of others).

Whether matter that is a trade name (or a portion thereof) also performs the function of a trademark depends on the manner of its use and the probable impact of the use on customers. See In re Supply Guys, Inc., 86 USPQ2d 1488, 1491 (TTAB 2008) (finding that the use of trade name in “Ship From” section of Federal Express label where it serves as a return address does not demonstrate trademark use as the term appears where customers would look for the name of the party shipping the package); In re Unclaimed Salvage & Freight Co., 192 USPQ 165, 168 (TTAB 1976) (“It is our opinion that the foregoing material reflects use by applicant of the notation ‘UNCLAIMED SALVAGE & FREIGHT CO.’ merely as a commercial, business, or trade name serving to identify applicant as a viable business entity; and that this is or would be the general and likely impact of such use upon the average person encountering this material under normal circumstances and conditions surrounding the distribution thereof.”); In re Lytle Eng'g & Mfg. Co., 125 USPQ 308 (TTAB 1960) (“‘LYTLE’ is applied to the container for applicant’s goods in a style of lettering distinctly different from the other portion of the trade name and is of such nature and prominence that it creates a separate and independent impression.”).

The presence of an entity designator in a name sought to be registered and the proximity of an address are both factors to be considered in determining whether a proposed mark is merely a trade name. In re Univar Corp., 20 USPQ2d 1865, 1869 (TTAB 1991) (“[T]he mark “UNIVAR” independently projects a separate commercial impression, due to its presentation in a distinctively bolder, larger and different type of lettering and, in some instances, its additional use in a contrasting color, and thus does more than merely convey information about a corporate relationship.”); see also Book Craft, Inc. v. BookCrafters USA, Inc., 222 USPQ 724, 727 (TTAB 1984) (“That the invoices ... plainly show ... service mark use is apparent from the fact that, not only do the words ‘BookCrafters, Inc.’ appear in larger letters and a different style of print than the address, but they are accompanied by a design feature (the circularly enclosed ends of two books).”).

A determination of whether matter serves solely as a trade name rather than as a mark requires consideration of the way the mark is used, as evidenced by the specimen(s). Therefore, no refusal on that ground will be issued in an intent-to-use application under §1(b) until the applicant has submitted specimen(s) of use in conjunction with an allegation of use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or 15 U.S.C. §1051(d).

1202.02   Registration of Trade Dress

Trade dress constitutes a “symbol” or “device” within the meaning of §2 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 209-210, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1065-66 (2000). Trade dress originally included only the packaging or “dressing” of a product, but in recent years has been expanded to encompass the design of a product. It is usually defined as the “total image and overall appearance” of a product, or the totality of the elements, and “may include features such as size, shape, color or color combinations, texture, graphics.” Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763, 764 n.1, 23 USPQ2d 1081, 1082 n.1 (1992).

Thus, trade dress includes the design of a product (i.e., the product shape or configuration), the packaging in which a product is sold (i.e., the “dressing” of a product), the color of a product or of the packaging in which a product is sold, and the flavor of a product. Wal-Mart ., 529 U.S. at 205, 54 USPQ2d at 1065 (design of children’s outfits constitutes product design); Two Pesos, 505 U.S. at 763, 23 USPQ2d at 1081 (interior of a restaurant is akin to product packaging); Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 34 USPQ2d 1161 (1995) (color alone may be protectible); In re N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d 1639 (TTAB 2006) (flavor is analogous to product design and may be protectible unless it is functional). However, this is not an exhaustive list, because “almost anything at all that is capable of carrying meaning” may be used as a “symbol” or “device” and constitute trade dress that identifies the source or origin of a product. Qualitex, 514 U.S. at 162, 34 USPQ2d at 1162. When it is difficult to determine whether the proposed mark is product packaging or product design, such “ambiguous” trade dress is treated as product design. Wal-Mart , 529 U.S. at 215, 54 USPQ2d at 1066. Trade dress marks may be used in connection with goods and services.

In some cases, the nature of a potential trade dress mark may not be readily apparent. A determination of whether the mark constitutes trade dress must be informed by the application content, including the drawing, the description of the mark, the identification of goods or services, and the specimen, if any. If it remains unclear whether the proposed mark constitutes trade dress, the examining attorney may call or e-mail the applicant to clarify the nature of the mark, or issue an Office action requiring information regarding the nature of the mark, as well as any other necessary clarifications, such as a clear drawing and an accurate description of the mark. 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b). The applicant’s response would then confirm whether the proposed mark is trade dress.

When an applicant applies to register a product design, product packaging, color, or other trade dress for goods or services, the examining attorney must separately consider two substantive issues: (1) functionality; and (2) distinctiveness. See TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg.Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 28-29, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1004-1005 (2001); Two Pesos, 505 U.S. at 775, 23 USPQ2d at 1086; In re Morton-Norwich Prods., Inc., 671 F.2d 1332, 1343, 213 USPQ 9, 17 (C.C.P.A. 1982). See TMEP §§1202.02(a)–1202.02(a)(viii) regarding functionality and 1202.02(b)–1202.02(b)(ii) and 1212–1212.10 regarding distinctiveness. In many cases, a refusal of registration may be necessary on both grounds. In any application where a product design is refused because it is functional, registration must also be refused on the ground that the proposed mark is nondistinctive because product design is never inherently distinctive. However, since product packaging may be inherently distinctive, in an application where product packaging is refused as functional, registration should also be refused on the ground that the proposed mark is nondistinctive. Even if it is ultimately determined that the product packaging is not functional, the alternative basis for refusal may stand.

If a proposed trade dress mark is ultimately determined to be functional, claims and evidence that the mark has acquired distinctiveness or secondary meaning are irrelevant and registration will be refused. TrafFix , 532 U.S. at 33, 58 USPQ2d at 1007.

With respect to the functionality and distinctiveness issues in the specific context of color as a mark, see TMEP §1202.05(a) and (b).

1202.02(a)   Functionality of Trade Dress

In general terms, trade dress is functional, and cannot serve as a trademark, if a feature of that trade dress is "essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article." Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 165, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1163-64 (1995) (quoting Inwood Labs., Inc. v. Ives Labs., Inc., 456 U.S. 844, 850, n.10, 214 USPQ 1, 4, n.10 (1982)).

1202.02(a)(i)   Statutory Basis for Functionality Refusal

Before October 30, 1998, there was no specific statutory reference to functionality as a ground for refusal, and functionality refusals were thus issued as failure-to-function refusals under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127.

Effective October 30, 1998, the Technical Corrections to Trademark Act of 1946, Pub. L. No. 105-330, §201, 112 Stat. 3064, 3069, amended the Trademark Act to expressly prohibit registration on either the Principal or Supplemental Register of functional matter:

  • Section 2(e)(5) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(5), prohibits registration on the Principal Register of “matter that, as a whole, is functional.”
  • Section 2(f) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(f), provides that matter that, as a whole, is functional may not be registered even on a showing that it has become distinctive.
  • Section 23(c) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1091(c), provides that a mark that, as a whole, is functional may not be registered on the Supplemental Register.
  • Section 14(3) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1064(3), lists functionality as a ground that can be raised in a cancellation proceeding more than five years after the date of registration.
  • Section 33(b)(8) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1115(b)(8), lists functionality as a statutory defense to infringement in a suit involving an incontestable registration.

These amendments codified case law and the longstanding USPTO practice of refusing registration of functional matter.

1202.02(a)(ii)   Purpose of Functionality Doctrine

The functionality doctrine, which prohibits registration of functional product features, is intended to encourage legitimate competition by maintaining a proper balance between trademark law and patent law. As the Supreme Court explained, in Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods Co., 514 U.S. 159, 164-165, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1163 (1995):

The functionality doctrine prevents trademark law, which seeks to promote competition by protecting a firm’s reputation, from instead inhibiting legitimate competition by allowing a producer to control a useful product feature. It is the province of patent law, not trademark law, to encourage invention by granting inventors a monopoly over new product designs or functions for a limited time, 35 U.S.C. Sections 154, 173, after which competitors are free to use the innovation. If a product’s functional features could be used as trademarks, however, a monopoly over such features could be obtained without regard to whether they qualify as patents and could be extended forever (because trademarks may be renewed in perpetuity).

In other words, the functionality doctrine ensures that protection for utilitarian product features be properly sought through a limited-duration utility patent, and not through the potentially unlimited protection of a trademark registration. Upon expiration of a utility patent, the invention covered by the patent enters the public domain, and the functional features disclosed in the patent may then be copied by others – thus encouraging advances in product design and manufacture. In TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 34-35, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1007 (2001), the Supreme Court reiterated this rationale, also noting that the functionality doctrine is not affected by evidence of acquired distinctiveness.

Thus, even when the evidence establishes that consumers have come to associate a functional product feature with a single source, trademark protection will not be granted in light of the public policy reasons stated. Id.

1202.02(a)(iii)   Background and Definitions

1202.02(a)(iii)(A)   Functionality

Functional matter cannot be protected as a trademark. 15 U.S.C. §§1052(e)(5) and (f), 1064(3), 1091(c), and 1115(b). A feature is functional as a matter of law if it is “essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article.” TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 33, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1006 (2001); Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 165, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1163-64 (1995); Inwood Labs., Inc. v. Ives Labs., Inc., 456 U.S. 844, 850, n.10, 214 USPQ 1, 4, n.10 (1982).

While some courts had developed a definition of functionality that focused solely on “competitive need” – thus finding a particular product feature functional only if competitors needed to copy that design in order to compete effectively – the Supreme Court held that this “was incorrect as a comprehensive definition” of functionality. TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 33, 58 USPQ2d at 1006. The Court emphasized that where a product feature meets the traditional functionality definition – that is, it is essential to the use or purpose of the product or affects its cost or quality – then the feature is functional, regardless of the availability to competitors of other alternatives. Id.; see also Valu Eng'g, Inc. v. Rexnord Corp., 278 F.3d 1268, 1276, 61 USPQ2d 1422, 1427 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (“Rather, we conclude that the [TrafFix] Court merely noted that once a product feature is found functional based on other considerations there is no need to consider the availability of alternative designs, because the feature cannot be given trade dress protection merely because there are alternative designs available” (footnote omitted).)

However, since the preservation of competition is an important policy underlying the functionality doctrine, competitive need, although not determinative, remains a significant consideration in functionality determinations. Id. at 1278, 1428.

The determination that a proposed mark is functional constitutes, for public policy reasons, an absolute bar to registration on either the Principal or the Supplemental Register, regardless of evidence showing that the proposed mark has acquired distinctiveness. See TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 29-33, 58 USPQ2d at 1005-1007; see also In re Controls Corp. of Am., 46 USPQ2d 1308, 1312 (TTAB 1998) (rejecting applicant’s claim that “registration on the Supplemental Register of a de jure functional configuration is permissible if the design is ‘capable’ of distinguishing applicant’s goods”). Thus, if an applicant responds to a functionality refusal under §2(e)(5), 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(5), by submitting an amendment seeking registration on the Supplemental Register, such an amendment does not introduce a new issue warranting a nonfinal Office action. See TMEP §714.05(a)(i). Instead, the §2(e)(5) refusal must be maintained and made final, if appropriate.

See TMEP §§1202.02(a)(v)–1202.02(a)(v)(D) regarding evidentiary considerations pertaining to functionality refusals.

1202.02(a)(iii)(B)   “De Jure” and “De Facto” Functionality

Prior to 2002, the USPTO used the terms “de facto” and “de jure” in assessing whether “subject matter” (usually a product feature or the configuration of the goods) presented for registration was functional. This distinction originated with the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals’ decision in In re Morton-Norwich Prods., Inc., 671 F.2d 1332, 213 USPQ 9 (C.C.P.A. 1982), which was discussed by the Federal Circuit in Valu Eng'g, Inc. v. Rexnord Corp., 278 F.3d 1268, 1274, 61 USPQ2d 1422, 1425 (Fed. Cir. 2002):

Our decisions distinguish de facto functional features, which may be entitled to trademark protection, from de jure functional features, which are not. ‘In essence, de facto functional means that the design of a product has a function, i.e., a bottle of any design holds fluid.’ In re R.M. Smith, Inc., 734 F.2d 1482, 1484, 222 USPQ 1, 3 (Fed. Cir. 1984). De facto functionality does not necessarily defeat registrability. Morton-Norwich, 671 F.2d at 1337, 213 USPQ at 13 (A design that is de facto functional, i.e., ‘functional’ in the lay sense ... may be legally recognized as an indication of source.’). De jure functionality means that the product has a particular shape ‘because it works better in this shape.’ Smith, 734 F.2d at 1484, 222 USPQ at 3.

However, in three Supreme Court decisions involving functionality – TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 58 USPQ2d 1001 (2001), Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 54 USPQ2d 1065 (2000), and Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co.,, 514 U.S. 159, 34 USPQ2d 1161 (1995) – the Court did not use the “de facto/de jure” distinction. Nor were these terms used when the Trademark Act was amended to expressly prohibit registration of matter that is “functional.” Technical Corrections to Trademark Act of 1946, Pub. L. No. 105-330, §201, 112 Stat. 3064, 3069 (1998). Accordingly, in general, examining attorneys no longer make this distinction in Office actions that refuse registration based on functionality.

De facto functionality is not a ground for refusal. In re Ennco Display Sys. Inc., 56 USPQ2d 1279, 1282 (TTAB 2000); In re Parkway Mach. Corp., 52 USPQ2d 1628, 1631 n.4 (TTAB 1999).

1202.02(a)(iv)   Burden of Proof in Functionality Determinations

The examining attorney must establish a prima facie case that the proposed trade dress mark sought to be registered is functional in order to make and maintain the §2(e)(5) functionality refusal. See In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d 1368, 1374, 102 USPQ2d 1372, 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2012); Textron, Inc. v. U.S. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 753 F.2d 1019, 1025, 224 USPQ 625, 629 (Fed. Cir. 1985); In re R.M. Smith, Inc., 734 F.2d 1482, 1484, 222 USPQ 1, 3 (Fed. Cir. 1984). To do so, the examining attorney must not only examine the application content (i.e., the drawing, the description of the mark, the identification of goods or services, and the specimen, if any), but also conduct independent research to obtain evidentiary support for the refusal. In applications where there is reason to believe that the proposed mark may be functional, but the evidence is lacking to issue the §2(e)(5) refusal in the first Office action, a request for information pursuant to 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b) must be issued to obtain information from the applicant so that an informed decision about the validity of the functionality refusal can be made.

The burden then shifts to the applicant to present “competent evidence” to rebut the examining attorney’s prima facie case of functionality. See In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d at 1374, 102 USPQ2d at 1374; Textron, Inc. v. U.S. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 753 F.2d at 1025, 224 USPQ at 629; In re R.M. Smith, Inc., 734 F.2d at 1484, 222 USPQ at 3; In re Bio-Medicus Inc., 31 USPQ2d 1254, 1257 n.5 (TTAB 1993). The “competent evidence” standard requires proof by preponderant evidence. In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d at 1374, 102 USPQ2d at 1377.

The functionality determination is a question of fact, and depends on the totality of the evidence presented in each particular case. In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d at 1372, 102 USPQ2d at 1375; Valu Eng'g, Inc. v. Rexnord Corp., 278 F.3d 1268, 1273, 61 USPQ2d 1422, 1424 (Fed. Cir. 2002); In re Udor U.S.A., Inc., 89 USPQ2d 1978, 1979 (TTAB 2009); In re Caterpillar Inc., 43 USPQ2d 1335, 1338 (TTAB 1997). While there is no set amount of evidence that an examining attorney must present to establish a prima facie case of functionality, it is clear that there must be evidentiary support for the refusal in the record. See, e.g., In re Morton-Norwich Prods., Inc., 671 F.2d 1332, 1342, 213 USPQ 9, 16-17 (C.C.P.A. 1982) (admonishing both the examining attorney and the Board for failing to support the functionality determination with even “one iota of evidence”).

If the design sought to be registered as a mark is the subject of a utility patent that discloses the feature’s utilitarian advantages, the applicant bears an especially “heavy burden of showing that the feature is not functional” and “ overcoming the strong evidentiary inference of functionality.” TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 30, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1005 (2001); Udor U.S.A., Inc., 89 USPQ2d at 1979-80; see TMEP §1202.02(a)(v)(A).

1202.02(a)(v)   Evidence and Considerations Regarding Functionality Determinations

A determination of functionality normally involves consideration of one or more of the following factors, commonly known as the “Morton-Norwich factors”:

  • (1) the existence of a utility patent that discloses the utilitarian advantages of the design sought to be registered;
  • (2) advertising by the applicant that touts the utilitarian advantages of the design;
  • (3) facts pertaining to the availability of alternative designs; and
  • (4) facts pertaining to whether the design results from a comparatively simple or inexpensive method of manufacture.

In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d 1368, 1374-75, 102 USPQ2d 1372, 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2012); In re Morton-Norwich Prods., Inc., 671 F.2d 1332, 1340-1341, 213 USPQ 9, 15-16 (C.C.P.A. 1982).

Since relevant technical information is often more readily available to an applicant, the applicant will often be the source of most of the evidence relied upon by the examining attorney in establishing a prima facie case of functionality in an ex parte case. In re Teledyne Indus. Inc., 696 F.2d 968, 971, 217 USPQ 9, 11 (Fed. Cir. 1982); In re Witco Corp., 14 USPQ2d 1557, 1560 (TTAB 1989). Therefore, in an application for a trade dress mark, when there is reason to believe that the proposed mark may be functional, the examining attorney must perform a search for evidence to support the Morton-Norwich factors. In applications where there is reason to believe that the proposed mark may be functional, the first Office action must include a request for information under 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b), requiring the applicant to provide information necessary to permit an informed determination concerning the functionality of the proposed mark. See In re Babies Beat Inc., 13 USPQ2d 1729, 1731 (TTAB 1990) (finding that registration is properly refused where applicant failed to comply with examining attorney’s request for copies of patent applications and other patent information). Such a request should be issued for most product design marks.

Accordingly, the examining attorney’s request for information should pertain to the Morton-Norwich factors and: (1) ask the applicant to provide copies of any patent(s) or any pending or abandoned patent application(s); (2) ask the applicant to provide any available advertising, promotional, or explanatory material concerning the goods/services, particularly any material specifically related to the features embodied in the proposed mark; (3) inquire of the applicant whether alternative designs are available; and (4) inquire whether the features sought to be registered make the product easier or cheaper to manufacture. The examining attorney should examine the specimen(s) for information relevant to the Morton-Norwich factors, and conduct independent research of applicant’s and competitors’ websites, industry practice and standards, and legal databases such as LexisNexis®. The examining attorney may also consult USPTO patent records.

It is not necessary to consider all the Morton-Norwich factors in every case. The Supreme Court held that “[w]here the design is functional under the Inwood formulation there is no need to proceed further to consider if there is a competitive necessity for the feature.” TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 33, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1006 (2001). Moreover, there is no requirement that all four of the Morton-Norwich factors weigh in favor of functionality to support a refusal. See Valu Eng'g, Inc. v. Rexnord Corp.,278 F.3d 1268, 1276, 61 USPQ2d 1422, 1427 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (“once a product feature is found functional based on other considerations there is no need to consider the availability of alternative designs”); In re Udor U.S.A., Inc., 89 USPQ2d 1978 (TTAB 2009) (affirming the functionality refusal of “a round disk head on a sprayer nozzle” where the third and fourth factors showed that applicant’s competitors manufactured and marketed spray nozzles with similar features, the shape was preferred in the industry, and it appeared efficient, economical, and advantageous, even though applicant’s utility patent and advertising did not weigh in favor of functionality); In re N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d 1639 (TTAB 2006) (holding orange flavor for pharmaceuticals to be functional based on applicant’s touting of the utilitarian advantages of the flavor and the lack of evidence of acceptable alternatives, even though the mark was not the subject of a patent or patent application and there was no evidence that the flavor affected the cost of the product); In re Gibson Guitar Corp., 61 USPQ2d 1948 (TTAB 2001) (finding that since there was no utility patent, and no evidence that applicant’s guitar configuration resulted from a simpler or cheaper method of manufacture, these factors did not weigh in Board’s decision).

Evidence that the proposed mark is the subject of a utility patent that discloses the utilitarian advantages of the configuration at issue can be sufficient in itself to support a functionality refusal. TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 33, 58 USPQ2d at 1007 (“There is no need, furthermore, to engage ... in speculation about other design possibilities”); In re Howard Leight Indus., LLC, 80 USPQ2d 1507, 1515 (TTAB 2006) (“[W]e find that applicant's expired utility patent, which specifically discloses and claims the utilitarian advantages of applicant's earplug configuration and which clearly shows that the shape at issue ‘affects the . . . quality of the device,’ is a sufficient basis in itself for finding that the configuration is functional, given the strong weight to be accorded such patent evidence under TrafFix.”). See TMEP §1202.02(a)(v)(A) for further discussion of utility patents.

It is important that the functionality inquiry focus on the utility of the feature or combination of features claimed as protectable trade dress. Morton-Norwich, 671 F.2d at 1338, 213 USPQ at 13. Generally, dissecting the design into its individual features and analyzing the utility of each separate feature does not establish that the overall design is functional. See 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(5); Teledyne, 696 F.2d at 971, 217 USPQ at 11. However, it is sometimes helpful to analyze the design from the standpoint of its various features. See Elmer v. ICC Fabricating Inc., 67 F.3d 1571, 1579-80, 36 USPQ2d 1417, 1422-23 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (rejecting the argument that the combination of individually functional features in the configuration resulted in an overall nonfunctional product design); In re R.M. Smith, Inc., 734 F.2d 1482, 1484, 222 USPQ 1, 2 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (affirming the functionality determination, where the Board had initially considered the six individual features of the design, and then had concluded that the design as a whole was functional); In re Controls Corp. of Am., 46 USPQ2d 1308, 1312 (TTAB 1998) (finding the entire configuration at issue functional because it consisted of several individual features, each of which was functional in nature).

Where the evidence shows that the overall design is functional, the inclusion of a few arbitrary or otherwise nonfunctional features in the design will not change the result. See In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d at 1374, 102 USPQ2d at 1376; Textron, Inc. v. U.S. Int’l Trade Comm'n, 753 F.2d 1019, 1025, 224 USPQ 625, 628-29 (Fed. Cir. 1985); In re Vico Prods. Mfg. Co., 229 USPQ 364, 368 (TTAB 1985).

In the limited circumstances where a proposed trade dress mark is not functional overall, but contains insignificant elements that are functional, the examining attorney must issue a requirement for an amended drawing and allow applicant to remove or delete the functional elements from the drawing or depict them in broken or dotted lines to indicate that they are not features of the mark. See TMEP §1202.02(c)(i) regarding drawings in trade dress applications.

The question of whether a product feature is “functional” should not be confused with whether that product feature performs a “function” (i.e., it is de facto functional) or “fails to function” as a trademark. See TMEP §1202.02(a)(iii)(B) regarding de facto functionality. Usually, most objects perform a function, for example, a bottle holds liquid and a lamp provides light. However, only certain configurations that allow an object to work better are functional under §2(e)(5). As the Morton-Norwich court noted, "it is the 'utilitarian' design of a 'utilitarian object with which we are concerned." 671 F.2d at 1338, 213 USPQ at 14. Similarly, a product feature that is deemed not functional under §2(e)(5) may lack distinctiveness such that it fails to function as a trademark under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act. See TMEP §§1202.02(b)–1202.02(b)(ii) for distinctiveness of trade dress.

1202.02(a)(v)(A)   Utility Patents and Design Patents

Utility Patents

Utility patents cover the invention or discovery of a new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. 35 U.S.C. §101.

In TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 29-30, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1005 (2001), the Supreme Court resolved a circuit split regarding the proper weight to be afforded a utility patent in the functionality determination, stating:

A utility patent is strong evidence that the features therein claimed are functional. If trade dress protection is sought for those features the strong evidence of functionality based on the previous patent adds great weight to the statutory presumption that features are deemed functional until proved otherwise by the party seeking trade dress protection. Where the expired patent claimed the features in question, one who seeks to establish trade dress protection must carry the heavy burden of showing that the feature is not functional, for instance by showing that it is merely an ornamental, incidental, or arbitrary aspect of the device.

See In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d 1368, 1375, 102 USPQ2d 1372, 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (utility patent supported functionality of closure cap for blood-collection tubes); In re Bose Corp., 772 F.2d 866, 227 USPQ 1 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (shape of loudspeaker system enclosure found functional, per patent disclosure containing evidence of functionality); In re Dietrich, 91 USPQ2d 1622 (TTAB 2009) (patent evidence supported bicycle wheel configuration was functional); In re Udor U.S.A., Inc., 89 USPQ2d 1978 (TTAB 2009)(functionality of spray nozzle head not supported by patent claims); In re Visual Commc’ns Co., 51 USPQ2d 1141 (TTAB 1999) (patent disclosed functionality of light-emitting diode housings); In re Edward Ski Prods., Inc., 49 USPQ2d 2001 (TTAB 1999) (ski mask found functional based on patent evidence); In re Caterpillar Inc., 43 USPQ2d 1335 (TTAB 1997) (patent disclosures supported functionality of elevated sprocket configuration).

The Court in TrafFix went on to hold that where the evidence includes a utility patent that claims the product features at issue, it is unnecessary to consider evidence relating to the availability of alternative designs:

There is no need, furthermore, to engage, as did the Court of Appeals, in speculation about other design possibilities, such as using three or four springs which might serve the same purpose. Here, the functionality of the spring design means that competitors need not explore whether other spring juxtapositions might be used. The dual-spring design is not an arbitrary flourish in the configuration of MDI’s product; it is the reason the device works. Other designs need not be attempted.

TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 33-34, 58 USPQ2d at 1007 (citation omitted).

Therefore, when presented with facts similar to those in TrafFix (i.e., where there is a utility patent establishing the utilitarian nature of the product design at issue), the examining attorney may properly issue a final functionality refusal based primarily on the utility patent. In re Howard Leight Indus., LLC, 80 USPQ2d 1507, 1515 (TTAB 2006). Where functionality appears to be an issue, in the first Office action, the examining attorney should ask the applicant to provide copies of any active, pending, or expired patent(s), and any pending or abandoned patent application(s). 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b). See Valu Eng'g, Inc. v. Rexnord Corp., 278 F.3d 1268, 1279, 61 USPQ2d 1422, 1429 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (“We agree with the Board that an abandoned patent application should be considered under the first Morton-Norwich factor, because an applied-for utility patent that never issued has evidentiary significance for the statements and claims made in the patent application concerning the utilitarian advantages, just as an issued patent has evidentiary significance.”).

It is not necessary that the utility patent be owned by the applicant; a third-party utility patent is also relevant to the functionality determination, if the patent claims the features in the product design sought to be registered. See Dietrich, 91 USPQ2d at 1627; In re Am. Nat’l Can Co., 41 USPQ2d 1841, 1843 (TTAB 1997); In re Virshup, 42 USPQ2d 1403, 1405 (TTAB 1997); In re Cabot Corp., 15 USPQ2d 1224 (TTAB 1990). Therefore, the examining attorney may also consult patent databases, including the USPTO’s patent records, to see if utility patents owned by applicant’s competitors disclose the functional advantages of the product design that the applicant seeks to register.

It is important to read the patent to determine whether the patent actually claims the features presented in the proposed mark. If it does, the utility patent is strong evidence that the particular product features claimed as trade dress are functional. If it does not, or if the features are referenced in the patent, but only as arbitrary or incidental features, then the probative value of the patent as evidence of functionality is substantially diminished or negated entirely. TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 34, 58 USPQ2d at 1007 (noting that where a manufacturer seeks to protect arbitrary, incidental, or ornamental features of a product found in the patent claims, such as arbitrary curves in the legs or an ornamental pattern painted on the springs, functionality will not be established if the manufacturer can prove that those aspects do not serve a purpose within the terms of utility patent); In re Udor U.S.A., Inc., 89 USPQ2d 1978, 80-82 (TTAB 2009) (finding that where the patent’s language and a detailed comparison between the identified features of the patent drawing with the visible features of the trademark drawing established that the patent claims involved components neither shown nor described in the trademark design, the utility patent did not support a finding of functionality); see also Black & Decker Inc. v. Hoover Serv. Ctr., 886 F.2d 1285, 12 USPQ2d 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (lower court’s reliance on and misinterpretation of a patent not in evidence as support for a finding of functionality was clear error); In re Zippo Mfg. Co., 50 USPQ2d 1852 (TTAB 1999) (configuration of cigarette lighter not functional since patent covered slightly different exterior features and claimed internal mechanism); In re Weber-Stephen Prods. Co., 3 USPQ2d 1659 (TTAB 1987) (patent evidence did not show utilitarian advantages of barbeque grill design sought to be registered). Where a utility patent claims more than what is sought to be registered, this fact does not establish the non-functionality of the product design, if the patent shows that the feature claimed as a trademark is an essential or integral part of the invention and has utilitarian advantages. Cf. TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 31, 58 USPQ2d at 1006-07 (nothing in the applied-for dual-spring traffic sign design pointed to arbitrary features).

The examining attorney should consider both the numbered claims and the disclosures in the written description, drawings, and abstract of the patent. In Leight, the Board found functionality based on both the claims and the disclosure. The Board rejected the applicant’s argument that the examining attorney erred in looking to the claims made in applicant’s patent, noting that the Supreme Court in TrafFix repeatedly referred to a patent’s claims as evidence of functionality. Leight, 80 USPQ2d at 1510-11.

Statements regarding utilitarian advantages of the design made in the course of the prosecution of the patent application can also be very strong evidence of functionality. TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 32, 58 USPQ2d at 1006 (“These statements [regarding specific functional advantages of the product design] made in the patent applications and in the course of procuring the patents demonstrate the functionality of the design. MDI does not assert that any of these representations are mistaken or inaccurate, and this is further strong evidence of the functionality of the dual-spring design.”); M-5 Steel Mfg., Inc. v. O’Hagin’s Inc., 61 USPQ2d 1086, 1096 (TTAB 2001).

The fact that the proposed mark is not the subject of a utility patent does not establish that a feature of the proposed mark is nonfunctional. TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 32, 35, 58 USPQ2d at 1006-07; In re Gibson Guitar Corp., 61 USPQ2d 1948, 1950 n.3, (TTAB 2001).

Design Patents

Design patents cover the invention of a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. 35 U.S.C. §171. A design patent is a factor that weighs against a finding of functionality, because design patents by definition protect only ornamental and nonfunctional features. However, ownership of a design patent does not in itself establish that a product feature is nonfunctional, and can be outweighed by other evidence supporting the functionality determination. See In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d at 1375, 102 USPQ2d at 1377; In re R.M. Smith, Inc., 734 F.2d 1482, 1485, 222 USPQ 1, 3 (Fed. Cir. 1984); Caterpillar, 43 USPQ2d at 1339; Am. Nat’l Can Co., 41 USPQ2d at 1843; In re Witco Corp., 14 USPQ2d 1557, 1559 (TTAB 1989).

1202.02(a)(v)(B)   Advertising, Promotional, or Explanatory Material in Functionality Determinations

The applicant’s own advertising touting the utilitarian aspects of its product design or product packaging is often strong evidence supporting a functionality refusal. See, e.g., In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d 1368, 1375-76, 102 USPQ2d 1372, 1377-78 (Fed. Cir. 2012); Kistner Concrete Prods., Inc. v. Contech Arch Techs., Inc., 97 USPQ2d 1912 (TTAB 2011); Mag Instrument, Inc. v. Brinkmann Corp., 96 USPQ2d 1701 (TTAB 2010);In re N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d 1639 (TTAB 2006); In re Gibson Guitar Corp., 61 USPQ2d 1948 (TTAB 2001); M-5 Steel Mfg., Inc. v. O’Hagin’s Inc., 61 USPQ2d 1086 (TTAB 2001); In re Visual Commc’ns Co., 51 USPQ2d 1141 (TTAB 1999); In re Edward Ski Prods., Inc., 49 USPQ2d 2001 (TTAB 1999); In re Caterpillar Inc., 43 USPQ2d 1335 (TTAB 1997); In re Bio-Medicus Inc., 31 USPQ2d 1254 (TTAB 1993); In re Witco Corp., 14 USPQ2d 1557 (TTAB 1989).

An applicant will often assert that statements in its promotional materials touting the utilitarian advantages of the product feature are mere “puffery” and, thus, entitled to little weight in the functionality analysis. However, where the advertising statements clearly emphasize specific utilitarian features of the design claimed as a mark, the Board will reject such assertions of “puffing.” See, e.g., Gibson Guitar, 61 USPQ2d at 1951; Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. v. Interco Tire Corp., 49 USPQ2d 1705, 1716-17 (TTAB 1998); Bio-Medicus, 31 USPQ2d at 1260 (TTAB 1993); Witco, 14 USPQ2d at 1559-61 (TTAB 1989).

In Gibson Guitar, the Board found the design of a guitar body to be functional, noting that applicant’s literature clearly indicated that the shape of applicant’s guitar produced a better musical sound. Applicant’s advertisements stated that “[t]his unique body shape creates a sound which is much more balanced and less ‘muddy’ than other ordinary dreadnought acoustics.” 61 USPQ2d at 1951.

Where functionality appears to be an issue, in the first Office action, the examining attorney must ask the applicant to provide any available advertising, promotional, or explanatory material concerning the goods/services, particularly any material specifically related to the features embodied in the proposed mark. 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b). The examining attorney should also examine the specimen(s), and check to see if the applicant has a website on which the product is advertised or described.

In addition, examining attorney may check the websites of applicant’s competitors for evidence of functionality. See In re Van Valkenburgh, 97 USPQ2d 1757, 1762-63, (TTAB 2011); Gibson Guitar, 61 USPQ2d at 1951. Industry and trade publications and computer databases may also be consulted to determine whether others offer similar designs and features or have written about the applicant’s design and its functional features or characteristics. In Gibson Guitar, the record included an advertisement obtained from the website of a competitor whose guitar appeared to be identical in shape to applicant’s configuration, touting the acoustical advantages of the shape of the guitar. 61 USPQ2d at 1951.

1202.02(a)(v)(C)   Availability of Alternative Designs in Functionality Determinations

An applicant attempting to rebut a prima facie case of functionality will often submit evidence of alternative designs to demonstrate that there is no “competitive need” in the industry for the applicant’s particular product design. See TMEP §1202.02(a)(iii)(A). In order to be probative, the alternative design evidence must pertain to the same category of goods as the applicant’s goods. See, e.g., In re Zippo Mfg. Co., 50 USPQ2d 1852, 1854 (TTAB 1999); In re EBSCO Indus. Inc., 41 USPQ2d 1917, 1920 (TTAB 1997).

However, in TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 58 USPQ2d 1001 (2001), the Supreme Court clearly indicated that if the record shows that a design is essential to the use or purpose of a product, or if it affects the cost or quality of the product, it is unnecessary to consider whether there is a competitive need for the product feature. The Court explained:

[W]e have said “in general terms, a product feature is functional, and cannot serve as a trademark, if it is essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article.” Expanding upon the meaning of this phrase, we have observed that a functional feature is one the “exclusive use of [which] would put competitors at a significant non-reputation-related disadvantage.” The Court of Appeals in the instant case seemed to interpret this language to mean that a necessary test for functionality is “whether the particular product configuration is a competitive necessity.” . . . This was incorrect as a comprehensive definition. As explained in Qualitex, supra, and Inwood, supra, a feature is also functional when it is essential to the use or purpose of the device or when it affects the cost or quality of the device . . . Where the design is functional under the Inwood formulation there is no need to proceed further to consider if there is a competitive necessity for the feature.

* * *

There is no need, furthermore, to engage, as did the Court of Appeals, in speculation about other design possibilities, such as using three or four springs which might serve the same purpose. Here, the functionality of the spring design means that competitors need not explore whether other spring juxtapositions might be used. The dual-spring design is not an arbitrary flourish in the configuration of MDI’s product; it is the reason the device works. Other designs need not be attempted (emphasis added).

TrafFix, 532 U.S. at 32-34, 58 USPQ2d at 1006-1007 (citations and additional internal quotations omitted); see also In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d 1368, 1376, 102 USPQ2d 1372, 1378 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (quoting Valu Eng’g Inc. v. Rexnord Corp., 278 F.3d 1268, 1276, 61 USPQ2d 1422, 1427 (Fed. Cir. 2002)) (“[I]f functionality is found based on other considerations, there is ‘no need to consider the availability of alternative designs, because the feature cannot be given trade dress protection merely because there are alternative designs available.’”).

Nonetheless, since the preservation of competition is an important policy underlying the functionality doctrine, competitive need generally remains an important factor in a functionality determination. See Valu Eng'g, Inc., 278 F.3d at 1277, 61 USPQ2d at 1428 (“[I]n determining ‘functionality,’ the Board must assess the effect registration of a mark would have on competition.”).

Accordingly, the examining attorney should request information about alternative designs in the initial Office action, pursuant to 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b), i.e., inquire whether alternative designs are available for the feature embodied in the proposed mark and whether the alternatives are more costly to produce.

Where the evidence indicates that the applicant’s configuration is the best or one of a few superior designs available, this evidence will strongly support a finding of functionality. See, e.g., In re Dietrich, 91 USPQ2d 1622, 1636 (TTAB 2009) (“[T]he question is not whether there are alternative designs that perform the same basic function, but whether the available designs work ‘equally well.’”) (citation omitted); In re N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d 1639, 1645-46 (TTAB 2006) (concluding that, since the record showed that orange flavor is one of the most popular flavors for medicine, it cannot be said that there are true or significant number of alternatives); In re Gibson Guitar Corp., 61 USPQ2d 1948, 1951 (TTAB 2001) (finding that applicant had not shown there were alternative guitar shapes that could produce the same sound as applicant’s configuration, and noting that the record contained an advertisement obtained from the website of a competitor, whose guitar appeared to be identical in shape to applicant’s configuration, which stated that the shape of the guitar produces a better sound).

A configuration of a product or its packaging that embodies a superior design feature and provides a competitive advantage to the user is functional. In N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d at 1648-49, the Board found that by masking the unpleasant taste of the medicinal ingredients in pharmaceuticals, “flavor performs a utilitarian function that cannot be monopolized without hindering competition in the pharmaceutical trade. To allow registration of ‘an orange flavor’ as a trademark would give applicant potentially perpetual protection for this flavor, resulting in hindrance of competition.”

Functionality may be established by a single competitively significant application in the recited identification of goods, even if there is no anticompetitive effect in other areas of use, since competitors in that single area could be adversely affected. Valu Eng'g, 278 F.3d at 1278, 61 USPQ2d at 1428 (“[I]f the Board identifies any competitively significant single use in the recited identification of goods for which the mark as a whole is functional, the Board should deny registration.”).

If evidence shows the existence of a number of functionally equivalent alternative designs that work “equally well,” such that competitors do not need applicant’s design to compete effectively, this factor may not support functionality. Dietrich, 91 USPQ2d at 1636, citing Valu Eng'g, 278 F.3d at 1276, 61 USPQ2d at 1427. However, once deemed functional under other Morton-Norwich factors, the claimed trade dress cannot be registered merely because there are functionally equivalent alternative designs. Valu Eng'g, 278 F.3d at 1276, 61 USPQ2d at 1427. Existence of comparable alternative designs does not transform a functional design into a nonfunctional design. Id.

1202.02(a)(v)(D)   Ease or Economy of Manufacture in Functionality Determinations

A product feature is functional if it is essential to the use or purpose of the product or if it affects the cost or quality of the product. Inwood Laboratories, Inc. v. Ives Laboratories, Inc., 456 U.S. 844, 850 n.10, 214 USPQ 1, 4 n.10 (1982) (emphasis added). Therefore, a showing that a product design or product packaging results from a comparatively simple or inexpensive method of manufacture will support a finding that the claimed trade dress is functional.

In many cases, there is little or no evidence pertaining to this factor. However, the examining attorney should still ask the applicant for information, under 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b), as to whether the subject design makes the product simpler or less costly to manufacture, since evidence on this issue weighs strongly in favor of a finding of functionality. See, e.g., TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 32, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1006 (2001); In re Virshup, 42 USPQ2d 1403, 1407 (TTAB 1997). Statements pertaining to the cost or ease of manufacture may sometimes also be found in informational or advertising materials. See M-5 Steel Mfg., Inc. v. O’Hagin’s Inc., 61 USPQ2d 1086, 1097 (TTAB 2001) (statements in promotional material that applicant’s design results in reduced installation costs found to be evidence of the functionality of applicant’s configurations of metal ventilating ducts and vents for tile or concrete roofs).

While evidence showing that a product feature results from a comparatively simple or inexpensive method of manufacture supports a finding that the design is functional, the opposite is not necessarily the case. That is, assertions by the applicant that its design is more expensive or more difficult to make, or that the design does not affect the cost, will not establish that the configuration is not functional. In re Dietrich, 91 USPQ2d 1622, 1637 (TTAB 2009) (“Even at a higher manufacturing cost, applicant would have a competitive advantage for what is essentially, as claimed in the patents, a superior quality wheel.”); In re N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d 1639, 1646 (TTAB 2006). Designs that work better or serve a more useful purpose may, indeed, be more expensive and difficult to produce.

1202.02(a)(vi)   Aesthetic Functionality

“Aesthetic functionality” refers to situations where the feature may not provide a truly utilitarian advantage in terms of product performance, but provides other competitive advantages. For example, in Brunswick Corp. v. British Seagull Ltd., 35 F.3d 1527, 1531, 1533, 32 USPQ2d 1120, 1122, 1124 (Fed. Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1050 (1995), the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s determination that the color black for outboard motors was functional because, while it had no utilitarian effect on the mechanical working of the engines, it nevertheless provided other identifiable competitive advantages, i.e., ease of coordination with a variety of boat colors and reduction in the apparent size of the engines.

The concept of “aesthetic functionality” (as opposed to “utilitarian functionality”) has for many years been the subject of much confusion. While the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals (the predecessor to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit) appeared to reject the doctrine of aesthetic functionality in In re DC Comics, Inc., 689 F.2d 1042, 1047-1050, 215 USPQ 394, 399-401 (C.C.P.A. 1982), the Supreme Court later referred to aesthetic functionality as a valid legal concept in TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 33, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1006 (2001). The confusion regarding aesthetic functionality stems in part from widespread misuse of the term “aesthetic functionality” in cases involving ornamentation issues, with some courts having mistakenly expanded the category of “functional” marks to include matter that is solely ornamental, essentially on the theory that such matter serves an “aesthetic function” or “ornamentation function.” It is this incorrect use of the term “aesthetic functionality” in connection with ornamentation cases that was rejected by the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals. See In re DC Comics, Inc., 689 F.2d 1042, 1047-1050, 215 USPQ 394, 397, 399-401 (C.C.P.A. 1982) (majority opinion and Rich, J., concurring) (holding, in a case involving features of toy dolls, that the Board had improperly “intermingled the concepts of utilitarian functionality and what has been termed ‘aesthetic functionality;’” and rejecting the concept of aesthetic functionality where it is used as a substitute for “the more traditional source identification principles of trademark law,” such as the ornamentation and functionality doctrines).

Where the issue presented is whether the proposed mark is ornamental in nature, it is improper to refer to “aesthetic functionality,” because the doctrine of “functionality” is inapplicable to such cases. The proper refusal is that the matter is ornamental and, thus, does not function as a mark under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127. See TMEP §§1202.03-1202.03(g) regarding ornamentation.

The Supreme Court’s use of the term “aesthetic functionality” in the TrafFix case appears limited to cases where the issue is one of actual functionality, but where the nature of the proposed mark makes it difficult to evaluate the functionality issue from a purely utilitarian standpoint. This is the case with color marks and product features that enhance the attractiveness of the product. The color or feature does not normally give the product a truly utilitarian advantage (in terms of making the product actually perform better), but may still be found to be functional because it provides other real and significant competitive advantages and, thus, should remain in the public domain. See Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 165, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1163-1164 (1995) (stating that a product color might be considered functional if its exclusive use “would put competitors at a significant non-reputation-related disadvantage,” even where the color was not functional in the utilitarian sense).

In M-5 Steel Mfg., Inc. v. O’Hagin’s Inc., 61 USPQ2d 1086, 1096 (TTAB 2001), the Board considered the proper use of the aesthetic functionality doctrine in connection with product designs for metal ventilating ducts and vents for tile or concrete roofs:

This case seems to involve elements of both utilitarian and aesthetic functionality. Here, for example, there is evidence of utility in applicant’s patent application, as well as statements touting the superiority of applicant’s design in applicant’s promotional literature, and statements that applicant’s design results in reduced costs of installation. On the other hand, there is no question that applicant’s roof designs which match the appearance of surrounding roof tiles are more pleasing in appearance because the venting tiles in each case are unobtrusive.

Citing extensively from the TrafFix, Qualitex, and Brunswick cases, the Board concluded that the product designs were functional for a combination of utilitarian and aesthetic reasons. Id. at 1097.

Note that this type of functionality determination – while employed in connection with a normally “aesthetic” feature such as color – is a proper use of the functionality doctrine, necessitating a §2(e)(5) refusal where the evidence establishes that a color or other matter at issue provides identifiable competitive advantages and, thus, should remain in the public domain. This is the opposite of an ornamentation refusal, where the matter at issue serves no identifiable purpose other than that of pure decoration.

Generally speaking, examining attorneys should exercise caution in the use of the term “aesthetic functionality,” in light of the confusion that historically has surrounded this issue. In most situations, reference to aesthetic functionality will be unnecessary, since a determination that the matter sought to be registered is purely ornamental in nature will result in an ornamentation refusal under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, and a determination that the matter sought to be registered is functional will result in a functionality refusal under §2(e)(5). Use of the term “aesthetic functionality” may be appropriate in limited circumstances where the proposed mark presents issues similar to those involved in the M-5 Steel and Brunswick cases discussed above – i.e., where the issue is one of true functionality under §2(e)(5), but where the nature of the mark makes the functionality determination turn on evidence of particular competitive advantages that are not necessarily categorized as “utilitarian” in nature. Any such use of the term “aesthetic functionality” should be closely tied to a discussion of specific competitive advantages resulting from use of the proposed mark at issue, so that it is clear that the refusal is properly based on the functionality doctrine and not on an incorrect use of “aesthetic functionality” to mean ornamentation.

See TMEP §§1202.05 and 1202.05(b) for additional discussion and case references regarding the functionality issue in connection with color marks.

1202.02(a)(vii)   Functionality and Service Marks

Although rare in the context of service mark applications, examining attorneys are not foreclosed from refusing registration based on functionality. In Duramax Marine, LLC v. R.W. Fernstrum & Co., 80 USPQ2d 1780, 1793 (TTAB 2006), the Board held that a two-dimensional design of a marine heat exchanger (commonly known as a “keel cooler”), was not functional for “manufacture of marine heat exchangers to the order and specification of others.” It found “a significant difference between an application to register trade dress in the nature of product design as a mark for the product itself ... and an application to register a two-dimensional drawing that may look very much like such a product, but is used on labels, catalogs, brochures, and in various other ways as a mark for services;” and stated that “[t]he inquiry regarding functionality may need to be decidedly different” in cases involving a service mark.

The record showed that the keel cooler depicted in the proposed mark was “identical, or nearly so” to the depiction of a keel cooler in applicant’s expired patent; that opposer and at least one other party had been marketing keel coolers very similar to the proposed mark; and that the design sought to be registered appeared in applicant’s catalog of pre-manufactured keel coolers. Id. at 1786. The Board framed the question at issue as “whether any manufacturer of the formerly patented item should be free to utilize, in advertising its goods for sale, a realistic depiction of the item,” and stated that:

[W]e must balance against opposer’s argument for the extension of existing case law on functionality [to] what is shown by the record to be long use of the keel cooler depiction by applicant in the manner of a logo. Further, opposer has not discussed whether, when custom manufacturing services are involved, we should still apply the TrafFix test for functionality (a three-dimensional product design is functional if it is “essential to the use or purpose of the product or if it affects the cost or quality of the product”) to the product that results from purchasing the services, or whether the test should be adapted and focus on whether use of the two-dimensional design to be registered is essential to anyone who would provide the same service, or would, if unavailable, affect the cost or quality of the service.

Id. at 1794, citing TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 58 USPQ2d 1001 (2001).

The Board held that opposer had failed to justify an extension of existing law to cover the circumstances of this case, but stated that its decision “does not foreclose the extension of TrafFix to service marks if circumstances in a future case warrant such an extension.” Duramax, 80 USPQ2d at 1794.

1202.02(a)(viii)   Functionality and Non-Traditional Marks

In addition to product design and product packaging, the functionality doctrine has been applied to other non-traditional proposed marks, such as sound, color, and flavor, and the same Morton-Norwich analysis, discussed above, applies to these marks. See, e.g., Brunswick Corp. v. British Seagull Ltd., 35 F.3d 1527, 1532, 32 USPQ2d 1120, 1123 (Fed. Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1050 (1995) (finding the color black for outboard motors functional because it provided competitive advantages such as ease of coordination with a variety of boat colors and reduction in the apparent size of the engines); In re Vertex Grp. LLC, 89 USPQ2d 1694, 1700 (TTAB 2009) (affirming the refusal to register an alarm sound emitted by personal security alarms in the normal course of operation without showing of acquired distinctiveness); Saint-Gobain Corp. v. 3M Co., 90 USPQ2d 1425, 1447 (TTAB 2007) (deep purple shade for coated abrasives held functional, the Board finding that coated abrasive manufacturers have a competitive need to use various shades of purple, including applicant’s shade, and that “[i]n the field of coated abrasives, color serves a myriad of functions, including color coding, and the need to color code lends support for the basic finding that color, including purple, is functional in the field of coated abrasives having paper or cloth backing.”); In re N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d 1639, 1645-46 (TTAB 2006) (finding the flavor orange functional for pharmaceuticals where the evidence showed the flavor served to mask the otherwise unpleasant taste of the medicine flavor); see also Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 165, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1163-1164 (1995) (stating that a product color might be considered functional if its exclusive use “would put competitors at a significant non-reputation-related disadvantage,” even where the color was not functional in the utilitarian sense); TMEP §§1202.02(a)(vi) and 1202.05(b) (regarding aesthetic functionality and color marks).

Examining attorneys should also consider the functionality doctrine in relation to other types of non-traditional marks, such as scent. For example, an application to register scent for an air freshener or an application to register the sound of a ring tone for downloadable ring tones must be refused as functional, as the proposed marks are essential to the use or purpose of the goods. Cf. Vertex, 89 USPQ2d at 1703 (finding that the “ability of applicant’s [security alarms] to emit a loud, pulsing sound is essential to their use or purpose” because the evidence showed that use of a loud sound as an alarm is important and that alternating sound pulses and silence is a "more effective way to use sound as an alarm than is a steady sound”).

1202.02(b)   Distinctiveness of Trade Dress

Regardless of whether a proposed trade dress mark is refused as functional under §2(e)(5), the examining attorney must also examine the mark for distinctiveness. Trade dress that is not inherently distinctive and that has not acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) must be refused registration. The statutory basis for the refusal of registration on the Principal Register on the ground that the trade dress is nondistinctive is §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, for trademark applications, or §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127, for service mark applications.

In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 215, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1069 (2000), the Supreme Court distinguished between two types of trade dress – product design and product packaging. If the trade dress falls within the category of product "design," it can never be inherently distinctive. Id. at 212, 54 USPQ at 1068 (“It seems to us that design, like color, is not inherently distinctive.”). Moreover, the Court held that in close cases in which it is difficult to determine whether the trade dress at issue is product packaging or product design, “courts should err on the side of caution and classify ambiguous trade dress as product design, thereby requiring secondary meaning.” Id. at 215, 54 USPQ2d at 1070; see In re Slokevage, 441 F.3d 957, 78 USPQ2d 1395 (Fed. Cir. 2006). (Note: If the trade dress is functional, it cannot be registered despite acquired distinctiveness. TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 33, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1007 (2001)).

A claim of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) will not overcome a functionality refusal, but may overcome a nondistinctiveness refusal. For example, if the examining attorney issues a refusal on the basis that a product packaging mark is functional and, in the alternative, is nondistinctive, and the applicant asserts acquired distinctiveness in response, the examining attorney must maintain the previously issued functionality refusal, if appropriate, and determine whether the applicant’s evidence would be sufficient to overcome the nondistinctiveness refusal, if the functionality refusal is ultimately reversed.

If the examining attorney fails to separately address the sufficiency of the applicant’s evidence of acquired distinctiveness, this may be treated as a concession that the evidence would be sufficient to establish distinctiveness, if the mark is ultimately found not to be functional. See In re Dietrich, 91 USPQ2d 1622, 1625 (TTAB 2009) (holding that an examining attorney had “effectively conceded that, assuming the mark is not functional, applicant’s evidence is sufficient to establish that the mark has acquired distinctiveness,” where the examining attorney rejected the applicant’s §2(f) claim on the ground that applicant’s bicycle wheel configuration was functional and thus unregistrable even under §2(f), but did not specifically address the sufficiency of the §2(f) evidence or the question of whether the mark would be registrable under §2(f), if it were ultimately found to be non-functional). See TMEP §§1209.02(a)(ii) and 1212.02(i) regarding assertion of acquired distinctiveness in response to an Office action and claiming acquired distinctiveness with respect to incapable matter.

1202.02(b)(i)   Distinctiveness and Product Design Trade Dress

A mark that consists of product design trade dress is never inherently distinctive and is not registrable on the Principal Register unless the applicant establishes that the mark has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f). Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 213-216, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1069-70 (2000). Features of a product’s design can never be inherently distinctive and are registrable only upon a showing of secondary meaning. Id. at 213–14, 54 USPQ2d at 1069. The Supreme Court noted that product design almost invariably serves purposes other than source identification, and that "[c]onsumers are aware . . . that, almost invariably, even the most unusual of product designs -- such as a cocktail shaker shaped like a penguin -- is intended not to identify the source, but to render the product itself more useful or appealing." Id.

In all applications seeking registration of a product design, the examining attorney must refuse registration on the ground that the proposed mark is not inherently distinctive unless the applicant claims that the mark has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) and provides sufficient evidence to show that the mark has acquired distinctiveness. The ground for the refusal is that the proposed mark consists of a nondistinctive product design, and, thus, does not function as a mark under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127. If the product design is not functional, the mark may be registered on the Supplemental Register, or, if the applicant shows that the product design has acquired distinctiveness, on the Principal Register under §2(f). See TMEP §§815–816.05regarding the Supplemental Register, 1202.02(a)–1202.02(a)(viii) regarding functionality, 1202.02(b)–1202.02(b)(ii) regarding distinctiveness, and 1212–1212.10 regarding acquired distinctiveness.

In distinguishing between product packaging and product design trade dress, Wal-Mart instructs that, in “close cases,” courts should classify the trade dress as product design. 529 U.S. at 215, 54 USPQ2d at 1070. In addition, product design can consist of design features that are incorporated in the product and need not implicate the entire product. See id. at 207, 213, 54 USPQ2d at 1066, 1069 (a “cocktail shaker shaped like a penguin” is product design, as is “a line of spring/summer one-piece seersucker outfits decorated with appliqués of hearts, flowers, fruits, and the like”); In re Slokevage, 441 F.3d 957, 961, 78 USPQ2d 1395, 1398 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (holding the mark to be product design trade dress where the mark was for clothing and consisted of a label with the words “FLASH DARE!” in a V-shaped background and cut-out areas located on each side of the label with the cut-out areas consisting of a hole in a garment and a flap attached to the garment with a closure device).

Applicants face a heavy burden in establishing distinctiveness in an application to register trade dress. Stuart Spector Designs, Ltd. v. Fender Musical Instruments Corp., 94 USPQ2d 1549 (TTAB 2009). A mere statement of five years’ use is generally not sufficient. See, e.g., In re Ennco Display Sys. Inc., 56 USPQ2d 1279, 1284 (TTAB 2000). Further, a product design may become generic and, thus, cannot be registered regardless of an applicant’s claim of acquired distinctiveness. See Stuart Spector Designs, 94 USPQ2d at 1555 (noting that “genericness may be found where the design is, at a minimum, so common in the industry that it cannot be said to identify a particular source.”). See TMEP §1212.02(i) regarding acquired distinctiveness with respect to incapable matter.

For applications based on §1(b) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(b), the examining attorney must issue the nondistinctiveness refusal even if the applicant has not filed an allegation of use. See TMEP §1202.02(d) regarding trade dress in intent-to-use applications.

1202.02(b)(ii)   Distinctiveness and Product Packaging Trade Dress

Product packaging may be inherently distinctive but, if not, the examining attorney must refuse registration on the Principal Register on the ground that the proposed mark is nondistinctive trade dress under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, for trademark applications, or under §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127, for service mark applications.

In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 215, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1069 (2000), the Supreme Court discussed the distinction between the trade dress at issue in Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763, 23 USPQ2d 1081 (1992), and the product design trade dress (designs for children’s clothing) under consideration in Wal-Mart:

Two Pesos unquestionably establishes the legal principle that trade dress can be inherently distinctive, but it does not establish that product-design trade dress can be. Two Pesos is inapposite to our holding here because the trade dress at issue, the decor of a restaurant, seems to us not to constitute product design. It was either product packaging – which, as we have discussed, normally is taken by the consumer to indicate origin – or else some tertium quid that is akin to product packaging (citation omitted).

Thus, unlike product design trade dress, trade dress constituting product packaging may be inherently distinctive for goods or services and registrable on the Principal Register without a showing of acquired distinctiveness. However, the examining attorney should be mindful of the Supreme Court’s admonishment that where there are close cases, trade dress should be classified as product design for which secondary meaning is always required. Id. at 215, 54 USPQ2d at 1070.

“[A] mark is inherently distinctive if ‘[its] intrinsic nature serves to identify a particular source.’” Id. at 210, 54 USPQ2d at 1068 (citing Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763, 768, 23 USPQ2d 1081, 1083 (1992)). The test for determining inherent distinctiveness set forth in Seabrook Foods, Inc. v. Bar-Well Foods, Ltd., 568 F.2d 1342, 1344, 196 USPQ 289, 291 (C.C.P.A. 1977), although not applicable to product design trade dress, is still viable in the examination of product packaging trade dress. The examining attorney should consider the following Seabrook factors – whether the proposed mark is:

  • (1) a “common” basic shape or design;
  • (2) unique or unusual in a particular field;
  • (3) a mere refinement of a commonly adopted and well-known form of ornamentation for a particular class of goods viewed by the public as a dress or ornamentation for the goods; or
  • (4) capable of creating a commercial impression distinct from the accompanying words.

Id. See also In re Chippendales USA, Inc., 622 F.3d 1346, 1351, 96 USPQ2d 1681, 1684 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (stating that an abbreviated tuxedo costume consisting of wrist cuffs and a bowtie collar without a shirt “constitute[d] ‘trade dress’ because it was part of the ‘packaging’” for exotic dancing services); Tone Bros., Inc. v. Sysco Corp., 28 F.3d 1192, 1205-07, 31 USPQ2d 1321, 1330-32 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (citing Seabrook) (reversing lower court’s summary judgment finding that the shape and appearance of the spice container at issue was not inherently distinctive); Yankee Candle Co. v. Bridgewater Candle Co., LLC, 259 F.3d 25, 42-45, 59 USPQ2d 1720, 1730-32 (1st Cir. 2001) (finding trade dress for common elements of candle labels was nondistinctive product packaging for which insufficient evidence of acquired distinctiveness was shown); In re Chevron Intellectual Prop. Grp. LLC, 96 USPQ2d 2026, 2029 (TTAB 2010) (affirming that applicant’s “‘three-dimensional, six-sided beveled shape’ [pole spanner design used to promote services] is a mere refinement of a commonly used form of a gasoline pump ornamentation rather than an inherently distinctive service mark for automobile service station services.”); In re Brouwerij Bosteels, 96 USPQ2d 1414, 1421-22 (TTAB 2010) (finding that product packaging trade dress in the nature of a beer glass and stand with wording and scrollwork would be perceived as a mere refinement of a commonly known glass and stand rather than an inherently distinctive indicator of source for the goods); In re File, 48 USPQ2d 1363, 1367 (TTAB 1998) (stating that novel tubular lights used in connection with bowling alley services would be perceived by customers as “simply a refinement of the commonplace decorative or ornamental lighting . . . and would not be inherently regarded as a source indicator.”); In re J. Kinderman & Sons Inc., 46 USPQ2d 1253, 1255 (TTAB 1998) (“while the designs [of packaging for electric lights for Christmas trees that] applicant seeks to register may be unique in the sense that we have no evidence that anyone else is using designs which are identical to them, they are nonetheless not inherently distinctive.”); In re Hudson News Co., 39 USPQ2d 1915, 1923 (TTAB 1996), aff’d per curiam, 114 F.3d 1207 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“[f]or the ‘blue motif’ of a retail store to be registrable on the Principal Register without resort to Section 2(f), the trade dress would have to be immediately recognizable as a distinctive way of identifying the source of the store services.”).

For applications based on §1(b) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(b), unless the drawing, the description of the mark, and the examining attorney’s search results are dispositive of the lack of distinctiveness without the need to consider a specimen, applications for product packaging trade dress generally will not be refused registration on the ground of nondistinctiveness until the applicant has filed an allegation of use. See TMEP §1202.02(d).

Regardless of the basis for filing, if a proposed product packaging mark is inherently distinctive, it may be registered on the Principal Register. See In re Creative Beauty Innovations, Inc., 56 USPQ2d 1203, 1208 (TTAB 2000) (bottle configuration found inherently distinctive); In re Fre-Mar Indus., Inc., 158 USPQ 364, 367 (TTAB 1968) (“[A]lthough the particular shape is a commonplace one for flashlights, it is nevertheless so unique and arbitrary as a container in the tire repair field that it may be inherently distinctive and, therefore, by reason of its shape alone, serve to identify applicant’s goods and distinguish them from like goods of others.”); In re Int'l Playtex Corp., 153 USPQ 377, 378 (TTAB 1967) (container configuration having the appearance of an ice cream cone found inherently distinctive packaging for baby pants).

If a proposed product packaging mark is not inherently distinctive, the mark may be registered on either the Principal Register under §2(f), upon proof that the mark has acquired distinctiveness or secondary meaning, or on the Supplemental Register. Secondary meaning is acquired when the public views the primary significance of the product packaging as identifying the source of the product rather than the product itself. Wal-Mart, 529 U.S. at 211, 54 USPQ2d at 1068. In the following cases, the applicant’s evidence was found to be sufficient to support a claim of acquired distinctiveness: In re World’s Finest Chocolate, Inc., 474 F.2d 1012, 1015, 177 USPQ 205, 207 (C.C.P.A. 1973) (package design found to identify applicant’s candy bars and distinguish them from those of others); Ex parte Haig & Haig Ltd., 118 USPQ 229, 230 (Comm’r Pats. 1958) (“[The decree] recited that because of the original, distinctive and peculiar appearance of the ‘Pinched Decanter’ the brand of whiskey in such bottles had come to be known and recognized by the public, by dealers and by consumers; and that the whiskey contained in such bottles had come to be identified with the ‘Pinched Decanter’ in the minds of the public generally.”).

The examining attorney must establish a prima facie case that the product packaging trade dress is not inherently distinctive. Chippendales, 622 F.3d at 1350, 96 USPQ2d at 1684. To meet this burden, the examining attorney must at a minimum, set forth a “‘reasonable predicate’ for its position of no inherent distinctiveness,” for example, by introducing evidence that competitors use similar basic shapes and designs. In re Pacer Tech., 338 F.3d 1348, 1352, 67 USPQ2d 1629, 1632 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (finding evidence of design patents showing other adhesive container cap designs sufficient to establish prima facie case that applicant’s adhesive container cap was not inherently distinctive). The USPTO is an agency of limited resources, and as such, it cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of conducting market research. Id.

See TMEP §§1212-1212.10 regarding acquired distinctiveness and 815- 816.05 regarding the Supplemental Register. In In re Usher, S.A., 219 USPQ 920, 921 (TTAB 1983), the evidence of secondary meaning was insufficient (holding that the configuration of a package for mint candies was not functional but the package design was not shown to possess secondary meaning). See also Brouwerij Bosteels, 96 USPQ2d at 1424 (evidence of acquired distinctiveness for product packaging trade dress in the nature of a beer glass and stand was insufficient).

1202.02(c)   Drawing and Description of Mark in Trade Dress Applications

Applicants often submit drawings and descriptions of marks depicting trade dress and containing matter that is: (1) not part of the mark; (2) functional; (3) non-distinctive but capable; (4) inherently distinctive; or (5) any combination of these factors. To ensure proper examination, drawings and descriptions of these marks must accurately depict the mark the applicant intends to register.

If the drawing does not meet the requirements of 37 C.F.R. §2.52, the examining attorney must require the applicant to submit a substitute drawing and a substitute description of the mark. The examining attorney may require the applicant to provide additional information, such as pictures of the goods, samples, or other relevant materials pursuant to 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b), to assist in assessing the accuracy and completeness of the drawing and in crafting a comprehensive description of the mark.

1202.02(c)(i)    Drawings in Trade Dress Applications

Drawings of trade dress marks, including three-dimensional product design and product packaging, may not contain elements that are not part of the mark. If the mark comprises the design of only a portion of the product or container, solid lines must be used on the drawing to show the elements of the product or container that are claimed as part of the mark, and broken or dotted lines must be used to indicate the portion of the product or container that is not claimed as part of the mark. 37 C.F.R. §2.52(b)(4); see In re Water Gremlin Co., 635 F.2d 841, 844, 208 USPQ 89, 91 (C.C.P.A. 1980) (affirming the functionality of a circular-shaped container for the goods and the requirement for an amended drawing to either delete the representation of the container from the drawing or show it in dotted lines); TMEP §807.08.

Additionally, broken or dotted lines must be used to indicate elements that are functional or that are included on the drawing merely to show the position of the claimed portion of the mark. The removal or deletion of functional matter that is claimed as part of the mark is permitted and generally does not constitute a material alteration of the mark, regardless of the filing basis, if the functional matter is separable from the other elements in the mark. Since functional features are never capable of acquiring trademark significance and are unregistrable, much like informational matter, they are not part of the mark and usually may be removed or deleted from the drawing by showing them in broken or dotted lines. Doing so constitutes an amendment of the drawing rather than an amendment of the mark.

In the limited circumstance where a proposed trade dress mark is not functional overall, but contains insignificant elements that are functional, the examining attorney must issue a requirement for an amended drawing and allow the applicant to remove or delete the functional elements or depict them in broken or dotted lines to reflect that they are not claimed as features of the mark. See TMEP §1202.02(a)(v) regarding evidence and considerations regarding functionality determinations. The Office action must also indicate that, pending receipt of a proper amended drawing and mark description, registration is refused because the applied-for mark includes elements that are functional. The statutory basis for the refusal is §2(e)(5) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(5).

In such a case, disclaimer of the functional elements is not appropriate because they do not form a part of the mark and are not capable of functioning as a trademark. See In re Famous Foods, Inc., 217 USPQ 177 (TTAB 1983). A disclaimer states that the applicant does not claim exclusive rights to matter in the mark apart from the mark as a whole. This means that the applicant maintains rights in the disclaimed matter as part of its own mark. Therefore, with respect to three-dimensional trade dress marks, matter that is functional or intended to show placement only is not part of the mark and should not be disclaimed. Representations of certain non-distinctive but capable features of a mark may be disclaimed in the limited circumstance discussed below.

Since elements on the drawing shown in broken or dotted lines are not part of the mark, they are excluded from the examining attorney’s consideration during any §2(d) (likelihood of confusion) analysis. See In re Homeland Vinyl Prods., Inc., 81 USPQ2d 1378, 1382 (TTAB 2006).

In rare instances where it is impractical to render certain elements of a mark in dotted or broken lines - for example, if those elements are proportionally so small as to render dotted lines illegible - or if dotted lines would result in an unclear depiction of the mark, the applicant may use solid lines. However, the applicant must insert a statement in the description of the mark identifying these elements and declaring that these elements are not part of the mark and that they serve only to show the position of the mark on the goods, as appropriate.

Elements of a mark, such as features of non-functional product packaging or product design or configuration, that have acquired distinctiveness may appear in solid lines on the drawing as part of the mark. Such elements may be removed from the mark only if the removal thereof does not result in material alteration.

A photograph of the applied-for trade dress is acceptable as a drawing if it otherwise meets the drawing requirements (e.g., it does not contain extraneous, purely informational matter such as net weight, contents, or business addresses) and it fairly represents the mark. Note that, although the mark in a §66(a) application cannot be amended, the applicant must comply with the United States requirements regarding drawings of the mark, and an amendment of the drawing for the purpose of compliance with United States law will be accepted. See TMEP §1904.02(j)–(k). Therefore, in §66(a) applications, amendments to delete extraneous matter from photographs, or amendments of drawings from photographs to illustrated renderings showing elements of the mark in dotted or broken lines, will be accepted and will not be considered a material alteration.

1202.02(c)(ii)    Descriptions of Trade Dress Marks Required

Trade dress applications must include an accurate description of the mark. See 37 C.F.R. §2.37. If an acceptable statement describing the mark is not in the record, the examining attorney must require the applicant to submit a description to clarify what the applicant seeks to register. The description must adequately describe the mark, with unnecessary matter kept to a minimum. The description must clearly indicate that the mark is “three-dimensional” and constitutes a “design” or “configuration” of the goods themselves or “packaging” or “container” in which the goods are sold, or the trade dress (e.g., interior of a restaurant, exterior of a retail establishment, or point-of-sale-display) for the services offered. If applicable, the description must specify which elements on the drawing constitute the mark and are claimed as part of the mark and which are not. The description of the mark must make clear what any dotted or broken lines represent and include a statement that the matter shown in dotted or broken lines is not part of the mark. See 37 C.F.R. §2.52(b)(4); TMEP §§808-808.03(f). The description must also avoid use of disclaimer-type language, such as “no claim is made to the …,” because of the different legal significance of using broken lines versus submitting a disclaimer. See TMEP §1202.02(c)(iii) regarding disclaimers of unregistrable elements of trade dress marks.

During the prosecution of a trade dress application, if the applicant is required to submit an amended drawing (e.g., to delete functional matter by depicting it in broken or dotted lines), the examining attorney must also require a corresponding amended description.

Examples of acceptable language for this purpose are: “The broken lines depicting [describe elements] indicate placement of the mark on the goods and are not part of the mark” or “The dotted lines outlining [the goods] are intended to show the position of the mark on the goods and are not part of the mark.”

For example, for the mark below,

Design of mark described as: color blue applied to the cap of the container of the goods, a white background applied to the rest of the container, a blue rectangle with a silver border displayed against the white background, a light blue curving band, and three light blue droplets on the left side of the white background.

an appropriate description (and color claim) of the mark could read:

The colors white, blue, light blue, and silver are claimed as a feature of the mark. The mark consists of the color blue applied to the cap of the container of the goods, a white background applied to the rest of the container, a blue rectangle with a silver border, a light blue curving band, and three light blue droplets. The dotted lines outlining the container and its cap indicate placement of the mark on the goods and are not part of the mark.

For the mark below,

Design of mark described as: a single transverse red stripe applied adjacent to one end of the elongated packaging for the goods.

an appropriate description (and color claim) of the mark would read:

The color red is claimed as a feature of the mark. The mark consists of a single transverse red stripe applied adjacent to one end of the elongated packaging for the goods. The dotted outline of the packaging is intended to show the position of the mark and is not part of the mark.

And for the mark below,

A picture of a guitar.

an appropriate description of the mark would read:

The mark consists of a three-dimensional configuration of a stringed musical instrument body. The neck, peghead, and other instrument parts shown in broken lines serve to show positioning of the mark and form no part of the mark.

The examining attorney must ensure that the description statement has been entered into the Trademark Reporting and Monitoring (“TRAM”) database, so that it will be printed in the Official Gazette and on the certificate of registration. See TMEP §817.

See TMEP §§1202.05(d)(i) and (d)(ii) regarding drawings in applications for color marks consisting solely of one or more colors.

1202.02(c)(iii)    Disclaimers of Unregistrable Elements of Trade Dress Marks

Where the trade dress as a whole is registrable but contains elements that are not inherently distinctive (i.e., they are either capable of registration upon proof of acquired distinctiveness or incapable of acquiring trademark significance because, for example, they are generic), these elements generally must be disclaimed. See 15 U.S.C. §1056; TMEP §1213 regarding disclaimers. Trade dress marks generally are not considered unitary, as each of the elements normally creates a separate commercial impression. As stated in the Federal Circuit decision In re Slokevage, 441 F.3d 957, 963, 78 USPQ2d 1395, 1400 (Fed. Cir. 2006), “[m]oreover, trade dress, by its nature, contains distinct elements and is characterized as the combination of various elements to create an overall impression.” Although each element is combined with others to form one composite mark, each element retains its separate commercial impression.

If the mark consists of inherently distinctive elements combined with elements that are not inherently distinctive but are capable, and the applicant indicates that the capable matter is claimed as part of the mark, a disclaimer is appropriate. See TMEP §1212.02(e) regarding disclaimers of unregistrable components in applications to register marks on the Principal Register under §2(f). See also In re Creative Goldsmiths of Wash., Inc., 229 USPQ 766, 768 (TTAB 1986) (“[I]t is within the discretion of an Examining Attorney to require the disclaimer of an unregistrable component (such as a common descriptive, or generic, name) of a composite mark sought to be registered on the Principal Register under the provisions of Section 2(f).”).

A disclaimer is not an appropriate means of addressing functional matter in a trade dress mark. See In re Famous Foods, Inc., 217 USPQ 177 (TTAB 1983). Instead, an amendment of the drawing to depict the functional elements in broken or dotted lines should be required since functional matter is not part of the mark and is never capable of acquiring trademark significance. See TMEP §1202.02(c)(i).

Regarding disclaimers of unregistrable components in applications to register marks on the Supplemental Register, see In re Water Gremlin Co., 635 F.2d 841, 845 n.6, 208 USPQ 89, 91 n.6 (C.C.P.A. 1980) (“Section 6 is equally applicable to the Supplemental Register.”); In re Wella Corp., 565 F.2d 143, 144, 196 USPQ 7, 8 (C.C.P.A. 1977) (mark comprising stylized lettering of BALSAM, with disclaimer of “BALSAM,” found registrable on Supplemental Register for hair conditioner and hair shampoo); In re Carolyn’s Candies, Inc., 206 USPQ 356, 360 (TTAB 1980) (“Section 6 of the Trademark Act of 1946, which provides for the disclaimer of ‘unregistrable matter’, does not limit the disclaimer practice to marks upon the Principal Register.”).

1202.02(c)(iv)    Three-Dimensional Marks

In an application to register a mark with three-dimensional features, the applicant must submit a drawing that depicts the mark in a single rendition. 37 C.F.R. §2.52(b)(2). See TMEP §807.10. In order to accurately reflect the exact nature of the applied-for mark, the mark description must state that the mark is three-dimensional in nature. This feature of the mark must be shown in the supporting specimens of use for the drawing to comprise a substantially exact representation of the mark as actually used. Conversely, a three-dimensional specimen would not be acceptable to show use for a mark that is described or depicted as a two-dimensional mark. If the applicant believes it cannot adequately display its mark in a single rendition, it may petition the Director to waive the requirement and accept a drawing featuring multiple views of the mark. 37 C.F.R. §2.146(a)(5).

1202.02(d)   Trade Dress in §1(b) Applications

Distinctiveness and Product Design

A product design trade dress mark can never be inherently distinctive and is registrable only upon a showing of secondary meaning. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 212, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068 (2000); In re Slokevage, 441 F.3d 957, 962, 78 USPQ2d 1395, 1399 (Fed. Cir. 2006); TMEP §1202.02(b)(i). See TMEP §§1202.02(b) and 1202.02(b)(i) regarding distinctiveness of product design trade dress. Therefore, if the mark is comprised of a product design, the examining attorney will refuse registration on the Principal Register on the ground that the proposed mark consists of a nondistinctive product design under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act. 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127. The examining attorney must make this refusal even in an intent-to-use application under 15 U.S.C. §1051(b) for which no allegation of use has been filed.

Distinctiveness and Product Packaging

If the mark comprises product packaging trade dress for goods or services, the examining attorney must determine whether the mark is inherently distinctive. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 212-13, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068-69 (2000); Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763, 773-75, 23 USPQ2d 1081, 1085-86 (1992). See TMEP §§1202.02(b) and 1202.02(b)(ii) regarding distinctiveness of product packaging trade dress. This usually requires consideration of the context in which the mark is used and the impression it would make on purchasers. Generally, no refusal based on lack of inherent distinctiveness will be issued in an intent-to-use application under 15 U.S.C. §1051(b) until the applicant has submitted specimen(s) with an allegation of use under §1(c) or §1(d) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051(c) or (d). However, if appropriate, the examining attorney has discretion to issue this refusal before a specimen is submitted.

Functionality

To determine whether a proposed product design or product packaging trade dress mark is functional, the examining attorney must consider how the asserted mark is used. Generally, in a §1(b) application, the examining attorney will not issue a refusal on the ground that the mark is functional until the applicant has filed an allegation of use under §1(c) or §1(d) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051(c) or (d).

In a §1(b) application for which no specimen has been submitted, if the examining attorney’s research indicates that a refusal based on functionality or nondistinctive trade dress will be made, the potential refusal should be brought to the applicant’s attention in the first Office action. This is done strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding this possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant before the allegation of use is filed, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration on this basis. If the functional nature of the mark is clearly apparent from the drawing, description of the mark, and research conducted by the examining attorney, without the need to await consideration of the specimen, a refusal based on functionality or nondistinctive trade dress may issue prior to the filing of the allegation of use.

1202.02(e)   Trade Dress in §44 and §66(a) Applications

Distinctiveness and Product Design

A product design trade dress mark can never be inherently distinctive and is registrable only upon a showing of secondary meaning. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 212-213, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068-1069 (2000); In re Slokevage, 441 F.3d 957, 962, 78 USPQ2d 1395, 1399 (Fed. Cir. 2006); TMEP §1202.02(b)(i). See TMEP §§1202.02(b) and 1202.02(b)(i) regarding distinctiveness of product design trade dress. Therefore, if the proposed mark is comprised of a product design, the examining attorney must refuse registration on the Principal Register on the ground that the proposed mark consists of a nondistinctive product design under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act. 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127.

Distinctiveness and Product Packaging

If the mark comprises product packaging trade dress for goods or services, the examining attorney must determine whether the mark is inherently distinctive. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 212-13, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068-69 (2000); Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763, 773-75, 23 USPQ2d 1081, 1085-86 (1992). See TMEP §§1202.02(b) and 1202.02(b)(ii) regarding distinctiveness of product packaging trade dress. Because a specimen of use is not required prior to registration in these cases, it is appropriate for the examining attorney to issue the refusal where the mark on its face, as shown on the drawing and described in the description of the mark, reflects a lack of distinctiveness. Cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal in a §66(a) application despite the lack of a specimen).

Functionality

If the application itself (i.e., the drawing, the description of the mark, and identification of goods/services) and/or the evidence uncovered during an independent search support that the proposed mark is functional, the examining attorney must issue a refusal of registration on the Principal Register under §2(e)(5). See TMEP §§1202.02(a)–1202.02(a)(viii) regarding functionality.

1202.02(f)   Identification of Goods/Services in Trade Dress Applications

1202.02(f)(i)   Product Design

Trade dress includes the three-dimensional design or configuration of the product itself. In such cases, the drawing usually depicts the item listed in the identification of goods (e.g., the drawing shows a three-dimensional design of a guitar and the goods are “guitars”). However, sometimes the identification of goods/services in a product-design application includes different or unrelated products or services that are, on their face, inconsistent with the product design depicted on the drawing (e.g., the drawing shows a three-dimensional design of a guitar and the identification includes “drums and pianos” or “retail music stores”). This presents an issue of “inconsistent goods.” In rare cases, slight variations are acceptable if the products have a “consistent overall look” such that the changes do not alter the distinctive characteristics and the trade dress conveys a “single and continuing” commercial impression. Cf. Rose Art Indus., Inc. v. Swanson, 235 F.3d 165, 173, 57 USPQ2d 1125, 1131 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Rose Art Indus., Inc. v. Raymond Geddes & Co., 31 F. Supp. 2d 367, 373, 49 USPQ2d 1180, 1184 (D.N.J. 1998), rev’d on other grounds sub nom. Rose Art Indus., Inc. v. Swanson, 235 F.3d 165, 57 USPQ2d 1125 (3d Cir. 2000)) (stating that trade dress protection for a series or line of products or packaging depends on them having a consistent overall look and remanding for proper application of the standard); The Walt Disney Co. v. GoodTimes Home Video Corp., 830 F. Supp. 762, 766, 29 USPQ2d 1047, 1050 (S.D.N.Y. 1993) (setting forth the “consistent overall look” standard and applying it to a claim of protection for a line of packaging trade dress). For example, the drawing of a three-dimensional design of a guitar might reasonably reflect the consistent overall look of both guitars and ukuleles, which can share a very similar shape and appearance.

Section 1(a) Applications: Where the identification of goods/services, the description of the mark, or other evidence of record indicate that not all of the goods/services in the identification are represented in the three-dimensional mark depicted on the drawing, the examining attorney must refuse registration on the ground that the mark fails to function as a mark for the inconsistent goods/services. The statutory bases for the refusal are §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127 for trademarks and §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127, for service marks.

The examining attorney must specify the inconsistent goods/services subject to refusal and request evidence and/or additional specimens to substantiate use of the mark in connection with the inconsistent goods/services. 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b). The applicant may overcome the refusal by providing (1) additional specimens showing the inconsistent goods in the shape of the design depicted on the drawing or (2) sufficient evidence that the three-dimensional product design or configuration mark functions as a source indicator in connection with the inconsistent goods/services listed in the identification. The applicant may also delete the inconsistent goods/services.

The examining attorney must also examine the drawing and the specimen to determine whether the specific three-dimensional product design mark depicted on the drawing is a substantially exact representation of the mark shown on the specimen. TMEP §807.12(a).

Section 1(b) Applications: In a §1(b) application for which no specimen has been submitted, if the examining attorney anticipates that the applicant may not be able to show proper trademark use of the product design mark for the inconsistent goods/services, the potential refusal should be brought to the applicant’s attention in the first action issued by the USPTO. This advisory is given strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding the possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant before the allegation of use is filed, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration after submission of the use allegation. When the record indicates that the product design would not be perceived as a mark for the inconsistent goods/services, the examining attorney may make the failure to function as a mark refusal prior to the filing of the allegation of use.

When an amendment to allege use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(c), or a statement of use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(d), is submitted in connection with a §1(b) application, the examining attorney should follow the procedures discussed above for product-design trade dress in §1(a) applications.

Section 44 and Section 66(a) Applications: A specimen is not required in a §44 or §66(a) application to show use of the proposed mark in commerce in connection with the identified goods/services. However, since these applications are otherwise examined under the same standards as applications under §1, it is appropriate for the examining attorney to refuse registration on the ground that the mark fails to function as a mark for the inconsistent goods/services where the drawing, the description of the mark, the identification of goods/services, or other evidence indicates that the identification includes goods/services that are, on their face, inconsistent with the specific three-dimensional product design depicted on the drawing (e.g., a three-dimensional toy car product design for “toy boats”). The statutory bases for the refusal are §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, for trademarks and §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127, for service marks. Cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal, which is otherwise typically specimen based, in a §66(a) application). The examining attorney must also request evidence to substantiate that the proposed mark could function as a source indicator in connection with the inconsistent goods/services. 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b). This is not a requirement for specimens. To overcome the refusal, the applicant must provide evidence showing that the three-dimensional product design or configuration mark functions as a source indicator in connection with the inconsistent goods/services listed in the identification. Absent such a showing, the identification of goods/services must be amended to delete the inconsistent goods/services.

1202.02(f)(ii)   Product Packaging

The three-dimensional packaging or wrapping in which a product is sold also constitutes trade dress. While a product-design drawing typically depicts the shape or configuration of the product listed in the identification of goods, product packaging can be in any shape or form that serves as packaging for the listed goods. For example, if the drawing depicts a three-dimensional computer mouse, the description of the mark states that the trade dress is product packaging, and the identified goods are “cosmetics and hair brushes,” it is conceivable that the goods could be sold in packaging shaped like a computer mouse, and it does not mean that the goods themselves must be in the shape of a computer mouse. However, where the drawing depicts a three-dimensional computer mouse, the description of the mark states that the trade dress is product design or configuration, the identified goods are “cosmetics and hair brushes,” and the goods are not in the shape of a computer mouse, this presents a potential issue of “inconsistent goods.” See TMEP §1202.02(f)(i).

In most cases, the specific three-dimensional product packaging depicted on the drawing houses the product being sold (e.g., the drawing shows a three-dimensional bottle and the goods are “wine”). However, in rare cases, the identification of goods may include products (or services) that appear, on their face, to be inconsistent with the type of packaging design depicted on the drawing (e.g., a drawing showing a three-dimensional bottle design for “automobiles” or other “inconsistent goods” that are not likely to be sold in bottles). In such cases, where the drawing, the description of the mark, the specimen, or any other evidence of record does not support that the three-dimensional product packaging depicted on the drawing would serve as packaging for the goods, the applicant must provide sufficient evidence that the proposed trade dress serves as the actual shape of the packaging for the inconsistent goods or has a “consistent overall look” across all the goods listed in the identification. Cf. Rose Art Indus., Inc. v. Swanson, 235 F.3d 165, 173, 57 USPQ2d 1125, 1131 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Rose Art Indus., Inc. v. Raymond Geddes & Co., 31 F. Supp. 2d 367, 373, 49 USPQ2d 1180, 1184 (D.N.J. 1998), rev’d on other grounds sub nom. Rose Art Indus., Inc. v. Swanson, 235 F.3d 165, 57 USPQ2d 1125 (3d Cir. 2000)) (stating that trade dress protection for a series or line of products or packaging depends on them having a consistent overall look and remanding for proper application of the standard); The Walt Disney Co. v. GoodTimes Home Video Corp., 830 F. Supp. 762, 766, 29 USPQ2d 1047, 1050 (S.D.N.Y. 1993) (setting forth the “consistent overall look” standard and applying it to a claim of protection for a line of packaging trade dress). In this situation, the same analysis, refusal, and requirements that apply to product design also apply to product packaging. See TMEP §1202.02(f)(i).

1202.03   Refusal on Basis of Ornamentation

Subject matter that is merely a decorative feature does not identify and distinguish the applicant’s goods and, thus, does not function as a trademark. A decorative feature may include words, designs, slogans, or trade dress. This matter should be refused registration because it is merely ornamentation and, therefore, does not function as a trademark, as required by §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127.

Generally, the ornamentation refusal applies only to trademarks, not to service marks. See TMEP §§1301.02–1301.02(f) regarding matter that does not function as a service mark.

Matter that serves primarily as a source indicator, either inherently or as a result of acquired distinctiveness, and that is only incidentally ornamental or decorative, can be registered as a trademark. In re Paramount Pictures Corp., 213 USPQ 1111, 1114 (TTAB 1982).

With regard to registrability, ornamental matter may be categorized along a continuum ranging from ornamental matter that is registrable on the Principal Register, to purely ornamental matter that is incapable of trademark significance and unregistrable under any circumstances, as follows:

  • (1) Ornamental matter that serves as an identifier of a “secondary source” is registrable on the Principal Register. For example, ornamental matter on a T-shirt (e.g., the designation “NEW YORK UNIVERSITY”) can convey to the purchasing public the “secondary source” of the T-shirt (rather than the manufacturing source). Thus, even where the T-shirt is distributed by a party other than that identified by the designation, sponsorship, or authorization by the identified party is indicated. See TMEP §1202.03(c).
  • (2) Ornamental matter that is neither inherently distinctive nor a secondary source indicator may be registered on the Principal Register under §2(f), if the applicant establishes that the subject matter has acquired distinctiveness as a mark in relation to the goods. See TMEP §1202.03(d).
  • (3) Ornamental matter that is neither inherently distinctive nor an indicator of secondary source, and has not acquired distinctiveness, but is capable of attaining trademark significance, may be registered on the Supplemental Register in an application under §1 or §44 of the Trademark Act.
  • (4) Some matter is determined to be purely ornamental and, thus, incapable of trademark significance and unregistrable on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register. See TMEP §1202.03(a).

The examining attorney should consider the following factors to determine whether ornamental matter can be registered: (1) the commercial impression of the proposed mark; (2) the relevant practices of the trade; (3) secondary source, if applicable; and (4) evidence of distinctiveness. These factors are discussed in the following sections.

1202.03(a)   Commercial Impression

The examining attorney must determine whether the overall commercial impression of the proposed mark is that of a trademark. Matter that is purely ornamental or decorative does not function as a trademark and is unregistrable on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register.

The significance of the proposed mark is a factor to consider when determining whether ornamental matter serves a trademark function. Common expressions and symbols (e.g., the peace symbol, “smiley face,” or the phrase “Have a Nice Day”) are normally not perceived as marks.

The examining attorney must also consider the size, location, and dominance of the proposed mark, as applied to the goods, to determine whether ornamental matter serves a trademark function. In re Dimitri’s Inc., 9 USPQ2d 1666, 1667 (TTAB 1988); In re Astro-Gods Inc., 223 USPQ 621, 623 (TTAB 1984). A small, neat, and discrete word or design feature (e.g., small design of animal over pocket or breast portion of shirt) may be likely to create the commercial impression of a trademark, whereas a larger rendition of the same matter emblazoned across the front of a garment (or a tote bag, or the like) may be likely to be perceived merely as a decorative or ornamental feature of the goods. However, a small, neat, and discrete word or design feature will not necessarily be perceived as a mark in all cases.

1202.03(b)   Practices of the Trade

In determining whether a proposed mark is inherently distinctive, factors to be considered include whether the subject matter is unique or unusual in a particular field, as opposed to a mere refinement of a commonly adopted and well-known form of ornamentation for a particular class of goods that would be viewed by the public as a dress or ornamentation for the goods. See, e.g., In re General Tire & Rubber Co., 404 F.2d 1396, 1398, 160 USPQ 415, 417 (C.C.P.A. 1969) (affirming the ornamentation refusal of a mark comprising three narrow white concentric rings of approximately equal width applied to the outer surface of a dark sidewall tire; mark was a refinement of the practice, which consumers were familiar with, of whitewalls as decoration on tires); In re Chung, Jeanne & Kim Co., 226 USPQ 938, 941-42 (TTAB 1985) (finding that stripe design applied to sides of sport shoes was mere refinement of the common and well-known form of ornamentation in the field of sports shoes).

Even if a proposed mark is not inherently distinctive, it may be registered on the Principal Register if it has become distinctive of the applicant’s goods in commerce. See TMEP §1202.03(d). The practices of the trade may be relevant in assessing the applicant’s burden of proving that the proposed mark has become distinctive. Typically, more evidence is required if the proposed mark is a type of ornamental matter used so frequently in the relevant industry that consumers would be less apt to discern a source-indicating significance from its use. See Anchor Hocking Glass Corp. v. Corning Glass Works, 162 USPQ 288, 292-99 (TTAB 1969) (extensive evidence of record supported that cornflower design was recognized as a trademark for coffee percolators, culinary vessels, and utensils). Cf. In re Villeroy & Boch S.A.R.L., 5 USPQ2d 1451, 1454 (TTAB 1987) (affirming refusal to register design of morning glories and leaves for tableware, the Board noting that the design “has not been shown to be other than another decorative pattern without trademark significance....”).

If the applicant cannot show that the proposed mark has acquired distinctiveness, the mark in an application under §1 or §44 of the Trademark Act may be registered on the Supplemental Register if it is capable of distinguishing the applicant’s goods or services. 15 U.S.C. §1091. The practices of the trade may be relevant in determining whether a proposed mark is capable of distinguishing the goods or services. If the practices of the trade suggest that certain matter performs the function of a trademark by signifying to purchasers and prospective purchasers the goods of a particular entity and distinguishing them from the goods of others, the matter is assumed to be capable of distinguishing the applicant’s goods and, therefore, may be registered on the Supplemental Register. See In re Todd Co., 290 F.2d 597, 599-600, 129 USPQ 408, 410 (C.C.P.A. 1961) (holding that repeating pattern of green lines, used to cover the entire back surface of safety paper products (e.g., checks), was registrable on the Supplemental Register for safety paper products, where the record showed that it had long been the practice in the industry to use distinctive overall surface designs to indicate origin of the products).

1202.03(c)   “Secondary Source”

To show that a proposed mark that is used on the goods in a decorative or ornamental manner also serves a source-indicating function, the applicant may submit evidence that the proposed mark would be recognized as a mark through its use with goods or services other than those being refused as ornamental. To show secondary source, the applicant may show: (1) ownership of a U.S. registration on the Principal Register of the same mark for other goods or services based on use in commerce under §1 of the Trademark Act; (2) ownership of a U.S. registration on the Principal Register of the same mark for other goods or services based on a foreign registration under §44(e) or §66(a) of the Trademark Act for which an affidavit or declaration of use in commerce under §8 or §71 has been accepted; (3) non-ornamental use of the mark in commerce on other goods or services; or (4) ownership of a pending use-based application for the same mark, used in a non-ornamental manner, for other goods or services. Ownership of an intent-to-use application for which no allegation of use under §1(c) or §1(d) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051(c) or (d), has been filed is not sufficient to show secondary source. If the applicant establishes that the proposed mark serves as an identifier of secondary source, the matter is registrable on the Principal Register.

In In re Paramount Pictures Corp., 213 USPQ 1111, 1112 (TTAB 1982), the Board held that MORK & MINDY was registrable for decals because the applicant had a television series of that name and had previously registered MORK & MINDY for various goods and services, and found that the primary significance of the term MORK & MINDY to a prospective purchaser of decals was to indicate the television series and the principal characters of the television series. The Board held that the case was controlled by its decision in In re Olin Corp., 181 USPQ 182 (TTAB 1973) (stylized “O” design registrable for T-shirts, where applicant had previously registered the “O” design for skis), in which that Board had stated:

It is a matter of common knowledge that T-shirts are “ornamented” with various insignia ... or … various sayings such as “Swallow Your Leader.” In that sense what is sought to be registered could be construed to be ornamental. If such ornamentation is without any meaning other than as mere ornamentation it is apparent that the ornamentation could not and would not serve as an indicia of source. Thus, to use our own example, “Swallow Your Leader” probably would not be considered as an indication of source.

Id. at 182.

In Paramount, the Board stated that “[t]he ‘ornamentation’ of a T-shirt can be of a special nature which is [sic] inherently tells the purchasing public the source of the T-shirt, not the source of manufacture but the secondary source.” 213 USPQ at 1112. Applying the test set forth in Olin, the Board found that “the paired names ‘MORK & MINDY’, while certainly part of the ornamentation of the decal, also indicate source or origin in the proprietor of the Mork & Mindy television series in the same sense as the stylized ‘O’ in Olin.” Id. at 1113. The Board noted that “while purchasers may be accustomed to seeing characters’ names and images as part of the ornamentation of decals, T-shirts and the like, they are also accustomed to seeing characters’ names and images used as trademarks to indicate source of origin.” Id. at 1114.

See also In re Watkins Glen Int’l, Inc., 227 USPQ 727, 729 (TTAB 1985) (reversing the refusal and finding stylized checkered flag design registrable for patches and clothing items, where applicant had previously registered WATKINS GLEN and checkered flag design (with “WATKINS GLEN” disclaimed) for services); In re Expo ‘74, 189 USPQ 48, 50 (TTAB 1975) (reversing the refusal and holding EXPO ‘74 registrable for handkerchiefs and T-shirts, since applicant, organizer of the 1974 World’s Fair, had previously registered EXPO ‘74 for other goods and services).

A series of ornamental uses of the proposed mark on various items will not establish that the proposed mark functions as an indicator of secondary source; use as a trademark for the other goods or services must be shown. See In re Astro-Gods Inc., 223 USPQ 621 (TTAB 1984) (affirming the refusal to register ASTRO GODS and design for T-shirts, despite applicant’s ornamental use of the proposed mark on other goods and appearance of applicant’s trade name “Astro Gods Inc.” on the T-shirt as part of a copyright notice).

1202.03(d)   Evidence of Distinctiveness

As noted above, even if a proposed mark is not inherently distinctive, it may nevertheless be registered on the Principal Register under §2(f), 15 U.S.C. §1052(f), if it becomes distinctive of the applicant’s goods in commerce. See TMEP §§1212–1212.10 regarding acquired distinctiveness.

Generally, evidence of five years’ use alone is not sufficient to show acquired distinctiveness of a mark that is mere ornamentation. Concrete evidence that the proposed mark is perceived as a mark for the relevant goods or services is required to establish distinctiveness. See In re Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 774 F.2d 1116, 227 USPQ 417 (Fed. Cir. 1985).

1202.03(e)   Ornamentation with Respect to §1(b), §44, and §66(a) Applications

Generally, the issue of ornamentation is tied to the use of the proposed mark as evidenced by the specimen. Therefore, unless the ornamental nature of the mark is clearly apparent from the drawing and description of the mark, no ornamentation refusal will be issued in an intent-to-use application until the applicant has submitted specimen(s) of use with an allegation of use under §1(c) or §1(d)of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051(c) or (d).

In an application under §44 or §66(a), where a specimen of use is not required prior to registration, it is appropriate for the examining attorney to issue an ornamentation refusal where the proposed mark on its face, as shown on the drawing and described in the description, reflects a failure to function. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal in a §66(a) application for a mark comprising pocket-stitching design for clothing).

1202.03(f)   Ornamentation: Case References

The following cases show the various ways in which ornamental matter was found not to function as a mark.

1202.03(f)(i)    Slogans or Words Used on the Goods

Slogans or phrases used on items such as t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, and ceramic plates have been refused registration as ornamentation that purchasers will perceive as conveying a message rather than indicating the source of the goods. See In re Pro-Line Corp., 28 USPQ2d 1141 (TTAB 1993) (BLACKER THE COLLEGE SWEETER THE KNOWLEDGE primarily ornamental slogan that is not likely to be perceived as source indicator); In re Dimitri’s Inc., 9 USPQ2d 1666 (TTAB 1988) (SUMO, as used in connection with stylized representations of sumo wrestlers on applicant’s T-shirts and baseball-style caps, serves merely as an ornamental feature of applicant's goods); In re Original Red Plate Co., 223 USPQ 836 (TTAB 1984) (YOU ARE SPECIAL TODAY for ceramic plates found to be without any source-indicating significance); In re Astro-Gods Inc., 223 USPQ 621, 624 (TTAB 1984) (“[T]he designation ‘ASTRO GODS’ and design is not likely to be perceived as anything other than part of the thematic whole of the ornamentation of applicant’s shirts.”); Damn I’m Good Inc. v. Sakowitz, Inc., 514 F. Supp. 1357, 212 USPQ 684 (S.D.N.Y. 1981) (DAMN I’M GOOD, inscribed in large letters on bracelets and used on hang tags affixed to the goods, found to be without any source-indicating significance).

See also TMEP §1202.04 regarding informational matter.

1202.03(f)(ii)   Designs Used on the Goods

See In re General Tire & Rubber Co., 404 F.2d 1396, 160 USPQ 415 (C.C.P.A. 1969) (three narrow white concentric rings of approximately equal width applied to the outer surface of a dark sidewall tire considered just a refinement of a general ornamental concept rather than a trademark); In re David Crystal, Inc., 296 F.2d 771, 132 USPQ 1 (C.C.P.A. 1961) (two parallel colored bands at the top of the sock, the upper band red, and the lower band blue, for men’s ribbed socks held merely ornamental absent convincing evidence that the purchasing public recognized the design as a trademark); In re Sunburst Prods., Inc., 51 USPQ2d 1843 (TTAB 1999) (combination of matching color of watch bezel and watch band and contrasting colors of watch case and watch bezel for sports watches found to be nothing more than a mere refinement of a common or basic color scheme for sports watches and, therefore, would not immediately be recognized or perceived as a source indicator); In re Villeroy & Boch S.A.R.L., 5 USPQ2d 1451 (TTAB 1987) (floral pattern design of morning glories and leaves for tableware not distinctive and not shown to be other than decorative pattern without trademark significance).

1202.03(f)(iii)   Trade Dress on the Containers for the Goods

See In re J. Kinderman & Sons Inc., 46 USPQ2d 1253 (TTAB 1998) (design of container for Christmas decorations that resembles a wrapped Christmas gift not inherently distinctive); In re F.C.F. Inc., 30 USPQ2d 1825 (TTAB 1994) (rose design used on cosmetics packaging is essentially ornamental or decorative background and does not function as mark); In re Petersen Mfg. Co., 2 USPQ2d 2032 (TTAB 1987) (design representing the rear panel of a container for hand tools held unregistrable as merely ornamental, notwithstanding §2(f) claim).

1202.03(g)   Ornamentation Cases and Acquired Distinctiveness

In the following cases, subject matter sought to be registered was found to have acquired distinctiveness as a trademark: In re Jockey Int’l, Inc., 192 USPQ 579 (TTAB 1976) (inverted Y design used on underwear found to have acquired distinctiveness, where evidence showed extensive use on packaging and in advertising in a manner calculated to draw the attention of prospective purchasers to the design and for them to look at the design as a badge of origin); Anchor Hocking Glass Corp. v. Corning Glass Works, 162 USPQ 288 (TTAB 1969) (blue cornflower design for coffee percolators, culinary vessels, and utensils found to have acquired distinctiveness, where evidence showed extensive and prominent use of the design in advertising, use of the design on pins and aprons worn by sales promotion representatives in the course of their duties, and surveys and statements of purchasers indicating that they recognized the design as indicating origin in applicant).

1202.04   Informational Matter

Slogans and other terms that are merely informational in nature, or common laudatory phrases or statements that would ordinarily be used in business or in the particular trade or industry, are not registrable. In re T.S. Designs, Inc., 95 USPQ2d 1669 (TTAB 2010) (holding CLOTHING FACTS merely an informational phrase and not a source identifier based on the likely consumer perception of the phrase used on a clothing label in connection with manufacturing information reminiscent of the "Nutrition Facts" label required for food products by the United States Food and Drug Administration); In re Aerospace Optics, Inc., 78 USPQ2d 1861 (TTAB 2006) (holding SPECTRUM fails to function as a mark for illuminated pushbutton switches, where the mark is used in a manner that merely informs potential purchasers of the multiple color feature of the goods, and the coloring and font in which the mark is displayed are not sufficient to imbue the term with source-identifying significance or to set it apart from other informational wording); In re Volvo Cars of N. Am., Inc., 46 USPQ2d 1455 (TTAB 1998) (holding DRIVE SAFELY merely an informational phrase or slogan that would be perceived as an everyday, commonplace safety admonition that does not function as mark); In re Manco Inc., 24 USPQ2d 1938, 1942 (TTAB 1992) (holding THINK GREEN and design for weatherstripping and paper products “merely an informational slogan devoid of trademark significance”); In re Remington Prods., Inc., 3 USPQ2d 1714 (TTAB 1987) (holding PROUDLY MADE IN USA, for electric shavers, merely an informational slogan that is incapable of functioning as a mark, notwithstanding use of letters “TM” in connection with prominent display of slogan on packages for the goods and claim of acquired distinctiveness); In re Tilcon Warren, Inc., 221 USPQ 86 (TTAB 1984) (holding WATCH THAT CHILD for construction material merely informational and not registrable notwithstanding long use); In re Schwauss, 217 USPQ 361, 362 (TTAB 1983) (finding FRAGILE for labels and bumper stickers merely informational and devoid of any source-identifying function).

The critical inquiry in determining whether a slogan or term functions as a trademark or service mark is how the proposed mark would be perceived by the relevant public. In re Eagle Crest, Inc. 96 USPQ 2d 1227, 1229-30 (TTAB 2010) (holding ONCE A MARINE, ALWAYS A MARINE to be an “old and familiar Marine expression…that should remain free for all to use”); see In re Phoseon Technology Inc., 103 USPQ2d 1822, 1827 (TTAB 2012) (noting the critical inquiry in determining whether a mark, as used on the specimen, functions as a trademark is the “commercial impression it makes on the relevant public (e.g., whether the term sought to be registered would be perceived as a mark identifying the source of the goods or merely as an informational phrase).”). The more commonly a phrase is used in everyday parlance, the less likely the public will use it to identify only one source and the less likely the phrase will be recognized by purchasers as a trademark or service mark. In re Eagle Crest, 96 USPQ2d at 1229-30 (noting that “‘[a]s a matter of competitive policy, it should be close to impossible for one competitor to achieve exclusive rights’ in common phrases or slogans.” (quoting J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition §7.23 (4th ed. 2010))). Because the function of a trademark is to identify a single commercial source for particular goods or services, if consumers are accustomed to seeing a slogan used in connection with goods/services from many different sources, it is likely that consumers would not view the slogan as a source identifier for such goods/services. Id. at 1230.

Use of the TM notation in and of itself does not make an otherwise unregistrable term a trademark. In re Volvo Cars, 46 USPQ2d at 1461.

A slogan can function as a trademark if it is not merely descriptive and/or merely informational. See, e.g., Roux Labs., Inc. v. Clairol Inc., 427 F.2d 823, 166 USPQ 34 (C.C.P.A. 1970) (affirming the Board’s dismissal of an opposition to the registration of HAIR COLOR SO NATURAL ONLY HER HAIRDRESSER KNOWS FOR SURE for hair coloring preparation since the evidence showed the slogan functioned as a mark); In re The Hallicrafters Co., 153 USPQ 376 (TTAB 1967) (reversing the refusal to register where QUALITY THROUGH CRAFTSMANSHIP for radio equipment functioned as a mark). See TMEP §1202.03(f)(i) regarding ornamental slogans used on goods.

The statutory basis for refusal of trademark registration on the ground that the matter is merely informational is §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, and, in the case of matter sought to be registered for services, §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127. The applicant cannot overcome a refusal of trademark registration issued on the ground that the matter is merely informational by attempting to amend the application to seek registration on the Supplemental Register or pursuant to §2(f). See In re Eagle Crest, 96 USPQ2d at 1229 (noting that “[s]logans and other terms that are considered to be merely informational in nature, or to be common laudatory phrases or statements that would ordinarily be used in business or in the particular trade or industry, are not registrable”). In support of the refusal, the examining attorney must provide evidence that the mark is a slogan or term incapable of being perceived as a trademark or service mark. This support may include evidence of decorative or informational use by other manufacturers on goods of a similar nature and evidence that the term or slogan is frequently used by parties in connection with the sale of their goods or services. See id. at 1230 (noting because consumers would be accustomed to seeing the phrase ONCE A MARINE, ALWAYS A MARINE “displayed on clothing items from many different sources, they could not view the slogan as a trademark indicating source of the clothing only in applicant”); In re Wakefern Food Corp., 222 USPQ 76, 78 (TTAB 1984) (finding the relatively common merchandising slogan WHY PAY MORE! does not function as a mark which identifies and distinguishes applicant’s services from others).

If a slogan or term comprises a mark that is merely informational, then by its very nature it would not be seen as an indicator of source. Accordingly, registration must be refused even if the specimen of record shows what would otherwise be acceptable trademark or service mark use. Similarly, if there is sufficient evidence to indicate that consumers are accustomed to seeing a slogan or term used in connection with the relevant goods/services from many different sources, registration should be refused in §1(b), §44, and §66(a) applications because the slogan or term would not be perceived as a mark. See In re Eagle Crest, 96 USPQ2d at 1230 (holding that because the function of a trademark is to identify a single commercial source for particular goods/services, if consumers are accustomed to seeing a slogan used in connection with goods/services from many different sources, it is likely that consumers would not view the slogan as a source identifier for such goods/services).

See TMEP §§1202.17(c)(i)(A) regarding informational universal symbols and 1301.02(a) regarding informational matter that does not function as a service mark.

1202.05   Color as a Mark

Color marks are marks that consist solely of one or more colors used on particular objects. For marks used in connection with goods, color may be used on the entire surface of the goods, on a portion of the goods, or on all or part of the packaging for the goods. For example, a color trademark might consist of purple used on a salad bowl, pink used on the handle of a shovel, or a blue background and a pink circle used on all or part of a product package. See Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 34 USPQ2d 1161 (1995) (green-gold used on dry cleaning press pads held to be a protectible trademark where the color had acquired secondary meaning); In re Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 774 F.2d 1116, 227 USPQ 417 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (the color pink as applied to fibrous glass residential insulation registrable where the evidence showed the color had acquired secondary meaning). Similarly, service marks may consist of color used on all or part of materials used in the advertising and rendering of the services.

The registrability of a color mark depends on the manner in which the proposed mark is used. Owens-Corning, 774 F.2d at 1120, 227 USPQ at 419. A color(s) takes on the characteristics of the object or surface to which it is applied, and the commercial impression of a color will change accordingly. See In re Thrifty, Inc., 274 F.3d 1349, 1353, 61 USPQ2d 1121, 1124 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (“a word mark retains its same appearance when used on different objects, but color is not immediately distinguishable as a service mark when used in similar circumstances”).

Color marks are never inherently distinctive, and cannot be registered on the Principal Register without a showing of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(f). Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 211-12, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068 (2000). See TMEP §1202.05(a) and cases cited therein.

Color, whether a single overall color or multiple colors applied in a specific and arbitrary fashion, is usually perceived as an ornamental feature of the goods or services. Owens-Corning, 774 F.2d at 1124, 227 USPQ at 422; In re Hudson News Co., 39 USPQ2d 1915, 1923 (TTAB 1996), aff’d per curiam, 114 F.3d 1207 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“blue motif” used in retail stores would likely be perceived by prospective purchasers as “nothing more than interior decoration” that “could be found in any number of retail establishments. Undoubtedly such features are usually perceived as interior decoration or ornamentation.”). However, color can function as a mark if it is used in the manner of a trademark or service mark and if it is perceived by the purchasing public to identify and distinguish the goods or services on or in connection with which it is used and to indicate their source. The United States Supreme Court has held that color alone may, sometimes, meet the basic legal requirements for a trademark. When it does, there is no rule that prevents color from serving as a mark. Qualitex, 514 U.S. at 161, 34 USPQ2d at 1162. If a color is not functional and is shown to have acquired distinctiveness on or in connection with the applicant’s goods or services, it is registrable as a mark.

Functional color marks are not registrable. See TMEP §1202.05(b) and cases cited therein.

1202.05(a)   Color Marks Never Inherently Distinctive

Color marks are never inherently distinctive. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 211-12, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068 (2000) (citing Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 162-63, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1162-63 (1995)); In re Thrifty, Inc., 274 F.3d 1349, 1353, 61 USPQ2d 1121, 1124 (Fed. Cir. 2001). Therefore, the examining attorney must refuse to register a color mark on the Principal Register, unless the applicant establishes that the proposed mark has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f). The examining attorney must issue this refusal in all color mark applications where acquired distinctiveness has not been shown, regardless of the filing basis of the application. The ground for refusal is that the color is not inherently distinctive and, thus, does not function as a trademark under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, or does not function as a service mark under §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127.

If the proposed color mark is not functional, it may be registrable on the Principal Register if it is shown to have acquired distinctiveness under §2(f). If it is not distinctive, it is registrable only on the Supplemental Register. See In re Hudson News Co., 39 USPQ2d 1915, 1923 (TTAB 1996), aff’d per curiam, 114 F.3d 1207 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“blue motif” applied to retail store services not registrable on Principal Register without resort to Section 2(f)); Edward Weck Inc. v. IM Inc., 17 USPQ2d 1142, 1145 (TTAB 1990) (the color green, as uniformly applied to medical instruments, not barred from registration on the basis of functionality; however, evidence failed to establish the color had become distinctive of the goods); In re Deere & Co., 7 USPQ2d 1401, 1403-04 (TTAB 1988) (the colors green and yellow, as applied to the body and wheels of machines, respectively, not barred from registration on the basis of functionality; evidence established the colors had become distinctive of the goods).

The burden of proving that a color mark has acquired distinctiveness is substantial. See In re Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 774 F.2d 1116, 227 USPQ 417 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (the color pink, as uniformly applied to fibrous glass residential insulation, shown to have acquired distinctiveness ); In re Lorillard Licensing Co., 99 USPQ2d 1312 (TTAB 2011) (finding the evidence insufficient to demonstrate that the applied-for mark, "namely, any orange text appearing on a green background," had achieved acquired distinctiveness); In re Benetton Grp. S.p.A., 48 USPQ2d 1214 (TTAB 1998) (evidence insufficient to establish that green rectangular background design had acquired distinctiveness as applied to clothing and footwear); In re American Home Prods. Corp., 226 USPQ 327 (TTAB 1985) (tri-colored, three-dimensional, circular-shaped design found to have become distinctive of analgesic and muscle relaxant tablets); In re Star Pharms., Inc., 225 USPQ 209 (TTAB 1985) (evidence found insufficient to establish that two-colored drug capsules and multi-colored seeds or granules contained therein had become distinctive of methyltestosterone). A mere statement of long use is not sufficient. See, e.g., Benetton, 48 USPQ2d at 1216-17 (despite long use, record devoid of any evidence that the green rectangular background design has been used, promoted, or advertised as a mark). The applicant must demonstrate that the color has acquired source-indicating significance in the minds of consumers.

As noted above, the commercial impression of a color may change depending on the object to which it is applied. Therefore, evidence submitted to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness of a color may show consumer recognition with respect to certain objects, but not for other objects. See Thrifty, 274 F.3d at 1353, 61 USPQ2d at 1124. Cf. Qualitex, 514 U.S. at 163, 34 USPQ2d at 1162-63 (“The imaginary word ‘Suntost,’ or the words ‘Suntost Marmalade,’ on a jar of orange jam immediately would signal a brand or a product ‘source’; the jam’s orange color does not do so. But, over time, customers may come to treat a particular color on a product or its packaging (say, a color that in context seems unusual, such as pink on a firm’s insulating material or red on the head of a large industrial bolt) as signifying a brand. And, if so, that color would have come to identify and distinguish the goods -- i. e., ‘to indicate’ their ‘source...’”).

1202.05(b)   Functional Color Marks Not Registrable

A color mark is not registrable on the Principal Register under §2(f), or the Supplemental Register, if the color is functional. See Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 165-66, 34 USPQ2d 1161 (1995); Brunswick Corp. v. British Seagull Ltd., 35 F.3d 1527, 32 USPQ2d 1120 (Fed. Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1050 (1995); In re Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 774 F.2d 1116, 227 USPQ 417 (Fed. Cir. 1985). A color may be functional if it yields a utilitarian or functional advantage, for example, yellow or orange for safety signs. Brunswick, 35 F.3d 1527, 32 USPQ2d 1120 (holding the color black functional for outboard motors because, while the color did not provide utilitarian advantages in terms of making the engines work better, it nevertheless provided recognizable competitive advantages in terms of being compatible with a wide variety of boat colors and making the engines appear smaller); Saint-Gobain Corp. v. 3M Co., 90 USPQ2d 1425, 1446-47 (TTAB 2007) (deep purple shade for coated abrasives held functional, the Board finding that opposer had established a prima facie case that coated abrasive manufacturers have a competitive need to be able to use various shades of purple, include applicant’s shade, which applicant had failed to rebut; and that “[i]n the field of coated abrasives, color serves a myriad of functions, including color coding, and the need to color code lends support for the basic finding that color, including purple, is functional in the field of coated abrasives having paper or cloth backing.”); In re Ferris Corp., 59 USPQ2d 1587 (TTAB 2000) (color pink used on surgical wound dressings is functional because the actual color of the goods closely resembles Caucasian human skin); In re Orange Commc'ns, Inc., 41 USPQ2d 1036 (TTAB 1996) (colors yellow and orange held to be functional for public telephones and telephone booths, since they are more visible under all lighting conditions in the event of an emergency); In re Howard S. Leight & Assocs.., 39 USPQ2d 1058 (TTAB 1996) (color coral held to be functional for earplugs, because it is more visible during safety checks). A color may also be functional if it is more economical to manufacture or use. For example, a color may be a natural by-product of the manufacturing process for the goods. In such a case, appropriation of the color by a single party would place others at a competitive disadvantage by requiring them to alter the manufacturing process.

See also In re Pollak Steel Co., 314 F.2d 566, 136 USPQ 651 (C.C.P.A. 1963) (reflective color on fence found to be functional); Kasco Corp. v. Southern Saw Serv. Inc., 27 USPQ2d 1501 (TTAB 1993) (color green used as wrapper for saw blades is functional when the color is one of the six colors used in a color-coding system to identify the type of blade); R.L. Winston Rod Co. v. Sage Mfg. Co., 838 F. Supp. 1396, 29 USPQ2d 1779 (D. Mont. 1993) (color green used on graphite fishing rods found to be functional); Russell Harrington Cutlery Inc. v. Zivi Hercules Inc., 25 USPQ2d 1965 (D. Mass. 1992) (color white used on cutlery handles found to be functional).

The doctrine of “aesthetic functionality” may apply in some cases where the evidence indicates that the color at issue provides specific competitive advantages that, while not necessarily categorized as purely “utilitarian” in nature, nevertheless dictate that the color remain in the public domain. Brunswick, 35 F.3d at 1533, 32 USPQ2d at 1124. See also TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 33, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1006 (2001) (Supreme Court discussed aesthetic functionality, distinguishing Qualitex, 514 US 159, 34 USPQ2d 1161, as a case where “aesthetic functionality was the central question…”). See TMEP §1202.02(a)(vi).

1202.05(c)   Color as a Separable Element

As with all trademarks and service marks, a color mark may contain only those elements that make a separable commercial impression. See TMEP §807.12(d). Accordingly, an applicant may not seek to register the color of the wording or design apart from the words or designs themselves if the color does not create a separate commercial impression. However, the applicant may register the color of the background material on which the words or design appear apart from the words or design. See TMEP §1202.11regarding background designs and shapes.

The commercial impression of a color may change depending on the object to which it is applied. In re Thrifty, Inc., 274 F.3d 1349, 61 USPQ2d 1121 (Fed. Cir. 2001); In re Hayes, 62 USPQ2d 1443 (TTAB 2002). Granting an application for registration of color in the abstract, without considering the manner or context in which the color is used, would be contrary to law and public policy, because it would result in an unlimited number of marks being claimed in a single application. Cf. In re Int'l Flavors & Fragrances Inc., 183 F.3d 1361, 1368, 51 USPQ2d 1513, 1517-18 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (mark with changeable or “phantom” element unregistrable because it would “encompass too many combinations and permutations to make a thorough and effective search possible” and, therefore, would not provide adequate notice to the public); In re Upper Deck Co., 59 USPQ2d 1688, 1691 (TTAB 2001) (hologram of varying shapes, sizes, content, and positions used on trading cards constitutes more than one “device,” as contemplated by §45 of the Trademark Act). Only one mark can be registered in a single application. TMEP §807.01.

1202.05(d)   Drawings of Color Marks Required

All marks, other than sound and scent marks, require a drawing. TMEP §807. An application for a color mark that is filed without a drawing will be denied a filing date. 37 C.F.R. §2.21(a)(3). Similarly, an application for a color mark with a proposed drawing page that states “no drawing,” or sets forth only a written description of the mark, will be denied a filing date. The drawing provides notice of the nature of the mark sought to be registered. Only marks that are not capable of representation in a drawing, such as sound or scent marks, are excluded from the requirement for a drawing. Color marks are visual and should be depicted in color drawings, accompanied by: (1) a color claim naming the color(s) that are a feature of the mark; and (2) a separate statement naming the color(s) and describing where the color(s) appear and how they are used on the mark. 37 C.F.R. §2.52(b)(1), See TMEP §§807.07–807.07(g) for color mark drawings and 808–808.03(f) for description of the mark.

1202.05(d)(i)   Drawings of Color Marks in Trademark Applications

In most cases, the proposed color mark drawing will consist of a representation of the product or product package. The drawing of the mark must be a substantially exact representation of the mark as used, or intended to be used, on the goods. 37 C.F.R. §2.51. A depiction of the object on which the color is used is needed to meet this requirement.

The object depicted on the drawing should appear in broken or dotted lines. The broken or dotted lines inform the viewer where and how color is used on the product or product package, while at the same time making it clear that the shape of the product, or the shape of the product package, is not claimed as part of the mark. 37 C.F.R. §2.52(b)(4); TMEP §807.08. In the absence of a broken-line drawing, the USPTO will assume that the proposed mark is a composite mark consisting of the product shape, or the product package shape, in a particular color.

Color used on multiple goods

If the proposed color mark is used on multiple goods, the drawing required will depend on the nature of the goods. The drawing of the mark must be a substantially exact representation of the mark as used, or intended to be used, on the goods. 37 C.F.R. §2.51. A drawing consisting of a depiction of only one of the goods will be accepted if the goods, or the portions of the goods on which the color appears, are similar in form and function so that a depiction of only one of the goods is still a substantially exact representation of the mark as used on all of the goods. For example, if the mark is the color purple used on refrigerators and freezers, a drawing of a purple freezer shown in broken lines (with a description of the mark claiming the color purple and indicating that it is used on the freezer) would be sufficient. Or, if the mark is the color pink used on the handles of rakes, shovels, and hoes, a drawing of any of those items depicted in dotted lines (with a description of the mark claiming the color pink and stating that the handle is pink) would be sufficient. Or, if the mark consists of product packaging for various food items that is always blue with a pink circle, a drawing of any one of the packages shown in dotted lines (with a description of the mark claiming the colors blue and pink and describing the location of the colors on the packaging) would be sufficient.

If the proposed color mark is used on multiple goods that are dissimilar or unrelated, or if color is used in different ways on different goods, so that a depiction of one of the goods is not a substantially exact representation of the mark as used on all of the goods (e.g., the color purple used on microscopes and vending machines), a separate application must be submitted for each item.

Color used on liquids or powders

Sometimes a color mark consists of color(s) used on liquids or powders. For example, the mark might consist of fuchsia body oil or red, white, and blue granular washing machine detergent. In these cases, the nature of the drawing will depend on the manner of use of the liquid or powder. If the liquid or powder is visible through the product package, the drawing should consist of the shape of the product package shown in broken or dotted lines, with the description of the mark identifying the color(s) of the liquid or powder.

1202.05(d)(ii)   Drawings of Color Marks in Service Mark Applications

It is difficult to anticipate all of the issues that may arise when examining a proposed color mark for services because there are a myriad of ways that color can be used in connection with services. However, the following general guidelines will be used to determine the sufficiency of drawings in these cases:

  • The purpose of a drawing is to provide notice to the public of the nature of the mark. As with color used on goods, a color service mark does not consist of color in the abstract. Rather, the mark consists of color used in a particular manner, and the context in which the color is used is critical to provide notice of the nature of the mark sought to be registered. Therefore, as with color marks used on goods, a drawing, supplemented with a written description of the mark, is required.
  • The drawing must display the manner in which the mark is used in connection with the services. As with any application, only one mark can be registered in a single application. TMEP §807.01. The mark depicted on the drawing, as used on the specimen, must make a separate and distinct commercial impression in order to be considered one mark. See In re Thrifty, Inc., 274 F.3d 1349, 61 USPQ2d 1121 (Fed. Cir. 2001); In re Chemical Dynamics Inc., 839 F.2d 1569, 5 USPQ2d 1828 (Fed. Cir. 1988). See TMEP §1202.05(c) regarding color as a separable element.
  • If color is used in a variety of ways, but in a setting that makes a single commercial impression, such as a retail outlet with various color features, a broken-line drawing of the setting must be submitted, with a detailed description of the mark claiming the color(s) and describing the location of the color(s).
  • If an applicant seeks to register a single color as a service mark used on a variety of items not viewed simultaneously by purchasers, e.g., stationery, uniforms, pens, signs, shuttle buses, store awning, and walls of the store, the drawing must display a solid-colored square with a dotted peripheral outline and include a detailed description of the mark identifying the color and describing its placement. Thrifty, 274 F.3d at 1353, 61 USPQ2d at 1124. Applicant will receive a filing date for its application. However, as yet, the issues raised by the use of this type of drawing, e.g., sufficient notice to the public and phantom marks, have not yet been decided by the USPTO. Cf. In re Int'l Flavors & Fragrances Inc., 183 F.3d 1361, 1368, 51 USPQ2d 1513, 1517-18 (Fed. Cir. 1999). See TMEP §1202.05(c) regarding color as a separable element.
  • The commercial impression of a color may change depending on the object on which it is applied. See Thrifty, 274 F.3d at 1353, 61 USPQ2d at 1124.

1202.05(d)(iii)   Amendment of Drawings of Color Marks

Because color marks are comprised solely of the color as applied to the product or product package, in the manner depicted on the drawing and explained in the description of the mark, amending the color of the proposed mark will always change the commercial impression of the mark. Thus, the amendment of any color in a color mark is a prohibited material alteration. Similarly, the amendment of the color mark to show the same color on a different object is also, generally, a material alteration, e.g., an amendment of a drawing of a blue hammer to a blue saw is a material alteration.

1202.05(d)(iv)   Drawings for Marks Including Both Color and Words or Design

Sometimes, a product or advertisement for a service will include both color and words or a design. For example, the surface of a toaster might be green, with the letters “ABC” and a design displayed on the toaster. In this situation, the applicant must decide whether to seek registration for the color green used on toasters, the letters “ABC” with or without the design, the design alone, or some combination of these elements. If applicant only seeks registration for the use of the color, no word or design elements should appear on the drawing.

1202.05(e)   Written Descriptions of Color Marks

The drawing of a proposed color mark must be supplemented with: (1) a claim that the color(s) is a feature of the mark; and (2) a statement in the “Description of the Mark” field naming the color(s) and describing where the color(s) appear(s) and how they are used on the mark. 37 C.F.R. §2.52(b)(1). See TMEP §§807.07–807.07(g) for color mark drawings and 808–808.03(f) for description of the mark .

The description of the mark must be clear and specific, use ordinary language, and identify the mark as consisting of the particular color as applied to the goods or services. If the color is applied only to a portion of the goods, the description must indicate the specific portion. Similarly, if the mark includes gradations of color, the description should so indicate. If the applicant is claiming a shade of color, the shade must be described in ordinary language, for example, “maroon,” “turquoise,” “navy blue,” “reddish orange.” This is required even if the applicant also describes the color using a commercial coloring system.

The applicant may not amend the description of the mark if the amendment is a material alteration of the mark on the drawing filed with the original application. 37 C.F.R. §2.72. See In re Thrifty, Inc., 274 F.3d 1349, 61 USPQ2d 1121 (Fed. Cir. 2001), Cf. In re Hacot-Colombier, 105 F.3d 616, 41 USPQ2d 1523 (Fed. Cir. 1997). See TMEP §§807.14–807.14(f) regarding material alteration.

The description of a color mark must be limited to a single mark, because only one mark can be registered in a single application. See In re Int'l Flavors & Fragrances Inc., 183 F.3d 1361, 51 USPQ2d 1513 (Fed. Cir. 1999); In re Hayes, 62 USPQ2d 1443 (TTAB 2002). See TMEP §§807.01 regarding drawing must be limited to a single mark and 1202.05(c) regarding color as a separable element.

1202.05(f)   Specimens for Color Marks

An application under §1 of the Trademark Act must be supported by a specimen that shows use of the proposed mark depicted on the drawing. Therefore, an applicant who applies to register a color mark must submit a specimen showing use of the color, either with a §1(a) application or with an allegation of use (i.e., either an amendment to allege use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or a statement of use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(d)), in a §1(b) application. If a black-and-white specimen is submitted, the examining attorney will require a substitute specimen displaying the proposed color mark. See TMEP §904.02(c)(ii).

See TMEP §§904.03–904.07(b) regarding trademark specimens and 1301.04–1301.04(d) regarding service mark specimens.

1202.05(g)   Special Considerations for Service Mark Applications

Although the applicant in In re Thrifty, Inc., 274 F.3d 1349, 61 USPQ2d 1121 (Fed. Cir. 2001), argued that it applied for the color blue per se as a service mark, the Court determined that the drawing controlled, such that the application was for the color blue applied to a building. Although the Court did not reach the issue of color per se as a service mark, the Court acknowledged the special evidentiary problem associated with showing acquired distinctiveness in this context. Id. at 1353, 61 USPQ2d at 1124 (“[E]vidence submitted to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness of a color may show consumer recognition with respect to certain objects (e.g., blue vehicle rental centers), but not for other objects (e.g., blue rental cars).”). Accordingly, any claim to color per se must be specific as to use and include evidence of acquired distinctiveness for each claimed use.

1202.05(h)    Color Marks in §1(b) Applications

A color mark can never be inherently distinctive. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 211-12, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068 (2000) (citing Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 162-63, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1162-63 (1995)); TMEP §1202.05(a). Therefore, the examining attorney must refuse to register a color mark on the Principal Register unless the applicant establishes that the mark has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f). The ground for refusal is that the color is not inherently distinctive and, thus, does not function as a trademark under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, or does not function as a service mark under §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127.

The issue of whether the proposed color mark is functional requires consideration of the manner in which the mark is used. Generally, no refusal on these grounds will be issued in a §1(b) application until the applicant has submitted specimen(s) of use with an allegation of use (i.e., either an amendment to allege use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or a statement of use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(d)). See TMEP §§1102.01, 1202.02(d), 1202.03(e), and 1202.05(b). The specimen(s) provide a better record upon which to determine the registrability of the mark. In appropriate cases, the examining attorney will bring the potential refusal to the applicant’s attention in the initial Office action. This is done strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding this possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant before the allegation of use is filed, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration on this basis.

1202.05(i)    Color Marks in §44 or §66(a) Applications

A color mark can never be inherently distinctive. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 211-12, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068 (2000) (citing Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 162-63, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1162-63 (1995)); TMEP §1202.05(a). Therefore, the examining attorney must refuse to register a proposed color mark on the Principal Register unless the applicant establishes that the mark has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f). The ground for refusal is that the color is not inherently distinctive and, thus, does not function as a trademark under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, or does not function as a service mark under §§1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, and 1127.

If the record indicates that the proposed mark is functional, the examining attorney should issue a refusal of registration on the Principal Register under §2(f), or on the Supplemental Register. See TMEP §§1202.02(e), 1202.03(e), and 1202.05(b). NOTE: A mark in a §66(a) application cannot be registered on the Supplemental Register under any circumstances. 15 U.S.C. §1141h(a)(4); 37 C.F.R. §§2.47(c) and 2.75(c).

1202.06   Goods in Trade

Section 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1127, defines a “trademark” as a “word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof” that is used or intended to be used in commerce “to identify and distinguish his or her goods (emphasis added).” Before rights in a term as a trademark can be established, the subject matter to which the term is applied must be “goods in trade.” Incidental items that an applicant uses in conducting its business (such as letterhead, invoices, and business forms), as opposed to items sold or transported in commerce for use by others, are not “goods in trade.” See In re Shareholders Data Corp., 495 F.2d 1360, 181 USPQ 722 (C.C.P.A. 1974) (finding that reports are not goods in trade, where applicant is not engaged in the sale of reports, but solely in furnishing financial reporting services, and reports are merely conduit through which services are rendered); In re Ameritox Ltd., 101 USPQ2d 1081, 1085 (TTAB 2011) (finding no evidence that applicant was engaged in selling printed reports apart from its laboratory testing services and that the reports were part and parcel of the services); In re MGA Entm’t, Inc., 84 USPQ2d 1743 (TTAB 2007) (stating that applicant’s trapezoidal cardboard boxes for toys, games, and playthings held to be merely point of sale containers for applicant’s primary goods and not separate goods in trade, where there was no evidence that applicant is a manufacturer of boxes or that applicant is engaged in selling boxes as commodities in trade); In re Compute-Her-Look, Inc., 176 USPQ 445 (TTAB 1972) (finding that reports and printouts not goods in trade, where they are merely the means by which the results of a beauty analysis service is transmitted and have no viable existence separate and apart from the service); Ex parte Bank of Am. Nat’l Trust and Sav. Ass’n, 118 USPQ 165 (Comm’r Pats. 1958) (mark not registrable for passbooks, checks, and other printed forms, where forms are used only as "necessary 'tools' in the performance of [banking services], and [applicant] is not engaged either in printing or selling forms as commodities in trade.").

In the context of internet services, the determination of whether an internet service provider’s software is an independent good in trade, or merely incidental to the internet services, is a factual determination to be made on a case-by-case basis. Lens.com, Inc. v. 1-800 Contacts, Inc., 686 F.3d 1376, 1381-82, 103 USPQ2d 1672, 1676 (Fed. Cir. 2012). Factors to consider include “whether the software: (1) is simply the conduit or necessary tool useful only to obtain applicant’s services; (2) is so inextricably tied to and associated with the service as to have no viable existence apart therefrom; and (3) is neither sold separately from nor has any independent value apart from the services.” Id. at 1382, 103 USPQ2d at 1676. None of these factors is dispositive. Id.

1202.06(a)   Goods Must Have Utility to Others

Affixing a mark to an item that is transported in commerce does not in and of itself establish that the mark is used on “goods.” While a formal sale is not always necessary, items sold or transported in commerce are not “goods in trade” unless they have utility to others as the type of product named in the trademark application.

Example: Holiday greeting cards sent by a law firm to its clients are not “goods,” where applicant is merely sending its own cards through the mail as a holiday greeting, and the cards are not suitable for use by the recipients as a greeting card.

See Gay Toys, Inc. v. McDonald’s Corp., 585 F.2d 1067, 199 USPQ 722 (C.C.P.A. 1978) (plaster mockup of toy truck not goods in trade where there is no evidence the mockup is actually used as a toy); Paramount Pictures Corp. v. White, 31 USPQ2d 1768 (TTAB 1994), aff’d, 108 F.3d 1392 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (mark not registrable for games, where purported games are advertising flyers used to promote applicant’s services and have no real utilitarian function or purpose as games); In re Douglas Aircraft Co., 123 USPQ 271 (TTAB 1959) (books, pamphlets, and brochures that serve only to explain and advertise the goods in which applicant deals are not “goods”). Cf. In re Snap-On Tools Corp., 159 USPQ 254 (TTAB 1968) (ball point pens used to promote applicant’s tools are goods in trade, where they have a utilitarian function and purpose, and have been sold to applicant’s franchised dealers and transported in commerce under mark); In re United Merchants & Mfrs., Inc., 154 USPQ 625 (TTAB 1967) (calendar used to promote applicant’s plastic film constitutes goods in trade, where calendar has a utilitarian function and purpose in and of itself, and has been regularly distributed in commerce for several years).

In In re MGA Entm’t, Inc., 84 USPQ2d 1743, 1746 (TTAB 2007), the Board rejected applicant’s argument that trapezoidal cardboard boxes for toys, games, playthings, puzzles, and laptop play units have use beyond holding the goods at the point of sale, in that the laptop play-unit box functions as an ongoing carrying case for the unit, and the puzzle box may be used to store puzzle pieces when not in use. Finding the boxes to be merely point-of-sale containers for the primary goods and not separate goods in trade, the Board stated that “the mere fact that original boxes or packaging may be used to store products does not infuse such boxes or packaging with additional utility such that they constitute goods in trade,” and that there is neither any indication that the laptop computer boxes are labeled as a carrying case nor any evidence that applicant promotes the boxes as carrying cases or that children actually use them as carrying cases.

1202.06(b)   Registration Must Be Refused if Trademark Not Used on Goods in Trade

If the specimen, identification of goods, or other evidence in the record indicate that the applicant uses the proposed mark only on items incidental to conducting its own business, as opposed to items intended to be used by others, the examining attorney must refuse registration on the Principal Register under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, on the ground that the proposed mark is not used on “goods in trade.”

If a mark is not used on “goods in trade,” it is not registrable on the Principal Register under §2(f) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(f), or on the Supplemental Register.

If some but not all of the items listed in the identification of goods are found not to be “goods in trade,” it is not necessary to refuse registration of the entire application, but the examining attorney must require that these items be deleted from the identification of goods before approving the mark for publication or registration.

1202.06(c)   Goods in Trade in §1(b), §44, and §66(a) Applications

In an intent-to-use application under §1(b) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(b), the question of whether a proposed mark is used on goods in trade usually does not arise until the applicant files an allegation of use (i.e., either an amendment to allege use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or a statement of use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(d)) because this issue is based on the manner in which the mark is used. However, if the identification of goods in a §1(b) application includes items that do not appear to be goods in trade, the potential refusal should be brought to the applicant’s attention in the first Office action. This is done strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding this possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant before the allegation of use is filed, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration on this basis. If the record indicates that the mark will not be used on goods in trade, without the need to await consideration of the specimen(s), the examining attorney may issue the refusal prior to the filing of the allegation of use.

In an application under §44 or §66(a), where a specimen of use is not required prior to registration, it is appropriate for the examining attorney to issue a refusal based on the lack of use on goods in trade where the record clearly indicates that the mark will not be used on goods in trade. Cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal, which is otherwise typically specimen-based, in a §66(a) application).

1202.07   Marks That Identify Columns or Sections of Publications

1202.07(a)   Marks That Identify Columns or Sections of Printed Publications

A column, section, or supplement of a printed publication is normally not considered to be separate “goods” or “goods in trade,” unless it is sold, syndicated, or offered for syndication separate and apart from the larger publication in which it appears. In re Broad. Publ'ns, , 135 USPQ 374 (TTAB 1962); Ex parte Meredith Publ'g , 109 USPQ 426 (Comm’r Pats. 1956). This is true even of a removable or separable “pullout” section of a newspaper or other publication. In Meredith, the issue was analyzed as follows:

The basic question is whether or not, under the circumstances of use, the section title is a name adopted and used by the publisher to identify his goods and distinguish them from those of others. The “goods” actually are magazines-not sections of magazines. When the magazine is purchased, the purchaser receives the sections whether he wants them or not, and it is doubtful that magazine readers ordinarily purchase a magazine merely to receive a section of it, or think of a magazine merely in terms of a section title. Sections of magazines are not in and of themselves articles of commerce other than as a part of an integrated whole; and we must therefore be concerned with whether a section title actually identifies and distinguishes, and if so, what it distinguishes. Under these circumstances it becomes necessary to ask: Was the mark adopted to identify a section of applicant’s magazine and distinguish it from sections of other publishers’ magazines, or was it adopted to distinguish one section of applicant’s magazine from the other sections of its magazine? Ordinarily, it is the latter (emphasis in original).

109 USPQ at 426.

The examining attorney may accept the statement of the applicant or applicant’s attorney that the column is syndicated. It is not necessary to set this forth in the identification of goods.

1202.07(a)(i)   Syndicated Columns and Sections

Columns or sections that are separately sold, syndicated, or offered for syndication do constitute goods in trade. A mark that identifies a column or section that is separately syndicated or offered for syndication is registrable on the Principal Register without resort to §2(f) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(f), if registration is not barred by other sections of the Act.

1202.07(a)(ii)   Non-Syndicated Columns and Sections

A column or section of a printed publication that is not separately sold, syndicated, or offered for syndication is not, in and of itself, considered to be separate goods in trade. Therefore, where the specimen, identification of goods, or other evidence in the record indicates that the mark identifies a column or section of a printed publication that is not separately sold, syndicated, or offered for syndication, the examining attorney should refuse registration on the Principal Register under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act; 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, on the ground that the mark is not used on separate goods in trade.

Marks that identify non-syndicated columns or sections of printed publications are registrable on the Principal Register under §2(f) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(f), if the column or section is shown to have acquired separate recognition and distinctiveness. An applicant who seeks registration on the Principal Register bears the burden of establishing, through evidence of promotion, long use, advertising expenditures, and breadth of distribution or sales figures, that the public has come to recognize the proposed mark as an indicator of source.

The evidence of acquired distinctiveness must show that the column or section title is used and promoted to distinguish applicant’s column or section from the columns or sections of other publishers’ publications, rather than merely to distinguish applicant’s column or section from other columns or sections of applicant’s publication. Metro Publ'g v. San Jose Mercury News, 987 F.2d 637, 25 USPQ2d 2049 (9th Cir. 1993); In re Broad. Publ'ns, 135 USPQ 374 (TTAB 1962).

The amount of evidence needed to establish distinctiveness must be evaluated by the examining attorney on a case-by-case basis, in light of the type of column or section. If the mark identifies a removable or pull-out section, a lesser degree of evidence might be required to establish distinctiveness. Of course, the amount of evidence needed to establish distinctiveness in any particular case will also vary depending on the strength or weakness of the mark. SeeTMEP §§1212–1212.06(e)(iv) regarding evidence of distinctiveness.

Marks that identify non-syndicated columns or sections of printed publications, but have not yet acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) of the Act, are registrable on the Supplemental Register in applications under §1 or §44 of the Trademark Act, if registration is not barred by other sections of the Act. Ex parte Meredith Publ'g, 109 USPQ 426 (Comm’r Pats. 1956).

1202.07(a)(iii)   Marks That Identify Columns and Sections of Printed Publications in §1(b), §44, and §66(a) Applications

Since a refusal to register a mark that identifies a column or section of a printed publication is based on whether the column or section is separately sold, syndicated, or offered for syndication, the issue ordinarily does not arise in an intent-to-use application under §1(b) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(b), until the applicant has filed an allegation of use (i.e., either an amendment to allege use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or a statement of use under 15 U.S.C. §1051(d)). However, if the identification of goods suggests that the mark is intended to be used to identify a column or section of a printed publication that is not separately sold, syndicated, or offered for syndication, the potential refusal on the ground that the proposed mark is not used on separate goods in trade should be brought to the applicant’s attention in the first Office action. This is done strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding this possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant prior to the filing of the allegation of use, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration on this basis. In cases where the record indicates that the mark will identify a column or section of a printed publication that is not separately sold or syndicated, the examining attorney may make the refusal prior to the filing of the allegation of use.

In an application under §44 or §66(a), where a specimen of use is not required prior to registration, it is appropriate for the examining attorney to refuse registration because the mark is not used on goods in trade where the record indicates that the mark will identify a column or section of a printed publication that is not separately sold, syndicated, or offered for syndication. Cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal, which is otherwise typically specimen-based, in a §66(a) application).

1202.07(b)   Marks That Identify Columns and Sections of Online Publications

An online publication is considered a service rather than a product. Therefore, refusal of registration on the ground that the proposed mark is not used on goods in trade is inappropriate. Unlike a printed column or section, an online column or section can be accessed directly and can exist independent of any single publication. See Ludden v. Metro Weekly, 8 F. Supp. 2d 7, 14, 47 USPQ2d 1087, 1093 (D.D.C. 1998). Therefore, a mark that identifies an online column or section is registrable on the Principal Register without resort to §2(f) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(f), if registration is not barred by other sections of the Act.

1202.08   Title of a Single Creative Work

The title, or a portion of a title, of a single creative work must be refused registration under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, unless the title has been used on a series of creative works. The title of a single creative work is not registrable on either the Principal or Supplemental Register. Herbko Int’l, Inc. v. Kappa Books, Inc., 308 F.3d 1156, 1162, 64 USPQ2d 1375, 1378 (Fed. Cir. 2002) ("the title of a single book cannot serve as a source identifier"); In re Cooper, 254 F.2d 611, 615-16, 117 USPQ 396, 400 (C.C.P.A. 1958), cert. denied, 358 U.S. 840, 119 USPQ 501 (1958) ("A book title ... identifies a specific literary work ... and is not associated in the public mind with the publisher, printer or bookseller...."); In re Posthuma, 45 USPQ2d 2011 (TTAB 1998) (holding the title of a live theater production unregistrable); In re Hal Leonard Publ'g Corp., 15 USPQ2d 1574 (TTAB 1990) (holding INSTANT KEYBOARD, as used on music instruction books, unregistrable as the title of a single work); In re Appleby, 159 USPQ 126 (TTAB 1968) (holding the title of single phonograph record, as distinguished from a series, does not function as mark).

See TMEP §1301.02(d) regarding the titles of radio and television programs.

1202.08(a)   What Constitutes a Single Creative Work

Single creative works include works in which the content does not change, whether that work is in printed, recorded, or electronic form. Materials such as books, sound recordings, downloadable songs, downloadable ring tones, videocassettes, DVDs, audio CDs, and films are usually single creative works. Creative works that are serialized, i.e., the mark identifies the entire work but the work is issued in sections or chapters, are still considered single creative works. A theatrical performance is also a single creative work, because the content of the play, musical, opera, or similar production does not significantly change from one performance to another. In re Posthuma, 45 USPQ2d 2011, 2014 (TTAB 1998). A cornerstone was considered a single creative work in an application for registration of FREEDOM STONE for “building stones used as landmarks or cornerstones,” where the record showed that the proposed mark would identify only one building stone used as a landmark or cornerstone, to serve as the cornerstone for the Freedom Tower that is to be erected at the World Trade Center site in New York City. In re Innovative Cos., LLC., 88 USPQ2d 1095, 1102 (TTAB 2008).

1202.08(b)   What Does Not Constitute a Single Creative Work

Generally, any creative work will not be considered a single creative work if evidence exists that it is part of a series (e.g., the work is labeled “volume 1,” “part 1,” or “book 1”) or is a type of work in which the content changes with each issue or performance. For example, single creative works do not include periodically issued publications, such as magazines, newsletters, comic books, comic strips, guide books, and printed classroom materials, because the content of these works changes with each issue.

A book with a second or subsequent edition in which the content changes significantly is not regarded as a single creative work. For example, a statement on the jacket cover that a cookbook is a “new and revised” version would indicate that it includes significant revisions. However, a new edition issued to correct typographical errors or that makes only minor changes is not considered to be a new work. Live performances by musical bands, television and radio series, and educational seminars are presumed to change with each presentation and, therefore, are not single creative works.

Computer software, computer games, coloring books, and activity books are not treated as single creative works.

The examining attorney must determine whether changes in content are significant based on any evidence in the application or record. The examining attorney may conduct additional research using the applicant’s website, Internet search engines, or Nexis® databases (and enter a Note to the File in the record, if appropriate). In addition, the examining attorney may issue a request for information under 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b).

1202.08(c)   Complete Title of the Work – Evidence of a Series

The name of a series of books or other creative works may be registrable if it serves to identify and distinguish the source of the goods. An applicant must submit evidence that the title is used on at least two different creative works. A series is not established when only the format of the work is changed, that is, the same title used on a printed version of a book and a recorded version does not establish a series. See Mattel Inc. v. Brainy Baby Co., 101 USPQ2d 1140, 1143 (TTAB 2011) (finding that a program recorded on both a VHS tape and a DVD were the same creative work, and that the addition of minor enhancements in the DVD did not transform this single work into a series). Likewise, use of the title on unabridged and abridged versions of the same work, or on collateral goods such as posters, mugs, bags, or t-shirts does not establish a series.

For example, if an application for the mark HOW TO RETIRE EARLY for “books” is refused because the specimen shows the mark used on a single creative work, the applicant may submit copies of other book covers showing use of the mark HOW TO RETIRE EARLY and any additional evidence to establish that the book is published each year with different content. It is not necessary to show that the mark was used on the other works in the series prior to the filing date of the application or the allegation of use. However, evidence that the applicant intends to use the mark on a series is insufficient.

1202.08(d)   Portion of a Title of the Work

A portion of the title of any single creative work is registrable only if the applicant can show that the portion of the title meets the following criteria:

  • (1) It creates a separate commercial impression apart from the complete title;
  • (2) It is used on series of works; and
  • (3) It is promoted or recognized as a mark for the series.

1202.08(d)(i)   Mark Must Create a Separate Commercial Impression

When registration is sought for a portion of a title, the mark must be used as a separable element on the specimen. The examining attorney should consider the size, type font, color, and any separation between the mark and the rest of the title when making this determination. In re Scholastic Inc., 23 USPQ2d 1774, 1777 (TTAB 1992) ("[T]he words THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS are prominently displayed on the books' covers, and are in a larger, bolder style of type and different color from the remainder of each title. Moreover, the words appear on a separate line above the remainder of each title"). If the portion of the title sought to be registered is not separable, the examining attorney must refuse registration on the ground that the mark is not a substantially exact representation of the mark as it appears on the specimen. See TMEP §807.12(d).

1202.08(d)(ii)   Establishing a Series When the Mark is a Portion of the Title

An applicant may establish that the portion of the title of a creative work is used on a series by submitting more than one book cover or CD cover with the mark used in all the titles. For example, if the mark on the drawing is “THE LITTLE ENGINE” and on the book it appears as “THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT WENT TO THE FAIR,” registration should be refused because the mark is a portion of a title of a single work. To establish use on a series, the applicant may submit additional book covers showing use of, e.g., “THE LITTLE ENGINE GOES TO SCHOOL,” and “THE LITTLE ENGINE AND THE BIG RED CABOOSE.”

1202.08(d)(iii)   Evidence that the Portion of the Title is Promoted or Recognized as a Mark

When a mark is used merely as a portion of the title of a creative work, the applicant has a heavier burden in establishing that the portion for which registration is sought serves as a trademark for the goods. The mere use of the same words in more than one book title is insufficient to establish the words as a mark for a series. The applicant must show that the public perceives the portion sought to be registered as a mark for the series. In re Scholastic Inc., 23 USPQ2d 1774, 1777 (TTAB 1992) (holding THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS used as a portion of the book titles in “THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS AT THE WATERWORKS” and “THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS INSIDE THE EARTH,” functions as a mark for a series, because the record contained evidence of repeated use of the designation displayed prominently on book covers, as well as evidence that applicant promoted THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS as a series title, that others used the designation in book reviews to refer to a series of books, and that purchasers recognized the designation as indicating the source of a series of books).

1202.08(e)   Identification of Goods/Services

Identification Need Not Reflect Use on a Series. The identification of goods/services need not reflect that the applicant is using the title on a series of works (either written or recorded). It is sufficient that the record contains the evidence of a series.

Creative Works in a List of Goods or Services. A refusal of registration on the ground that the mark merely identifies the title of a single creative work can be made regardless of whether the creative work is the sole item in the identification of goods/services or is listed with other items. If the record contains information, or if the examining attorney learns from another source, that the mark identifies the title of a single creative work, the examining attorney must issue a partial refusal as to the relevant goods/services. A partial refusal is a refusal that applies only to certain goods/services, or to certain classes. See TMEP §718.02(a).

Example: An application for “newspapers, books in the field of finance, pencils, and coloring books” would be partially refused if the examining attorney determined, either from the application or from another source, that the mark identified the title of the “books in the field of finance.” The use of the same mark on other non-creative matter such as the pencils and coloring books does not overcome the refusal.

1202.08(f)   Title of a Single Work in §1(b), §44, and §66(a) Applications

The issue of whether a proposed mark is the title of a single creative work usually is tied to use of the mark, as evidenced by the specimen. Therefore, generally, no refusal will be issued in an intent-to-use application under §1(b) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(b), until the applicant has submitted a specimen with an allegation of use under §1(c) or §1(d) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or (d).

However, in a §1(b) application for which no specimen has been submitted, if the examining attorney anticipates that a refusal will be made on the ground that the proposed mark is the title of a single creative work, the potential refusal should be brought to the applicant’s attention in the first action issued by the USPTO. This is done strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding this possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant before the allegation of use is filed, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration on this basis. In cases where the record indicates that the mark constitutes the title of a single work, the examining attorney may make the refusal prior to the filing of the allegation of use.

In an application under §44 or §66(a), where a specimen of use is not required prior to registration, it is appropriate for examining attorneys to issue the refusal where the record indicates that the mark will identify the title of a single work. Cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal, which is otherwise typically specimen based, in a §66(a) application).

1202.09   Names of Artists and Authors

1202.09(a)   Names and Pseudonyms of Authors and Performing Artists

Any mark consisting of the name of an author used on a written work, or the name of a performing artist on a sound recording, must be refused registration under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, if the mark is used solely to identify the writer or the artist. See In re Polar Music Int’l AB, 714 F.2d 1567, 1572, 221 USPQ 315, 318 (Fed. Cir. 1983); In re First Draft, Inc. 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1190 (TTAB 2005); In re Peter Spirer, 225 USPQ 693, 695 (TTAB 1985). Written works include books or columns, and may be presented in print, recorded, or electronic form. Likewise, sound recordings may be presented in recorded or electronic form.

However, the name of the author or performer may be registered if:

  • (1) It is used on a series of written or recorded works; and
  • (2) The application contains sufficient evidence that the name identifies the source of the series and not merely the writer of the written work or the name of the performing artist.

If the applicant cannot show a series, or can show that there is a series but cannot show that the name identifies the source of the series, the mark may be registered on the Supplemental Register in an application under §1 or §44 of the Trademark Act. These types of marks may not be registered on the Principal Register under §2(f).

See also TMEP §1301.02(b) regarding personal names as service marks.

1202.09(a)(i)   Author or Performer’s Name – Evidence of a Series

In an application seeking registration of an author’s or performer’s name, the applicant must provide evidence that the mark appears on at least two different works. Such evidence could include copies of multiple book covers or multiple CD covers that show the name sought to be registered. A showing of the same work available in different media, i.e., the same work in both printed and/or recorded or downloadable format, does not establish a series.

The identification of goods need not reflect that the applicant is using the name on a series of works (either written or recorded). It is sufficient that the record contains the evidence of a series.

1202.09(a)(ii)   Evidence that the Name is a Source Identifier

The use of the author’s or performer’s name on a series of works does not, in itself, establish that the name functions as a mark. The record must also show that the name serves as more than a designation of the writer or performer, i.e., that it also serves to identify the source of the series. See In re First Draft, 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1191 (TTAB 2005) (holding pseudonym FERN MICHAELS identified only the author and did not function as a mark to identify and distinguish a series of fictional books because the “evidence of promotion" was "indirect and rather scant,” despite applicant’s showing that the name had been used as an author's name for 30 years; that 67 separate books had been published under the name, and approximately 6 million copies had been sold; that the book jackets listed the titles of other works by Fern Michaels and promoted her as a bestselling author; that the author had been inducted into the New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame; and that there was a www.fernmichaels.com website); In re Chicago Reader Inc., 12 USPQ2d 1079, 1080 (TTAB 1989) (holding CECIL ADAMS, used on the specimen as a byline and as part of the author’s address appearing at the end of a column, merely identifies the author and does not function as a trademark for a newspaper column).

A showing that the name functions as a source identifier may be made by submitting evidence of either: (1) promotion and recognition of the name as a source indicator for the series (see TMEP §1202.09(a)(ii)(A)); or (2) the author’s or performer’s control over the name and quality of his or her works in the series (see TMEP §1202.09(a)(ii)(B)).

1202.09(a)(ii)(A)   Promotion and Recognition of the Name

To show that the name of an author or performing artist has been promoted and is recognized as indicating the source of a series of written works, the applicant could submit copies of advertising that promotes the name as the source of a series, copies of third-party reviews showing others’ use of the name to refer to a series of works, or evidence showing the name used on a web site associated with the series of works. See In re First Draft, 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1191 (TTAB 2005), citing In re Scholastic Inc., 23 USPQ2d 1774, 1777 (TTAB 1992) (holding THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS functions as a mark for a series of books, where the record contained evidence of use of the designation displayed prominently on many different book covers, as well as evidence that applicant promoted the term as a series title, that others used the designation in book reviews to refer to a series of books, and that purchasers recognized the designation as indicating the source of a series of books).

1202.09(a)(ii)(B)   Control over the Nature and Quality of the Goods

Alternatively, an applicant may show that the name of an author or performing artist functions as a source indicator by submitting documentary evidence that the author/performer controls the quality of his or her distributed works and controls the use of his or her name. Such evidence would include license agreements and other documentary or contractual evidence. See In re Polar Music Int’l AB, 714 F.2d 1567, 1572, 221 USPQ 315, 318 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (holding the name of the musical group ABBA functions as a mark for sound recordings where a license agreement showed that the owner of the mark, ABBA, controlled the quality of the goods, and other contractual evidence showed that the owner also controlled the use of the name of the group).

In In re First Draft, 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1191 (TTAB 2005), the Board found that the applicant failed to meet the Polar Music test, noting that:

[W]e have neither any evidence bearing on [the question of applicant’s control over the quality of the goods] nor even any representations by counsel regarding such matters. This is in stark contrast to Polar Music, wherein there was detailed information and documentary (i.e., contractual) evidence regarding the relationship between the performing group ABBA and its “corporate entity,” as well as evidence of the control such corporation maintained in dealings with a manufacturer and seller of its recordings in the United States.

If the applicant maintains control over the quality of the goods because the goods are published or recorded directly under the applicant’s control, the applicant may submit a verified statement that “the applicant publishes or produces the goods and controls their quality.”

1202.09(a)(iii)   Names of Authors and Performing Artists in §1(b), §44, and §66(a) Applications

The issue of whether a proposed mark identifies only an author or performing artist is usually tied to use of the mark, as evidenced by the specimen. Therefore, generally, no refusal will be issued in an intent-to-use application under §1(b) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(b), until the applicant has submitted specimen(s) with an allegation of use under §1(c) or §1(d) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or (d).

In a §1(b) application for which no specimen has been submitted, if the examining attorney anticipates that a refusal will be made on the ground that the proposed mark identifies only an author or performing artist, the potential refusal should be brought to the applicant’s attention in the first action issued by the USPTO. This is done strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding this possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant before the allegation of use is filed, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration on this basis. In cases where the record indicates that the mark identifies only an author or performing artist, the examining attorney may make the refusal prior to the filing of the allegation of use.

In an application under §44 or §66(a), where a specimen of use is not required prior to registration, it is appropriate for examining attorneys to issue the refusal where the record, even without a specimen, reflects that the proposed mark identifies only an author or performing artist. Cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal, which is otherwise typically specimen based, in a §66(a) application).

1202.09(b)   Names of Artists Used on Original Works of Art

An artist’s name or pseudonym affixed to an original work of art may be registered on the Principal Register without a showing that the name identifies a series. Original works of art includes paintings, murals, sculptures, statues, jewelry, and like works that the artist personally creates. In In re Wood, 217 USPQ 1345, 1350 (TTAB 1983), the Board held that the pseudonym YSABELLA affixed to an original work of art functioned as a mark. The Board has expressly limited this holding to cases involving original works of art, stating in Wood that “[l]est we be accused of painting with too broad a brush, we hold only that an artist’s name affixed to an original work of art may be registered as a mark and that here applicant’s name, as evidenced by some of the specimens of record [the signature of the artist on a work of art], functions as a trademark for the goods set forth in the application.” In In re First Draft, 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1190 (TTAB 2005), the Board again stated that “Wood is limited in its application to cases involving original works of art and there is nothing to indicate that the panel deciding that case considered novels to be encompassed by the phrase original works of art.”

1202.10   Names and Designs of Characters in Creative Works

Marks that merely identify a character in a creative work, whether used in a series or in a single work, are not registrable. In re Scholastic Inc., 223 USPQ 431, 431 (TTAB 1984) (holding THE LITTLES, used in the title of each book in a series of children's books, does not function as a mark where it merely identifies the main characters in the books). Cf. In re Caserta, 46 USPQ2d 1088, 1090-91 (TTAB 1998) (holding FURR-BALL FURCANIA, used as the principal character in a single children's book, does not function as a mark even though the character's name appeared on the cover and every page of the story); In re Frederick Warne & Co. , 218 USPQ 345, 347-48 (TTAB 1983) (holding an illustration of a frog used on the cover of a single book served only to depict the main character in the book and did not function as a trademark).

To overcome a refusal of registration on the ground that the proposed mark merely identifies a character in a creative work, the applicant may submit evidence that the character name does not merely identify the character in the work. For example, the applicant may submit evidence showing use of the character name as a mark on the spine of the book, or on displays associated with the goods, in a manner that would be perceived as a mark.

A refusal of registration on the ground that the mark merely identifies a character in a creative work can be made regardless of whether the creative work is the sole item in the identification of goods/services or is listed with other items. If the record contains information or if the examining attorney learns from another source that the mark identifies a character in a creative work and there are multiple items in the identification, the examining attorney should issue a partial refusal as to the relevant goods/services. A partial refusal is a refusal that applies only to certain goods/services, or to certain classes. See TMEP §718.02(a).

Example: An application for “children’s books, pencils, and coloring books” would be partially refused if the examining attorney determined, either from the application or from another source, that the mark identified a character in the children's books. The use of the same mark on other non-creative matter such as the pencils and coloring books does not overcome the refusal.

1202.10(a)   Names and Designs of Characters in Creative Works in §1(b), §44, or §66(a) Applications

The issue of whether a proposed mark identifies only the name or design of a particular character is tied to use of the mark, as evidenced by the specimen. Therefore, unless the record, even without a specimen, reflects that the proposed mark identifies only the name or design of a character, generally no refusal will be issued in an intent-to-use application under §1(b) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(b), until the applicant has submitted specimen(s) with an allegation of use under §1(c) or §1(d) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051(c) or (d). However, in a §1(b) application for which no specimen has been submitted, if the examining attorney anticipates that a refusal will be made on the ground that the proposed mark identifies only a particular character, the potential refusal should be brought to the applicant’s attention in the first action issued by the USPTO. This is done strictly as a courtesy. If information regarding this possible ground for refusal is not provided to the applicant before the allegation of use is filed, the USPTO is not precluded from refusing registration on this basis. In cases where the record indicates that the mark identifies only the name or design of a character, the examining attorney may make the refusal prior to the filing of the allegation of use.

In an application under §44 or §66(a), where a specimen of use is not required prior to registration, it is appropriate for examining attorneys to issue the refusal where the record indicates that the mark will identify only the name or design of a particular character. Cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (noting the propriety of and affirming an ornamentation refusal, which is otherwise typically specimen-based, in a §66(a) application).

See TMEP §1301.02(b) regarding names of characters or personal names as service marks.

1202.11   Background Designs and Shapes

Common geometric shapes and background designs that are not sufficiently distinctive to create a commercial impression separate from the word and/or design marks with which they are used, are not regarded as indicators of origin absent evidence of distinctiveness of the design alone. See In re Benetton Group S.p.A., 48 USPQ2d 1214, 1215-16 (TTAB 1998); In re Anton/Bauer, Inc., 7 USPQ2d 1380, 1381 (TTAB 1988); In re Wendy’s Int’l, Inc., 227 USPQ 884, 885 (TTAB 1985); In re Haggar Co., 217 USPQ 81, 83-84 (TTAB 1982). As stated in In re Chem. Dynamics, Inc., 839 F.2d 1569, 1570, 5 USPQ2d 1828, 1829 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (citations omitted), “'[a] background design which is always used in connection with word marks must create a commercial impression on buyers separate and apart from the word marks for the design to be protectible as a separate mark.' In deciding whether the design background of a word mark may be separately registered, the essential question is whether or not the background material is or is not inherently distinctive…. If the background portion is inherently distinctive, no proof of secondary meaning need be introduced; if not, such proof is essential .”

An applicant may respond to a refusal to register an application for a common geometric shape or background design by submitting evidence that the subject matter has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(f). The examining attorney should scrutinize any submission that asserts distinctiveness solely on the basis of a statement of substantially exclusive and continuous use for five years to determine whether it truly establishes that the subject matter is perceived as a trademark by the purchasing public. The examining attorney may continue to refuse registration if he or she believes that the applicant’s assertion does not establish that the matter is perceived as a trademark. The applicant may submit additional evidence to establish distinctiveness. See TMEP §§1212–1212.10 .

In the following cases, the evidence of distinctiveness was insufficient: Benetton, 48 USPQ2d at 1217 (holding green rectangular background design not inherently distinctive; evidence of acquired distinctiveness insufficient); Anton/Bauer, 7 USPQ2d at 1383 (holding parallelogram designs used as background for word marks not inherently distinctive; evidence of record insufficient to establish acquired distinctiveness pursuant to §2(f)); In re Kerr-McGee Corp., 190 USPQ 204, 207 (TTAB 1976) (affirming refusals to register escutcheon design used as a frame or border for words, under §2(f)).

In the following cases, the evidence of distinctiveness was sufficient: In re Schenectady Varnish Co., 280 F.2d 169, 171, 126 USPQ 395, 397 (C.C.P.A. 1960) (finding evidence of record sufficient to show acquired distinctiveness of the design alone as a trademark for synthetic resins where use of applicant’s design of a cloud and a lightning flash was always used as a background for the word “SCHENECTADY” ); In re Raytheon Co., 202 USPQ 317, 319-20 (TTAB 1979) (finding light-colored oval within black rectangular carrier not inherently distinctive; evidence of record sufficient to establish acquired distinctiveness).

1202.12   Varietal and Cultivar Names (Examination of Applications for Seeds and Plants)

Varietal or cultivar names are designations given to cultivated varieties or subspecies of live plants or agricultural seeds. They amount to the generic name of the plant or seed by which such variety is known to the public. These names can consist of a numeric or alphanumeric code or can be a “fancy” (arbitrary) name. The terms “varietal” and “cultivar” may have slight semantic differences but pose indistinguishable issues and are treated identically for trademark purposes.

Subspecies are types of a particular species of plant or seed that are members of a particular genus. For example, all maple trees are in the genus Acer. The sugar maple species is known as Acer saccharum, while the red maple species is called Acer rubrum. In turn, these species have been subdivided into various cultivated varieties that are developed commercially and given varietal or cultivar names that are known to the public.

A varietal or cultivar name is used in a plant patent to identify the variety. Thus, even if the name was originally arbitrary, it “describe[s] to the public a [plant] of a particular sort, not a [plant] from a particular [source].” Dixie Rose Nursery v. Coe, 131 F.2d 446, 447 55 USPQ 315, 316 (D.C. Cir. 1942), cert. denied 318 U.S. 782, 57 USPQ 568 (1943). It is against public policy for any one supplier to retain exclusivity in a patented variety of plant, or the name of a variety, once its patent expires. Id.

Market realities and lack of laws concerning the registration of varietal and cultivar names have created a number of problems in this area. Some varietal names are not attractive or easy to remember by the public. As a result, many arbitrary terms are used as varietal names. Problems arise when trademark registration is sought for varietal names, when arbitrary varietal names are thought of as being trademarks by the public, and when terms intended as trademarks by plant breeders become generic through public use. These problems make this a difficult area for the examining attorney in terms of gathering credible evidence and knowing when to make refusals.

Whenever an application is filed to register a mark containing wording for live plants, agricultural seeds, fresh fruits, or fresh vegetables, the examining attorney must inquire of the applicant whether the term has ever been used as a varietal name, and whether such name has been used in connection with a plant patent, a utility patent, or a certificate for plant variety protection. See 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b). The examining attorney must also undertake an independent investigation of any evidence that would support a refusal to register, using sources of evidence that are appropriate for the particular goods specified in the application (e.g., laboratories and repositories of the United States Department of Agriculture, plant patent information from the USPTO, a variety name search of plants certified under the Plant Variety Protection Act listed at www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/searchgrin.html).

If the examining attorney determines that wording sought to be registered as a mark for live plants, agricultural seeds, fresh fruits, or fresh vegetables comprises a varietal or cultivar name, then the examining attorney must refuse registration, or require a disclaimer, on the ground that the matter is the varietal name of the goods and does not function as a trademark under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127. See In re Pennington Seed, Inc., 466 F.3d 1053, 1057-58, 80 USPQ2d 1758, 1761-62 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (upholding the USPTO’s long-standing precedent and policy of treating varietal names as generic, and affirming refusal to register REBEL for grass seed because it is the varietal name for the grass seed as evidenced by its designation as the varietal name in applicant’s plant variety protection certificate); Dixie Rose Nursery v. Coe, 131 F.2d 446, 447 55 USPQ 315, 316 (D.C. Cir. 1942), cert. denied 318 U.S. 782, 57 USPQ 568 (1943) (holding TEXAS CENTENNIAL, although originally arbitrary, has become the varietal name for a type of rose; In re Hilltop Orchards & Nurseries, Inc., 206 USPQ 1034, 1035 (TTAB 1979) (affirming the refusal to register COMMANDER YORK for apple trees because it is the varietal name for the trees as evidences by use in applicant’s catalogue); In re Farmer Seed & Nursery Co., 137 USPQ 231, 231-32 (TTAB 1963) (upholding the refusal to register CHIEF BEMIDJI as a trademark because it is the varietal name for a strawberry plant and noting that large expenditures of money does not elevate a mark to a trademark; In re Cohn Bodger & Sons Co., 122 USPQ 345, 346 (TTAB 1959) (holding BLUE LUSTRE merely a varietal name for petunia seeds as evidenced by applicant’s catalogs).

Likewise, if the mark identifies the prominent portion of a varietal name, it must be refused. In re Delta & Pine Land Co., 26 USPQ2d 1157 (TTAB 1993) (affirming the refusal to register DELTAPINE, which was a portion of the varietal names Deltapine 50, Deltapine 20, Deltapine 105 and Deltapine 506).

1202.13   Scent, Fragrance, or Flavor

Scent. The scent of a product may be registrable if it is used in a nonfunctional manner. See In re Clarke, 17 USPQ2d 1238, 1239-40 (TTAB 1990) (holding that the scent of plumeria blossoms functioned as a mark for “sewing thread and embroidery yarn"). Scents that serve a utilitarian purpose, such as the scent of perfume or an air freshener, are functional and not registrable. See TMEP §§1202.02(a)-1202.02(a)(viii) regarding functionality. When a scent is not functional, it may be registered on the Principal Register under §2(f), or on the Supplemental Register if appropriate. The amount of evidence required to establish that a scent or fragrance functions as a mark is substantial. Cf. In re Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 774 F.2d 1116, 227 USPQ 417 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (requiring concrete evidence that the mark is perceived as a mark to establish distinctiveness).

Flavor. Just as with a scent or fragrance, a flavor can never be inherently distinctive because it is generally seen as a characteristic of the goods. In re N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d 1639 (TTAB 2006) (affirming refusal to register “an orange flavor” for “pharmaceuticals for human use, namely, antidepressants in quick-dissolving tablets and pills,” on the grounds that the proposed mark was functional under §2(e)(5) and failed to function as a mark within the meaning of §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act). The Board has observed that it is unclear how a flavor could function as a source indicator because flavor or taste generally performs a utilitarian function and consumers generally have no access to a product’s flavor or taste prior to purchase. Id. at 1650-51. Thus, an application to register a flavor “requires a substantial showing of acquired distinctiveness.” Id. at 1650.

See TMEP §807.09 regarding the requirements for submitting applications for non-visual marks.

1202.14   Holograms

A hologram used in varying forms does not function as a mark in the absence of evidence that consumers would perceive it as a trademark. See In re Upper Deck Co., 59 USPQ2d 1688, 1692-93 (TTAB 2001), where the Board held that a hologram used on trading cards in varying shapes, sizes, and positions did not function as a mark, because the record showed that other companies used holograms on trading cards and other products as anti-counterfeiting devices, and there was no evidence that the public would perceive applicant’s hologram as an indicator of source. The Board noted that “the common use of holograms for non-trademark purposes means that consumers would be less likely to perceive applicant’s uses of holograms as trademarks.” 59 USPQ2d at 1693.

Therefore, in the absence of evidence of consumer recognition as a mark, the examining attorney should refuse registration on the ground that the hologram does not function as a mark, under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127.

Generally, if a hologram has two or more views, the examining attorney should also refuse registration under §§1 and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051 and 1127, on the ground that the application seeks registration of more than one mark. In re Upper Deck, 59 USPQ2d at 1690-91. See TMEP §807.01.

1202.15   Sound Marks

A sound mark identifies and distinguishes a product or service through audio rather than visual means. Sound marks function as source indicators when they “assume a definitive shape or arrangement” and “create in the hearer’s mind an association of the sound” with a good or service. In re Gen. Electric Broad. Co., 199 USPQ 560, 563 (TTAB 1978). Thus, sounds may be registered on the Principal Register when they are “arbitrary, unique or distinctive and can be used in a manner so as to attach to the mind of the listener and be awakened on later hearing in a way that would indicate for the listener that a particular product or service was coming from a particular, even if anonymous, source.” In re Vertex Grp. LLC, 89 USPQ2d 1694, 1700 (TTAB 2009). Examples of sound marks include: (1) a series of tones or musical notes, with or without words; and (2) wording accompanied by music.

There is, however, a difference between unique, different, or distinctive sounds and those that resemble or imitate “commonplace” sounds or those to which listeners have been exposed under different circumstances, which must be shown to have acquired distinctiveness. Gen. Electric Broad. 199 USPQ at 563 (TTAB 1978). Examples of "commonplace" sound marks include goods that make the sound in their normal course of operation (e.g., alarm clocks, appliances that include audible alarms or signals, telephones, and personal security alarms). Therefore, sound marks for goods that make the sound in their normal course of operation can be registered only on a showing of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f). Nextel Commc'ns, Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 91 USPQ2d 1393 (TTAB 2009) (holding cellular telephones that emit a “chirp” sound fall into the category of goods that make the sound in their normal course of operation); Vertex, 89 USPQ2d at 1700, 1702 (holding personal security alarm clock products that emit a sound pulse fall into the category of goods that make sound in the normal course of operation).

See TMEP §807.09 regarding the requirements for submitting applications for sound marks and §904.03(f) regarding specimens for sound marks.

1202.16   Model or Grade Designations

Model designations appear in connection with a wide variety of products, such as retaining rings, hand tools, and pens, to identify a specific style, type, or design of a product within a particular line of goods. See In re Petersen Mfg. Co., 229 USPQ 466 (TTAB 1986) (noting that the following alphanumeric designations served as model numbers on the specimens, but finding the evidence of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) sufficient for registration: 18R for a C clamp; 6LN for a locking plier with elongated jaw; 9LN for a locking plier with elongated jaw; 7CR for a locking plier with curved jaw; 6R for a C clamp; 20R for a chain clamp; 10CR for a locking plier with curved jaw; 7R for a locking plier with straight jaw; 10WR for a locking plier with wire cutter; 7WR for a locking plier with wire cutter; 5WR for a locking plier with wire cutter; RR for a locking specialty tool, namely, a pinch-off tool; 10R for a locking plier with straight jaw; 9R for a locking specialty tool, namely, a welding clamp; 8R for locking specialty tools, namely, metal clamping tools; and 11R for a C clamp); In re Waldes Kohinoor, Inc., 124 USPQ 471 (TTAB 1960) (holding that 5131, 5000, and 5100 for retaining rings functioned only to differentiate one type of the applicant’s retaining rings from its other types and did not function as a trademark to distinguish the applicant’s goods from those of others); Ex parte Esterbrook Pen Co., 109 USPQ 368 (Comm’r Pats. 1956) (holding that 2668 for pen points did not function as a mark because it was merely a style number for a particular pen point used to differentiate one pen point from other points in the product line).

Model designations also are commonly used to distinguish between different types of automobile parts within a single product line. See In re Dana Corp., 12 USPQ2d 1748 (TTAB 1989) (holding that the following alphanumeric designations used in connection with vehicle parts functioned only as part numbers and not as trademarks: 5-469X; 5-438X; 5-510X; 5-515X; 5-407X; 5-279X; and 5-281X). In addition, model designations may serve the purpose of providing users with product compatibility information between goods and parts, accessories, and/or fittings for the goods. See In re Otis Eng’g Corp., 218 USPQ 959, 960 (TTAB 1983) (noting that the fact that various pieces of applicant’s “X” equipment for oil wells are compatible with each other tends to support the position that “X” is a style or model designation, but finding that the specimens, advertising brochures, and affidavits when considered together demonstrate that “X” also functions as a trademark). They also facilitate ordering and tracking of goods. Id. (noting that the use of the same designation on various goods that work together would enable purchasers to order compatible equipment).

Grade designations are used to denote that a product has a certain level of quality within a defined range. They may also indicate that a product has a certain classification, size, weight, type, degree, or mode of manufacturing. Mere grade designations are often used by competitors within an industry, or by the general public, and do not indicate origin from a single source because their principal function is to provide information about the product to a consumer. See 1 Anne Gilson LaLonde, Gilson on Trademarks §2.03(4)(a) (Matthew Bender 2011). (Note: the use of a grade designation in the context of a certification mark is not discussed herein.)

For example, the fuel industry utilizes grade designations in the form of particular numbers to delineate different octane ratings of fuel. See In re Union Oil Co., 33 USPQ 43 (C.C.P.A. 1937) (affirming the decision of the Commissioner of Patents refusing to register 76 for gasoline because the term functioned merely as a grade or quality mark to indicate either the octane rating or the Baume gravity rating and did not indicate origin). Grade designations have also been used to signify the composition or strength of various types of steel. See Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. v. Armco Steel Corp., 139 USPQ 132 (TTAB 1963) (holding that the terms 17-4PH and 17-7PH originally served only as a grade designation for stainless steel based on the composition of chromium and nickel, but finding the evidence of secondary meaning sufficient for registration). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) assigns grades in connection with butter to delineate between different quality levels based on flavor, aroma, and texture. See Agric. Mktg. Serv., U.S. Dep’t of Agric., How to Buy Butter (Feb. 1995), http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3002487. The USDA also assigns grades to other food products, such as eggs, meat, and poultry. See Agric. Mktg. Serv., U.S. Dep’t of Agric., Egg-Grading Manual (July 2000), http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004502; Inspection & Grading of Meat and Poultry: What Are the Differences?, U.S. Dep’t of Agric. (Aug. 22, 2008), http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Inspection_&_Grading/index.asp.

1202.16(a)   Examination of Marks with Model and Grade Designations

A trademark comprises a word, name, symbol, device, or combination thereof that is used to identify the goods of an applicant, to distinguish them from the goods of others, and to indicate the source of the goods. Trademark Act §§1-2, 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051-1052, 1127; see TMEP §1202. Similar to a trademark, a model or grade designation is generally comprised of numbers or letters, or a combination thereof. However, the manner of use, and resulting commercial impression imparted by the matter, differentiate a mere model or grade designation from that of a trademark (or a dual-purpose mark that is both a model or grade designation and a trademark). While letters, numbers, or alphanumeric matter may serve as both a trademark and a model or grade designation, matter used merely as a model or grade designation serves only to differentiate between different products within a product line or delineate levels of quality, and does not indicate source. See Eastman Kodak Co. v. Bell & Howell Document Mgmt. Prods. Co., 994 F.2d 1569, 1576, 26 USPQ2d 1912, 1919 (Fed. Cir. 1993); Neapco Inc. v. Dana Corp., 12 USPQ2d 1746, 1748 (TTAB 1989); 1 Anne Gilson LaLonde, Gilson on Trademarks §2.03(4)(a) (Matthew Bender 2011); J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition §11.36 (4th ed. 2011).

Even though a model or grade designation seems “arbitrary” in the sense that the combination of letters, numbers, or both does not immediately describe the goods, it often does not function as a trademark. See Gilson LaLonde, supra, §2.03(4)(a). Where the model or grade designation fails to distinguish the applicant’s goods from those of others or to identify the applicant as the source, the proposed mark must be refused registration on the Principal Register under §§1, 2, and 45 for failure to function as a trademark. 15 U.S.C. §§1051-1052, 1127. However, if the mark both identifies a model or grade designation and serves as a trademark, no failure-to-function refusal should issue. See Ex parte Eastman Kodak Co., 55 USPQ 361, 362 (Comm’r Pats. 1942) (“The fundamental question is not whether or not the mark as used by applicant serves to indicate grade or quality but rather whether it is or is not so used that purchasers and the public will recognize the mark as indicating the source of origin of the goods.”).

In addition, the examining attorney must also consider whether the proposed mark is merely descriptive, or even generic. Trademark Act §2(e)(1), 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(1). Grade designations often become synonymous with (and thus merely descriptive of) a classification, value, size, weight, type, degree, mode of manufacturing, or level of quality of the goods. And, more infrequently, model designations can be used in a merely descriptive manner. See Textron, Inc. v. Omark Indus., Inc., 208 USPQ 524, 527-28 (TTAB 1980) (holding that model numbers which have been used in the same manner by competitors for indicating the size of the saw chains as to pitch and gauge are merely descriptive and not registrable).

1202.16(b)   Identifying Model and Grade Designations in Marks

1202.16(b)(i)   Model Designations

Determining whether a proposed mark is used merely as a model designation is a question of fact. See In re Petersen Mfg. Co., 229 USPQ 466 (TTAB 1986) (finding that purchasers recognized the designations as trademarks in addition to functioning as model designations based on the ex parte record presented). The factual finding focuses on whether the proposed mark, as used on the specimen (and any other evidence of record), also identifies the applicant as the source of the goods or distinguishes the applicant’s goods from the goods of others. Extrinsic evidence may also aid in determining whether the proposed mark functions as a source indicator. The following three considerations comprise guidelines for determining whether a proposed mark, as used on a specimen, serves merely as a model designation or whether it also functions as a source indicator.

1202.16(b)(i)(A)   Stylization of Display

The stylization of display refers to the visual presentation or “look” of a proposed mark on the specimen, and takes into consideration such elements as font style and color as well as design features. In some cases, the stylization creates an impression separate and apart from that of a model designation, thereby making the designation more likely to be perceived as a trademark. In analyzing stylization of display, the examining attorney should consider whether the font or stylization of lettering in the proposed mark is unusual or relatively ordinary, and should also consider the degree of stylization. Where the stylization is minimal, the proposed mark may be more likely to be perceived as merely a model designation.

1202.16(b)(i)(B)   Size of Proposed Mark

Size refers to the relative dimension of the proposed mark. If the proposed mark appears large in relation to any other matter, it may immediately catch the eye and make the proposed mark the focal point on the specimen. Therefore, the proposed mark would be less likely to be perceived as a mere model designation. If the proposed mark is smaller than the other matter surrounding it, however, consumers would be more likely to perceive it as merely a model designation.

1202.16(b)(i)(C)   Physical Location

The physical location refers to the actual position of the proposed mark on a specimen. Although there is no prescribed location on a specimen where the proposed mark must be placed to qualify as a trademark, the physical location of matter on a specimen suggests how the mark would be perceived by consumers and whether such matter serves as a trademark or is merely a model designation. The display of a proposed mark in a prominent location on the goods themselves, or on the packaging or label, is a factor that may contribute to finding that it serves as a trademark. A proposed mark that appears in close proximity to generic or informational matter (such as the common or class name for the goods, net weight, bar code, or country of origin) is less likely to be perceived as a mark because it will be viewed together with the generic or informational matter as merely conveying information about the model of a particular product line.

1202.16(b)(ii)   Grade Designations

A grade designation often indicates a standard that is common to producers or manufacturers within an industry. Determining whether a proposed mark is used merely as a grade designation is a question of fact. See In re Flintkote Co., 132 USPQ 295, 296 (TTAB 1961) (citing Kiekhaefer Corp. v. Willys-Overland Motors, Inc., 111 USPQ 105 (C.C.P.A. 1956)); J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition §11.36 (4th ed. 2011). Thus, the examining attorney must supplement consideration of the application content (i.e., the drawing, the description of the mark, the identification of goods or services, and the specimen, if any), with independent research of the applicant’s and competitors’ websites, the Internet, and databases such as LexisNexis® to determine how the designation is used in the industry. Such research will assist in determining whether the proposed mark is used by others to convey a specific characteristic of the goods (such as value, size, type, degree, or level of quality) and, as such, has a publicly recognized meaning. For example, if the evidence shows that A, B, C, and D, or 1, 2, 3, and 4, are commonly used in an industry to represent a hierarchy of quality, a mark consisting of such a letter or number likely would not indicate source in any one producer or manufacturer. See Shaw Stocking Co. v. Mack, 12 F. 707, 711 (C.C.N.D.N.Y. 1882) (“It is very clear that no manufacturer would have the right exclusively to appropriate the figures 1, 2, 3, and 4, or the letters A, B, C, and D, to distinguish the first, second, third and fourth quality of his goods, respectively. Why? Because the general signification and common use of these letters and figures are such, that no man is permitted to assign a personal and private meaning to that which has by long usage and universal acceptation acquired a public and generic meaning.”); 1 Anne Gilson LaLonde, Gilson on Trademarks §2.03(4)(a) (Matthew Bender 2011).

Where extrinsic evidence shows that matter in the proposed mark is used by competitors or members of the public to convey the same type of designation of quality, the resulting commercial impression is merely that of a grade designation with no source-identifying capability. The examining attorney should also analyze the specimen using the same considerations for model designations (i.e., stylization of display on the specimen, size of matter on the specimen, physical location on the specimen) to bolster a refusal based on a failure to function as a mark. A lack of extrinsic evidence of usage of the proposed mark as a grade designation does not necessarily foreclose a refusal, where the nature of applicant’s use and the same considerations for model designations (i.e., stylization of display on the specimen, size of matter on the specimen, physical location on the specimen) indicate a grade designation.

1202.16(c)   Procedures for Handling Marks with Model and Grade Designations

1202.16(c)(i)   Evidentiary Considerations when Issuing Model or Grade Designation Refusals

1202.16(c)(i)(A)   Model Designations

To support a refusal to register a model designation for failure to function as a mark, the examining attorney must use the applicant’s specimen, along with any other relevant evidence in the application, such as the identification of goods and mark description. If available, the examining attorney should also provide additional evidence that shows that the proposed mark would be perceived merely as a model designation, such as consumers referring to the applicant’s proposed mark as a model or part number when ordering the goods. Evidence that other manufacturers use similar numbering systems to identify model numbers for their goods may be submitted to show that consumers are familiar with the use of alphanumeric designations as model numbers and are consequently less likely to perceive the applicant’s use of the mark as source indicating.

1202.16(c)(i)(B)   Grade Designations

A refusal or requirement (such as a disclaimer requirement) on the basis that a mark comprises or includes a grade designation must be supported by relevant evidence. Where extrinsic evidence is available to show that a proposed grade designation is used by competitors within an industry and/or members of the public to convey the same meaning, the examining attorney must attach the evidence to the Office action and explain its relevance to the refusal. For example, evidence demonstrating that other manufacturers use the same or similar grading systems to identify quality levels of their own goods may be submitted with an explanation that such evidence shows that the proposed mark does not indicate origin from a single source. If no extrinsic evidence is available, the examining attorney must use the applicant’s specimen, along with any other relevant evidence of record, to support a grade designation refusal for failure to function as a mark. In such situations, the examining attorney must also issue a request for relevant information (such as fact sheets, instruction manuals, and/or advertisements depicting the applicant’s use of the proposed mark, and evidence of any industry use of this designation or similar designations) pursuant to 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b).

1202.16(c)(ii)   Entire Mark Consists of Model or Grade Designation in §1(a) Applications

If the evidence shows that a proposed mark consists entirely of a mere model or grade designation, the examining attorney must refuse registration on the Principal Register under §§1, 2, and 45 because the proposed mark does not function as a trademark to identify and distinguish the applicant’s goods from those of others and indicate the source of the goods. 15 U.S.C. §§1051-1052, 1127.

For such refusals, where appropriate, the examining attorney should advise the applicant of the various response options: (1) submitting a substitute specimen that shows the proposed mark being used as a trademark for the identified goods; (2) claiming acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) with actual evidence of distinctiveness that establishes recognition of the proposed mark as a trademark for the goods; or (3) amending the application to seek registration on the Supplemental Register. See Trademark Act §23, 15 U.S.C. §1091; In re Petersen Mfg. Co., 229 USPQ 466, 468 (TTAB 1986) (finding letter-number combinations registrable under §2(f) for locking hand tools and stating, “there is no question that such model designations can, through use and promotion, be perceived as marks indicating origin in addition to functioning as model designations.”); 37 C.F.R. §2.59(a); TMEP §904.05.

For marks comprising grade designations, the examining attorney must determine whether to make an additional refusal on the grounds that the mark is also merely descriptive of the goods. Trademark Act §2(e)(1), 15 U.S.C. §§1052(e)(1). Grade designations can often become synonymous with (and thus merely descriptive of) a classification, value, size, weight, type, degree, mode of manufacturing, or level of quality of the goods. Grade designations that are also the generic name of the goods are not eligible for registration on the Principal Register under §2(f) or on the Supplemental Register because they are not capable of indicating the source of the goods and must remain available to identify the relevant characteristic possessed by goods meeting such criteria. In such cases, if the applicant responds by amending the application to seek registration on the Supplemental Register, the examining attorney must issue a generic refusal under §23. In the rare situation where the applicant is the sole user of a grade designation and where the mark appears capable, the applicant should be provided with the same response options identified above for applicable model designations.

1202.16(c)(iii)   Composite Mark with Model or Grade Designation in §1(a) Applications

Composite marks may comprise matter that is used as a model or grade designation in addition to other wording and/or design features. Such marks must be evaluated as a whole to determine whether they are registrable.

1202.16(c)(iii)(A)   Model or Grade Designations with Arbitrary and/or Suggestive Matter

Terms used as model or grade designations that are combined with arbitrary and/or suggestive matter are generally not refused registration under Trademark Act §§1, 2, and 45, if the additional matter imparts trademark significance to the mark as a whole. Generally, no disclaimer of a portion that is a model designation need be required (unless there is evidence of descriptive or generic usage) because the composite mark creates a single unitary commercial impression and there is no need to preserve the availability of the applicant’s model designation for others. However, the portion of a mark that is a grade designation must generally be disclaimed in cases where there is evidence of descriptive or generic use, to clarify the availability of the grade designation for use by others in the industry. Standard USPTO disclaimer practices would apply in such cases, including considerations of unitariness. See TMEP §§1213-1213.08(d).

1202.16(c)(iii)(B)   Model or Grade Designations with Descriptive, Generic, and/or Informational Matter

Terms used merely as model or grade designations that are combined with descriptive, generic, and/or informational matter are generally refused registration under Trademark Act §§1, 2, and 45 because this type of additional matter does not diminish the mark’s model or grade designation significance. In most instances involving model designations, claims of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) and amendments to the Supplemental Register may be permissible. Additionally, in rare cases where there is no evidence of generic usage for grade designations, claims of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) and amendments to the Supplemental Register may be permissible. In such cases, the examiner must consider standard USPTO disclaimer practice to determine whether a disclaimer of the generic and/or informational matter may be necessary. See TMEP §§1213-1213.08(d).

1202.16(c)(iv)   Drawing and Specimen Agreement Issues in §1(a) Applications

Occasionally, the specimen will show a possible model or grade designation that is not included on the drawing and thus, the mark on the drawing and specimen will appear to disagree. See TMEP §807.12(d). When it is unclear whether the additional matter is a model or grade designation, the examining attorney must require the applicant to clarify whether this matter is part of the mark. See 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b); TMEP §814. If the matter is not part of the mark and is merely used as a model or grade designation, the applicant may avoid an agreement issue by submitting the following: (1) a statement that the matter is merely a model or grade designation and (2) evidence showing use of the proposed mark with other similar notations or evidence clearly showing that the matter is merely a model or grade designation. See 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b); In re Raychem Corp., 12 USPQ2d 1399, 1400 (TTAB 1989) (holding the mark TINEL-LOCK on the drawing to agree with the wording TR06AI-TINEL-LOCK-RING appearing on the specimen where the notation TR06AI was merely a part or stock number, as supported by a submitted brochure that explained that each letter and number in the notation represented a specific type, size, and feature of the part, and the term RING was generic for the goods); In re Sansui Elec. Co., 194 USPQ 202, 203 (TTAB 1977) (holding the marks “QSE” and “QSD” on the drawing to agree with the wording “QSE-4” and “QSD-4” appearing on the specimens, where the notation “4” was merely a model number and the additional specimens showed use of the mark with various changing model numbers used to designate successive generations of equipment). In the alternative, the applicant may provide a substitute specimen showing the proposed mark depicted on the drawing. See 37 C.F.R. §2.59(a); TMEP §904.05. In cases where the record clearly indicates that the notation on the specimen is a model or grade designation, no inquiry is needed. See In re Raychem Corp., 12 USPQ2d at 1400.

1202.16(c)(v)   Model or Grade Designation in §1(b), §44, or §66(a) Applications

1202.16(c)(v)(A)   Model Designations

In §1(b), 44, or 66(a) applications, marks that appear to be merely model designations (either wholly comprising the mark or used with descriptive/generic/informational matter) may be refused registration for failure to function as a mark only where the drawing and mark description are dispositive of the mark’s failure to function, or the record clearly and unequivocally indicates that the entire mark identifies only a model designation. Cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1156-57 (TTAB 2008) (affirming an ornamentation refusal in a §66(a) application despite the lack of a specimen since the mark was decorative or ornamental on its face as depicted on the drawing page and described in the application). For those rare cases where a refusal issues in a §66(a) application, the examining attorney must not offer an amendment to the Supplemental Register. Applications filed under §66(a) are not eligible for registration on the Supplemental Register. 37 C.F.R. §§2.47(c), 2.75(c); TMEP §816.01; see also 15 U.S.C. §1141h(a)(4). Otherwise, because of the lack of specimen of use, a failure-to-function refusal is inappropriate.

If upon initial examination of a §1(b) application, an examining attorney must issue an Office action for other reasons, and the proposed mark appears to be used or intended to be used merely as a model designation, the examining attorney should include a model designation failure-to-function advisory as a courtesy to the applicant. See TMEP §1102.01. Regardless of whether an examining attorney issues an initial advisory before the applicant files an allegation of use, the examining attorney must issue a refusal based on failure to function as a mark after the allegation of use is filed, if supported by the evidence of record. Id.

1202.16(c)(v)(B)   Grade Designations

The examining attorney must refuse registration based on a failure to function as a mark for a mark merely comprising a grade designation (or a grade designation with descriptive/generic/informational matter) in a §1(b), 44, or 66(a) application where the evidence shows the mark is used in the industry or by the public in such a way as to clearly and unequivocally show use merely to identify a specific quality or feature of the goods. For more information about evidence, see TMEP §1202.16(c)(i)(B). If the examining attorney can find no extrinsic evidence of such use, the procedures outlined for model designations in TMEP §1202.16(c)(v)(A) must be followed.

1202.17   Universal Symbols in Marks

The term “universal symbol” refers to a design, icon, or image that is commonly used in an informational manner and conveys a widely recognized or readily understood meaning when displayed in its relevant context. See Webster’s New World College Dictionary 1356 (3rd ed. 1997) (defining “symbol” as “something that stands for, represents, or suggests another thing; esp., an object used to represent something abstract); id. at 1460 (defining “universal” as “used, intended to be used, or understood by all”). Universal symbols are typically available for use by anyone to quickly provide notice of a particular condition or to indicate a characteristic of an object or area. Thus, they appear in a variety of places, such as on road signs, near dangerous machinery, on medical apparatus, in hazardous locations, on product warning labels, or on materials connected with recycling activities. Usually, the context in which a universal symbol appears is crucial in determining the symbol’s significance.

Matter that is specifically protected by statute or registered as a mark should not be considered to be a universal symbol. See TMEP §1205. For example, certain symbols that have a widely recognized meaning, such as the Red Cross, are subject to specific statutory protections restricting their use and may be refused under various provisions of the Trademark Act. See TMEP §1205.01.

The following are examples of common universal symbols:

Description: image of Recycling symbol

The recycling symbol typically designates materials that are recyclable or recycled, but may also indicate that goods or services involve recycling or are otherwise environmentally friendly. See, e.g., About.com, Recycling Symbols Made Easy, http://greenliving.about.com/od/recyclingwaste/tp/recycling_symbols.htm (accessed Aug. 24, 2012).

Description: International radiation symbol

The international radiation symbol indicates proximity to a source of radiation or radioactive materials. See, e.g., U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Servs., Examples of Radiation Signs and Symbols for Work Areas, Buildings, Transportation of Cargo, http://www.remm.nlm.gov/radsign.htm (accessed Aug. 24, 2012).

Description: Biohazard symbol

The biohazard symbol indicates the presence of pathogens or other matter that is potentially harmful or poses a health risk. See, e.g., Graphic Products, Biohazard Signs, http://www.graphicproducts.com/sign-printers/biohazard-signs.html (accessed Aug. 24, 2012).

Description: universal prohibition symbol

The universal prohibition symbol, which usually appears superimposed over another image or wording, is a visual representation of “no,” “not,” or “prohibited.” See, e.g., Free Signage.com, Prohibition Signs, http://www.freesignage.com/prohibited_signs.php (accessed Aug. 24, 2012).

1202.17(a)   Relevance of Universal Symbols to Examination

Universal symbols may appear as one element of a mark, or they may form an entire mark. The informational aspect of these symbols is often at odds with the functions of trademarks and service marks: to identify and distinguish one’s goods or services and indicate their source. Specifically, a universal symbol may fail to function as a mark because it only imparts information, conveys an informational message, or provides ornamentation. See 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, 1127; TMEP §§1202, 1202.03, 1202.04. In addition, a universal symbol may merely describe a feature, quality, function, purpose, or characteristic of goods or services. See 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(1); TMEP §§1209, 1209.01(b). If a universal symbol in a mark creates a false impression about a characteristic or quality of an applicant’s goods or services, the mark may be deceptive or deceptively misdescriptive. See 15 U.S.C. §§1052(a), 1052(e)(1); TMEP §§1203.02–1203.02(g), 1209.04. As explained in TMEP §1202.17(b), however, registration of a universal symbol may be permissible in some instances.

1202.17(b)   Reviewing Marks Containing Symbols

For each application, the examining attorney must determine whether the mark contains a universal symbol. Some universal symbols, such as the recycling symbol, are immediately identifiable. Others may not be, and applications for marks containing a symbol do not always identify the symbol, explain its significance, or indicate whether it is shown in a stylized or unusual form.

1202.17(b)(i)   Identifying Universal Symbols in Marks

If a mark includes or consists of a symbol (or an unfamiliar symbol-like element), the examining attorney should review the application for any information the applicant may have provided about the symbol and ensure that an accurate description is included in the record. See TMEP §§808.03, 808.03(b), 808.03(d). The examining attorney may also use the mark’s assigned design codes to determine the name of the symbol and to search the USPTO database for applications and registrations that describe the symbol. See TMEP §104. If the design codes assigned to the mark do not accurately reflect the significant elements of the mark, the examining attorney should ensure that the design codes are updated so that the correct codes are listed. See TMEP §808.03(f). After identifying the symbol, the examining attorney may find additional information about it by using Internet search engines or symbol reference websites.

Even without the name of the symbol, the examining attorney may be able to find information about it by entering a textual description of it in an Internet search engine. For instance, one could find information about the recycling symbol, even without knowing the name of the symbol, by using the following textual description in a search engine query: “green curved arrows triangle.” Additionally, the examining attorney could consult a symbol reference website that provides a means of searching based on a symbol’s graphical characteristics. See Symbols.com, Graphic Index, http://www.symbols.com/graphic-index/ (accessed Aug. 24, 2012).

In addition, the Trademark Law Library holds a number of reference books about symbols and their meaning, and its librarians are available to assist USPTO personnel in researching questions regarding the identity, significance, and use of symbols. Furthermore, under Trademark Rule 2.61(b), the examining attorney may require the applicant to provide additional information about an unfamiliar symbol in a mark. 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b).

The examining attorney’s research may show that a symbol (or symbol-like element) in a mark is not a universal symbol. However, other symbols, symbol-like elements, and designs that are not universal symbols may nonetheless be perceived only as informational matter and thus fail to function as marks. In these instances, the examining attorney need not take any further action with respect to the universal symbol analysis, but should ensure that the application record contains a mark description that accurately describes the significant elements of the mark. TMEP §§808.01, 808.02, 808.03(b). The examining attorney should otherwise review the application according to standard USPTO practice and determine whether it complies with all applicable trademark statutes and rules.

1202.17(b)(ii)   Marks Displaying an Unusual Depiction of a Universal Symbol

If the mark contains a universal symbol, the examining attorney must determine whether the mark displays the symbol in the usual manner or otherwise features an accurate depiction of the symbol. This may be done by comparing the symbol in the mark with any accurate depictions of the symbol the examining attorney finds while researching the symbol.

Generally, a universal symbol in a mark should be considered registrable matter if it is highly stylized, if it incorporates elements that are not usually in the symbol, or if it is integrated with other matter in the mark, and, as a result, a distinctive commercial impression separate and apart from the symbol’s usual significance is created or a source-indicating unitary whole is formed. Cf. In re LRC Prods. Ltd., 223 USPQ 1250, 1252 (TTAB 1984) (noting that “where designs or representations were more realistic and where the design left no doubt about the depiction of a central feature or characteristic of the goods or services,” the Board has found that such designs and representations are merely descriptive); TMEP §1213.03(c) (“No disclaimer of highly stylized pictorial representations of descriptive matter should be required[,] because the design element creates a distinct commercial impression.”); TMEP §1213.05(f) (“The visual presentation of a mark may be such that the words and/or designs form a unitary whole. In such a case, disclaimer of individual nondistinctive elements is unnecessary.”); TMEP §1213.05(g)(iv) (“If literal and design elements in a mark are so merged together that they cannot be divided or regarded as separable elements, these elements may be considered unitary.”). However, displaying an accurately depicted universal symbol as a replacement for a letter in a mark’s literal element normally will not change the symbol’s usual impression (or create a unitary whole), nor will minor alterations to the symbol, such as slight stylizations or nondistinctive changes to color scheme or proportions. Cf. TMEP §§1213.03(c), 1213.05(g).

1202.17(b)(iii)   Marks Displaying an Accurate Depiction of a Universal Symbol

If the mark displays the universal symbol in the usual manner, or otherwise features an accurate depiction of the symbol, the examining attorney must determine whether, in view of the identified goods or services, it is necessary to issue a refusal or disclaimer requirement based on failure to function, mere descriptiveness, deceptive misdescriptiveness, or deceptiveness grounds. See TMEP §§1202.17(c)(i), 1202.17(d)(i)-(d)(ii).

1202.17(c)   Failure to Function

The USPTO will not register a mark unless it functions as a mark. See 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, 1127; In re Bose Corp., 192 USPQ 213, 215 (C.C.P.A. 1976) (“Before there can be registration, there must be a trademark . . . .”); In re Int’l Spike, Inc., 196 USPQ 447, 449 (TTAB 1977) (“Registration presupposes the existence of a trademark to be registered.”); TMEP §1202. That is, the mark must serve as an indicator of the source of the goods or services, identifying and distinguishing them from those of others. See 15 U.S.C. §1127; TMEP §1202. Not every designation that a party places on goods or packaging, or uses in connection with services, necessarily performs these source-indicating functions, regardless of the party’s intentions when adopting the designation. In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d 1227, 1229 (TTAB 2010); In re Vertex Grp., LLC, 89 USPQ2d 1694, 1701 (TTAB 2009) (“As is the case with any trademark, mere intent that a word, name, symbol or device function as a trademark or service mark is not enough in and of itself.”). Some designations can never serve as a source indicator. See In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d at 1229; Am. Velcro, Inc. v. Charles Mayer Studios, Inc., 177 USPQ 149, 154 (TTAB 1973).

1202.17(c)(i)   Determining Whether a Universal Symbol Functions as a Source Indicator

The determination as to whether a universal symbol in a mark functions as a source indicator involves considering the significance of the symbol, the nature of the symbol’s use in the relevant marketplace, and the impression created when the mark is used in connection with the identified goods or services. See In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ 1227, 1229 (TTAB 2010) (noting that, to determine how a designation would be perceived by the relevant public, the Board “look[s] to the specimens and other evidence of record showing how the designation is actually used in the marketplace”); In re Aerospace Optics, Inc., 78 USPQ2d 1861, 1862 (TTAB 2006) (“A critical element in determining whether matter sought to be registered is a trademark is the impression the matter makes on the relevant public. Thus . . . the critical inquiry is whether the asserted mark would be perceived as a source indicator. . . .”); In re Volvo Cars of N. Am. Inc., 46 USPQ2d 1455, 1459 (TTAB 1998) (“In order to assess the commercial impact created by the designation . . . we look to the specimens and other materials which show how the mark is actually used in the marketplace.”).

Relevant evidence of a symbol’s significance and usual manner of use includes the resources referenced in TMEP §1202.17(b)(i), any other competent materials indicating the meaning of the symbol, and Internet excerpts or trade matter showing the symbol being used in a particular field or context, or in connection with the relevant goods or services.

Weighing these considerations in view of the available facts and evidence may lead the examining attorney to the conclusion that the mark does not serve as a source indicator, but instead fails to function because it (1) imparts information about the goods or services, (2) conveys an informational message (though not necessarily about the goods or services themselves), or (3) serves only as ornamentation on the goods or services. See TMEP §§1202.17(c)(i)(A)-(c)(i)(B).

1202.17(c)(i)(A)   Informational Universal Symbols

Universal Symbols that Impart Information About the Goods or Services

Merely informational matter is not registrable as a trademark or service mark. See TMEP §1202.04. When a universal symbol in a mark is used in its usual context or field, or with relevant goods or services, it will likely impart its generally recognized meaning and thus perform only an informational function, rather than serve to identify any single source of the goods or services. Cf. In re Schwauss, 217 USPQ 361 (TTAB 1983) (holding mark consisting of FRAGILE in a “jarred or broken” stylization failed to function as a trademark for labels and bumper stickers). For instance, because the biohazard symbol commonly appears on items to indicate the presence of hazardous materials, the symbol is unlikely to function as a trademark on goods such as containers for disposing of medical waste. See, e.g., Graphic Products, Biohazard Signs, http://www.graphicproducts.com/sign-printers/biohazard-signs.html (accessed Aug. 24, 2012).

In these circumstances, the symbol’s position, prominence, and surrounding context on the specimen of use will not be as significant in the analysis, because the symbol will function only as informational matter regardless of its manner of use on the specimen. Cf. In re Volvo Cars of N. Am. Inc., 46 USPQ2d at 1460-61 (affirming refusal to register DRIVE SAFELY because “to grant exclusive rights to applicant in this ordinary and commonly used safety admonition would interfere with the rights of others in the automobile industry to freely use the familiar phrase . . . to promote safe driving and/or that purchasers can drive safely in their make of automobiles. . . .”); In re Schwauss, 217 USPQ at 362 (“[T]o allow registration [of stylized word FRAGILE for labels and bumper stickers] would achieve the absurd result of hampering others in their use of the common word ‘fragile’ on any label designed to be placed on any other object to indicate the fragility of said object.”). Nonetheless, the examining attorney should analyze how the mark (and the symbol in it) is used on the specimen because it may lend further support to the failure-to-function refusal.

Sometimes a symbol is applied to goods or services outside the symbol’s normal context and the symbol could therefore serve a source-indicating function. Thus, the biohazard symbol could function as a service mark for live musical-performance services, for example, because the symbol would not provide any relevant information about the services, even when encountered by someone who knows what the symbol usually means.

Universal Symbols that Convey an Informational Message

Even if a mark does not directly impart information about goods or services, it may nonetheless fail to function if it conveys an informational message to others. See In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d 1227, 1230-31 (TTAB 2010). For example, common phrases and slogans that are frequently displayed by many different parties on various goods are not likely to be viewed as source indicators, even if the matter is being used in a non-ornamental manner. See id. Instead, such goods would likely be purchased for the message the phrase or slogan conveys. See id. at 1230. See TMEP §1202.04 regarding informational matter.

Likewise, when certain commonly used universal symbols appear on goods such as clothing, fashion accessories, and household items, they would likely be perceived as conveying an informational message and the goods featuring these symbols would likely be purchased for that reason. For example, evidence may show that when the recycling symbol appears on the upper-left chest area of a t-shirt, those encountering the shirt are likely to assume that it indicates support for recycling or environmental causes in general. Or evidence may support the conclusion that a peace symbol used on t-shirts or stickers likely will not function as mark, because even if it is not ornamental and does not necessarily provide any particular information about the goods themselves, it is informational in the sense that it conveys a message of supporting peace.

The examining attorney may support a failure-to-function refusal in these cases by providing evidence that indicates the widely recognized meaning of the symbol, establishes that the symbol is commonly used to convey particular information, and shows that the symbol commonly appears on the goods at issue or analogous goods. See id. Factors such as the symbol’s position and prominence on the goods, as shown by the specimen of use, may also support the determination that the matter will be perceived only as conveying a message. See id. at 1230-31. As with any other substantive refusal, the amount, type, and nature of the evidence required to support a failure-to-function refusal will vary depending on the facts of the particular application.

Although this issue is more likely to arise when universal symbols are displayed on goods, it is also possible for a universal symbol to convey an informational message when used in connection with services.

1202.17(c)(i)(B)   Ornamental Universal Symbols

Matter that serves only as an ornamental feature of goods does not identify and distinguish the goods and, thus, does not function as a trademark. TMEP §1202.03. Like any other design element, universal symbols may be used ornamentally on goods such as clothing, jewelry, fashion accessories, and household items. In these instances, the symbol’s position, prominence, and surrounding context on the specimen are particularly significant in determining whether the matter serves as ornamentation. For more information on the relevant considerations, see TMEP §§1202.03–1202.03(d).

The examining attorney should not suggest the usual response options for an ornamental refusal (i.e., showing secondary source, claiming acquired distinctiveness, or amending to the Supplemental Register) unless the mark is capable of serving as a trademark and does not also fail to function because it imparts information or conveys an informational message. See TMEP §1202.03.

1202.17(c)(ii)   Mark Consists Entirely of a Universal Symbol that Fails to Function

If a mark consists entirely of a universal symbol and the examining attorney determines that the universal symbol fails to function as a source indicator for the identified goods, the examining attorney must issue a refusal under Trademark Act Sections 1, 2, and 45. 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1127; see In re Aerospace Optics, Inc., 78 USPQ2d 1861, 1863 (TTAB 2006) (“It is well established that the refusal of failure to function is properly based on Sections 1, 2 and 45 of the Act.”). For service marks, the refusal is based on Trademark Act Sections 1, 2, 3, and 45. 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053, 1127. For applications seeking registration on the Supplemental Register, the statutory basis for the failure-to-function refusal is Trademark Act Sections 23 and 45. 15 U.S.C. §§1091, 1127; see TMEP §1202.

When issuing a failure-to-function refusal, the examining attorney must explain the particular reasons the mark does not function as a trademark or service mark and provide sufficient evidence in support of the explanation. See In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d 1227, 1232 (TTAB 2010) (finding that the examining attorney had “shown prima facie that the slogan [ONCE A MARINE, ALWAYS A MARINE] would be perceived solely as informational matter rather than as a trademark and applicant [had] submitted no evidence to rebut that showing”); TMEP §§1202, 1301.02(a). See TMEP §§1202.17(b)(i) and 1202.17(c)(i) for further discussion of evidence.

1202.17(c)(ii)(A)   Applications Based on Sections 1(b), 44, or 66(a)

Generally, the failure-to-function refusal is a specimen-based refusal. TMEP §1202. However, the examining attorney may issue a failure-to-function refusal for applications based on §1(b), §44, or §66(a) if information in the application record or other available evidence is dispositive of the failure of the relevant matter to function as a mark. See TMEP §1202; cf. In re Right-On Co., 87 USPQ2d 1152, 1157 (TTAB 2008) (noting that, with respect to §66(a) applications, “it is appropriate for examining attorneys to issue an ornamentation refusal if the mark is decorative or ornamental on its face as depicted on the drawing page and described in the description of the mark”).

If the examining attorney is otherwise issuing an Office action and anticipates refusing a mark in a §1(b) application on failure-to-function grounds once the applicant submits a specimen with an allegation of use, the examining attorney should advise the applicant of the potential refusal. If possible, this should be done in the initial Office action. However, failure to provide an advisory does not preclude an examining attorney from later refusing registration. See TMEP §1202.

1202.17(c)(ii)(B)   Applicant’s Response to Refusal

If a mark fails to function because it consists of a universal symbol that is informational or that conveys an informational message, the examining attorney should not suggest that the applicant respond by claiming acquired distinctiveness or amending the application to seek registration on the Supplemental Register. The relevant issue is not whether the mark is distinctive, but, instead, whether the matter in question even functions as a mark. See In re Wakefern Food Corp., 222 USPQ 76, 79 (TTAB 1984) (agreeing with the examining attorney that “evidence of distinctiveness under Section 2(f) of the Act is irrelevant to the issue of whether the subject phrase [at issue] functions as a technical service mark”). Therefore, neither a claim of acquired distinctiveness under Trademark Act Section 2(f) nor an amendment to the Supplemental Register is a proper response to the refusal. See In re Wakefern Food Corp., 222 USPQ at 79. Furthermore, allowing registration in these instances, either on the Principal Register under Section 2(f) or on the Supplemental Register, would inhibit others from using merely informational matter that should be freely available to use. See TMEP §1202.04; cf. In re Volvo Cars of N. Am. Inc., 46 USPQ2d at 1460-61 (Affirming refusal to register DRIVE SAFELY because “to grant exclusive rights to applicant in this ordinary and commonly used safety admonition would interfere with the rights of others in the automobile industry to freely use the familiar phrase . . . to promote safe driving and/or that purchasers can drive safely in their make of automobiles. . . .”); In re Schwauss, 217 USPQ at 362 (“[T]o allow registration [of stylized word FRAGILE for labels and bumper stickers] would achieve the absurd result of hampering others in their use of the common word ‘fragile’ on any label designed to be placed on any other object to indicate the fragility of said object.”).

In addition, the examining attorney should not suggest that the applicant submit a substitute specimen or amend to an intent-to-use filing basis in these cases. If the mark is informational or conveys an informational message, the applicant likely will be unable to provide a specimen showing proper trademark or service mark use. The applicant may amend the application to an intent-to-use basis, but it likely will only temporarily overcome the refusal, given that a specimen showing proper trademark or service mark use is required before a registration may issue. See TMEP §1103. The examining attorney must review any substitute specimen submitted to confirm that refusal remains warranted.

Finally, if a mark consisting of a universal symbol fails to function only because it is used in an ornamental manner on the specimen, and it is possible that the mark could function if used in a trademark manner, then all of the response options discussed immediately above should be suggested by the examining attorney, if otherwise appropriate.

1202.17(c)(iii)   Mark Includes a Universal Symbol that Fails to Function

If a universal symbol fails to function as a source indicator because it is informational or conveys an informational message, and it appears along with other non-source-indicating matter, the examining attorney must issue a failure-to-function refusal. See TMEP §1202.17(c)(ii).

If a universal symbol fails to function as a source indicator because it is informational or conveys an informational message, and it appears in a non-unitary manner with other registrable matter that is arbitrary, fanciful, suggestive, or otherwise source-indicating, the examining attorney must require a disclaimer of the universal symbol. See Trademark Act Section 6(a), 15 U.S.C. §1056(a); TMEP §§1213, 1213.01(b), 1213.02, 1213.03(a). The examining attorney should not suggest that the applicant claim acquired distinctiveness in part as to the symbol. See TMEP §1202.17(c)(ii)(B).

An applicant may also delete a purely informational universal symbol that appears along with other registrable matter, provided the symbol is separable from the other matter and the deletion does not materially alter the commercial impression of the mark. See TMEP §807.14(a).

1202.17(d)   Other Relevant Refusals

The examining attorney should also consider the following potential grounds for refusal when reviewing a mark featuring a universal symbol. In addition to those discussed below, the examining attorney should determine whether there is a sufficient basis for any other relevant refusals (e.g., a §2(d) refusal).

1202.17(d)(i)   Merely Descriptive

Often, when the examining attorney has determined that a universal symbol fails to function because it only provides information about the goods or services, the available evidence will also support a refusal (or a disclaimer requirement) under Trademark Act §2(e)(1), 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(1), based on mere descriptiveness.

If a mark consists of a merely descriptive universal symbol and other descriptive, generic, or otherwise non-source-indicating matter, then the mark is merely descriptive in its entirety and the examining attorney must issue a refusal under §2(e)(1). If a mark consists of a merely descriptive universal symbol, along with other arbitrary, fanciful, or suggestive matter, the examining attorney must require a disclaimer of the universal symbol unless the composite mark creates a unitary commercial impression. See Trademark Act §6(a), 15 U.S.C. §1056(a); TMEP §§1213, 1213.01(b), 1213.02, 1213.03(a).

When both a §2(e)(1) and a failure-to-function refusal are issued, the examining attorney should not suggest that the applicant claim acquired distinctiveness or amend to the Supplemental Register. For more information, see TMEP §1202.17(c)(ii)(B).

1202.17(d)(ii)   Deceptive or Deceptively Misdescriptive

The inclusion of a universal symbol in a mark may lead consumers to believe the goods or services have a particular characteristic or quality. For instance, evidence may show that a mark featuring the recycling symbol would lead to a perception that the goods to which the mark is applied are recyclable or are made of recycled materials.

If the relevant goods or services do not have the relevant characteristic or quality, then the mark may be deceptive under Trademark Act Section 2(a) or deceptively misdescriptive under Section 2(e)(1). In those instances, the examining attorney should follow the same procedures as would apply to any deceptive or deceptively misdescriptive mark. For more information, see TMEP §§1203.02–1203.02(g) and 1209.04.

1202.17(e)   Universal Symbols Commonly Appearing in Marks

The universal symbols discussed below frequently appear in applied-for marks. Some of these symbols are so widely used and well known that they will have only non-trademark significance when used with almost any good or service in any context or field. Others will fail to function as source indicators only when used with particular goods or services. Nonetheless, all of these symbols could function as source indicators if they are displayed in the mark in a way that creates a distinct commercial impression or forms a source-indicating unitary whole. See TMEP §1202.17(b)(ii). Like any design element, all of these symbols may be used in an ornamental manner on goods and, if so, should be refused accordingly. Finally, depending on the particular facts and available evidence, other grounds for refusal may apply to marks containing these symbols (e.g., Section 2(e)(1), Section 2(d), Section 2(a)).

1202.17(e)(i)   Awareness Ribbon Symbols

Description: Gray scale awareness ribbon.

The awareness ribbon symbol is a representation of a ribbon intended to signify and promote awareness of a particular cause. The specific cause represented depends on the color or color scheme displayed. See, e.g., Support Store, Cause Awareness By Color, http://www.bumperstickermagnet.com/cause-awareness-by-color.html (accessed Aug. 24, 2012). For example, the pink awareness ribbon is commonly associated with awareness of breast cancer and related causes. See id. Yellow ribbons are frequently used to indicate support of the armed forces. See id. And red ribbons are typically associated with awareness of HIV/AIDS or heart disease. See id.

Due to the widespread use of the awareness ribbon in various colors to indicate support for, or raise awareness of, a cause, the awareness ribbon shape by itself will not function as a source indicator. However, the examining attorney must evaluate an awareness ribbon symbol in a mark as a whole, including the color, color scheme, pattern, or other matter inside of the ribbon, to determine whether it functions as a source indicator.

Some awareness ribbons have become so widely used and well known that they are unlikely to function as a mark when used in connection with almost any goods or services. These include ribbons in pink, yellow, red, and possibly others. The pink awareness ribbon, for example, has become the universal symbol of breast cancer awareness. This symbol appears in connection with the charity activities of numerous organizations and is used on a wide variety of products, including clothing, jewelry, sports equipment, and household items. Often, when it is used, it has informational or ornamental characteristics, or both. Thus, it is more likely that consumers, upon encountering the pink ribbon symbol on a product, would view it as informational or decorative regardless of the particular context or use. For instance, evidence may support the conclusion that, when a pink ribbon is displayed on the packaging for a household appliance, the ribbon would likely be viewed as indicating that the product has some connection to a breast cancer-related cause (e.g., some portion of the proceeds from the sale of the appliance would go towards breast cancer research). Or evidence may establish that the pink ribbon symbol displayed on a shirt would be viewed as conveying the message that the wearer is a supporter of breast cancer survivors or breast cancer causes in general. Even when an awareness ribbon symbol features a particular color, color scheme, or pattern that is not commonly used or widely recognized, the examining attorney should evaluate whether the symbol is inherently distinctive.

The actions an examining attorney will take when examining a mark featuring an awareness ribbon symbol depend on which of the following categories the awareness ribbon symbol falls under:

Category 1: The awareness ribbon symbol is not displayed in the mark in a way that creates a distinct commercial impression or forms a source-indicating unitary whole. The color, color scheme, pattern, or other matter inside the awareness ribbon shape is not inherently distinctive and the evidence shows that the symbol’s use by various parties in that color, color scheme, or pattern is so widespread, and its meaning so widely understood, that it will likely be perceived as only providing information or conveying an informational message when used in connection with the goods or services.

This type of awareness ribbon symbol fails to function as a mark and the examining attorney must refuse registration if the symbol forms the entire mark or appears with only other non-source-indicating matter, or disclaim the symbol if it appears with registrable matter.

Awareness ribbon symbols in this category are incapable of functioning as a mark. Thus, if the mark consists entirely of this type of symbol, claiming acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) or amending the application to seek registration on the Supplemental Register will not overcome the refusal. Likewise, a claim of acquired distinctiveness in part will not obviate a disclaimer requirement.

Awareness ribbon symbols that do not contain inherently distinctive matter inside the ribbon, and are displayed in black and white, or gray scale, because they appear in non-color mark drawings, are incapable of functioning as a mark and would be subject to the same procedures set forth above.

Exanples:

Description: image of Pink Awareness Ribbon

Pink ribbon

Description: image of Yellow awareness ribbon.

Yellow Ribbon

Description: image of Gray scale awareness ribbon.

Black-and-White or Gray Scale Ribbon

Category 2: The awareness ribbon symbol is not displayed in the mark in a way that creates a distinct commercial impression or forms a source-indicating unitary whole. The color, color scheme, pattern, or other matter inside the awareness ribbon shape is not inherently distinctive, but there is no evidence that the awareness ribbon symbol shown in the mark is widely used by various parties or that its meaning is widely understood.

In these cases, the symbol is not inherently distinctive and fails to function as a mark because, given the widespread use of awareness ribbons in various colors and patterns generally, the symbol will not be perceived as a source indicator. Thus, the examining attorney must refuse registration if the symbol forms the entire mark (or appears with other non-source-indicating matter), or require a disclaimer of the symbol if the symbol appears with registrable matter. However, the applicant may overcome the refusal by showing acquired distinctiveness based on actual evidence establishing recognition of the proposed mark as a source indicator, or by amending the application to seek registration on the Supplemental Register. For awareness ribbon symbols in this category, evidence of five years’ use usually will not be sufficient to show that the mark has acquired distinctiveness. See TMEP §§1212.06–1212.06(e)(iv) for information on establishing acquired distinctiveness by actual evidence. A disclaimer requirement may be obviated by claiming acquired distinctiveness in part as to the symbol based on actual evidence.

Examples:

Description: image of an awareness ribbon that is half teal, half purple, and outlined in blue.

for "promoting public awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse"

Description: image of an awareness ribbon shape featuring the outline of West Virginia

for "surgery; and medical services, namely, treatment of breast disease"

Category 3: The matter inside the awareness ribbon shape in the mark is inherently distinctive or otherwise registrable (e.g., non-descriptive/non-informational wording, registrable design elements) and there is no evidence that the awareness ribbon shown in the mark is widely used by various parties or that its meaning is widely understood.

No refusal (or disclaimer) is necessary, as long as the awareness ribbon is not used ornamentally on the specimen, because the ribbon shape and the matter within it create a registrable unitary whole.

Examples:

Description: image of an awareness ribbon with stylized tire tracks and a checkered flag.

for “charitable fund raising, namely, raising funds for breast cancer research and treatment”

Description: image of an awareness ribbon with a puzzle piece motif.

for “educational services, namely, conducting conferences, workshops, seminars, classes, and meetings in the field of autism and advocacy on behalf of autistic children and adults”

1202.17(e)(ii)   Recycling Symbol

Description: image of Recycling symbol

The recycling symbol typically appears on materials to indicate that they are recyclable or made from recycled matter. See, e.g., About.com, Recycling Symbols Made Easy, http://greenliving.about.com/od/recyclingwaste/tp/recycling_symbols.htm (accessed Aug. 24, 2012). However, the symbol is also used in connection with a wide assortment of goods and services in a variety of fields to indicate that the goods or services involve recycling or are otherwise environmentally friendly. See id.

Because of the widespread use of the symbol and the resulting general recognition of the symbol’s significance, the symbol is not likely to function as a source indicator. Instead, the evidence will show consumers are likely to view it as merely providing information about the goods or services, in which case a failure-to-function refusal is appropriate. Even when the symbol is displayed on clothing and fashion accessories in a manner that would normally be considered trademark use, evidence will likely show the mark will be perceived as conveying an informational message (e.g., that the wearer supports recycling or environmental awareness). See In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d 1227, 1230 (TTAB 2010) (holding that consumers would not view the “old and familiar” slogan ONCE A MARINE, ALWAYS A MARINE as a trademark indicating the source of the applicant’s clothing because they would be accustomed to seeing it displayed on clothing from many different sources, and noting that “[i]t is clear that clothing imprinted with this slogan would be purchased by consumers for the message it conveys”). The symbol will usually also have descriptive significance as applied to the relevant goods or services.

1202.17(e)(iii)   Caduceus, Rod of Asclepius, and Prescription Symbol

Description: image of Caduceus symbol
Description: image of Serpent and Staff Symbol, also known as the Rod of Asclepius
Description: image of Prescription Symbol

The caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius are commonly used to indicate that goods or services are medical in nature or otherwise relate to the medical profession. See Webster’s New World College Dictionary 195 (3rd ed. 1997) (defining “caduceus” as “the staff of an ancient herald; esp., the winged staff with two serpents coiled about it . . . an emblematic staff like this with either one or two serpents, used as a symbol of the medical profession”); THEFREEDICTIONARY.COM, search of “Rod of Asclepius,” http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Rod+of+Asclepius (Aug. 24, 2012) (citing Segen’s Medical Dictionary) (defining “Rod of Asclepius” as “[t]he ‘correct’ symbol of medicine, which is a knarled [sic] wooden staff with a single encircling snake”). The prescription symbol is frequently used in connection with prescription drugs or medicated goods, or with services relating to these items. See Webster’s New World College Dictionary 1178 (3rd ed. 1997) (defining “Rx” as “symbol for PRESCRIPTION”). For any marks containing these symbols, the examining attorney should review the specimen, the relevant evidence, and the goods/services to determine if the mark functions as a source indicator or instead is merely informational. In those instances that the mark fails to function, there is likely also a valid basis for finding the symbol descriptive.

1202.17(e)(iv)   Religious Symbols

Description: image of Latin Cross
Description: image of Star of David

Religious symbols, such as the Latin cross and the Star of David, may be informational or have descriptive significance when used on a variety of goods and services. For example, evidence may support the conclusion that, as used in connection with media such as books or videos, the Star of David is likely to be perceived as providing information about or describing the media’s content. Or evidence may show that a Latin cross used in an advertisement for services is likely to be viewed as conveying an informational message (i.e., indicating an affiliation with Christianity). Note that a mark containing a Greek cross (i.e., an upright equilateral cross) may be subject to other refusals. See TMEP §1205.01.

1202.17(e)(v)   Currency Symbols

Description: image of Dollar sign
Description: image of Euro symbol

When used with financial services, such as currency exchange or banking, evidence will show currency symbols, such as the dollar sign or the euro symbol, will likely be informational and merely descriptive. However, when used in connection with other types of goods or services, the evidence may show these symbols to be arbitrary or suggestive and otherwise function as a mark.

1202.17(e)(vi)   Universal Prohibition Symbol

Description: universal prohibion symbol

The universal prohibition symbol, which usually appears superimposed over another image or wording, is a visual representation of “no,” “not,” or “prohibited.” See, e.g., Free Signage.com, Prohibition Signs, http://www.freesignage.com/prohibited_signs.php (accessed Aug. 24, 2012). When the prohibition symbol is superimposed over other matter, the design as a whole is unitary; thus, no disclaimer of the prohibition symbol apart from the other matter is necessary. However, the examining attorney must consider whether evidence supports the conclusion that the design as a whole (i.e., the symbol and the image it is superimposed over) fails to function as a mark or is merely descriptive (or both) and thus must be refused or disclaimed.