TMEP 1203.03: Matter That May Disparage, Falsely Suggest a Connection, or Bring into Contempt or Disrepute

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1203.03    Matter That May Disparage, Falsely Suggest a Connection, or Bring into Contempt or Disrepute

Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(a), bars the registration on either the Principal or the Supplemental Register of a designation that consists of or comprises matter which, with regard to persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, does any of the following: (1) disparages them; (2) falsely suggests a connection with them; (3) brings them into contempt; or (4) brings them into disrepute.

Section 2(a) is distinctly different from §2(d), 15 U.S.C. §1052(d), for which the relevant test is likelihood of confusion. In Univ. of Notre Dame du Lac v. J.C. Gourmet Food Imps. Co., 703 F.2d 1372, 1375-76, 217 USPQ 505, 508-09 (Fed. Cir. 1983), aff’g 213 USPQ 594 (TTAB 1982), the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit noted as follows:

A reading of the legislative history with respect to what became §2(a) shows that the drafters were concerned with protecting the name of an individual or institution which was not a technical “trademark” or “trade name” upon which an objection could be made under §2(d)....

Although not articulated as such, it appears that the drafters sought by §2(a) to embrace concepts of the right to privacy, an area of the law then in an embryonic state (footnote omitted). Our review of case law discloses that the elements of a claim of invasion of one’s privacy have emerged as distinctly different from those of trademark or trade name infringement. There may be no likelihood of such confusion as to the source of goods even under a theory of “sponsorship” or “endorsement,” and, nevertheless, one’s right of privacy, or the related right of publicity, may be violated.

The right to privacy protects a party’s control over the use of its identity or “persona.” A party acquires a protectible interest in a name or equivalent designation under §2(a) where the name or designation is unmistakably associated with, and points uniquely to, that party’s personality or “persona.” A party’s interest in a name or designation does not depend upon adoption and use as a technical trademark or trade name. Univ. of Notre Dame du Lac, 703 F.2d at 1375-77, 217 USPQ at 508-09; Buffett v. Chi-Chi’s, Inc., 226 USPQ 428, 429 (TTAB 1985). Section 2(a) protection is intended to prevent the unauthorized use of the persona of a person or institution and not to protect the public. In re MC MC S.r.l., 88 USPQ2d 1378, 1380 (TTAB 2008) (quoting Bridgestone/Firestone Research Inc. v. Auto. Club De L’Quest De La France, 245 F.3d 1359, 58 USPQ2d 1460 (Fed. Cir. 2001)).

Moreover, a mark does not have to comprise a person’s full or correct name to be unregistrable; a nickname or other designation by which a person is known by the public may be unregistrable under this provision of the Act. Buffett, 226 USPQ at 430 (finding evidence of record “sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the term ‘MARGARITAVILLE’ is so uniquely and unmistakably associated with opposer as to constitute opposer’s name or identity such that when applicant’s mark is used in connection with its [restaurant] services, a connection with opposer would be assumed”).

See TMEP §§1203.03(b)–1203.03(b)(ii) regarding disparagement, bringing into contempt, and bringing into disrepute, and TMEP §§1203.03(c)–1203.03(c)(iii) regarding false suggestion of a connection.

See Carson v. Here’s Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc., 698 F.2d 831, 218 USPQ 1 (6th Cir. 1983), concerning the various forms of identity which have been protected under the rights of privacy and publicity.