T.M.E.P. § 1209.01
This document contains one section of the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (the "TMEP"), Fourth Edition (April 2005). This page was last updated in June 2007. You may return to one either the section index, or to the key word index. If you wish to search the TMEP, simply use the search box that appears on the bottom of every page of BitLaw--be sure to restrict your search to the TMEP in the pop-up list.
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1209.01 Distinctiveness/Descriptiveness Continuum
With regard to trademark significance, matter may be categorized along a continuum, ranging from marks that are highly distinctive to matter that is a generic name for the goods or services. The degree of distinctiveness -- or, on the other hand, descriptiveness -- of a designation can be determined only by considering it in relation to the specific goods or services. Remington Products, Inc. v. North American Philips Corp., 892 F.2d 1576, 13 USPQ2d 1444, 1448 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (the mark must be considered in context, i.e., in connection with the goods).
At one extreme are marks that, when used in relation to the goods or services, are completely arbitrary or fanciful. Next on the continuum are suggestive marks, followed by merely descriptive matter. Finally, generic terms for the goods or services are at the opposite end of the continuum from arbitrary or fanciful marks. As stated in H. Marvin Ginn Corp. v. International Association of Fire Chiefs, Inc., 782 F.2d 987, 989, 228 USPQ 528, 530 (Fed. Cir. 1986), "[t]he generic name of a thing is in fact the ultimate in descriptiveness."
Fanciful, arbitrary and suggestive marks, often referred to as "inherently distinctive" marks, are registrable on the Principal Register without proof of acquired distinctiveness. See TMEP §1209.01(a).
Marks that are merely descriptive of the goods or services may not be registered on the Principal Register absent a showing of acquired distinctiveness under 15 U.S.C. 1052(f). See TMEP §1209.01(b) regarding merely descriptive marks, and TMEP §§1212 et seq. regarding acquired distinctiveness. Merely descriptive marks may be registrable on the Supplemental Register. 15 U.S.C. 1091.
Matter that is generic for the goods or services is not registrable on either the Principal or the Supplemental Register under any circumstances. See TMEP §§1209.01(c) et seq.
1209.01(a) Fanciful, Arbitrary and Suggestive Marks
Fanciful marks comprise terms that have been invented for the sole purpose of functioning as a trademark or service mark. Such marks comprise words that are either unknown in the language (e.g., PEPSI, KODAK, EXXON) or are completely out of common usage (e.g., FLIVVER).
Arbitrary marks comprise words that are in common linguistic use but, when used to identify particular goods or services, do not suggest or describe a significant ingredient, quality or characteristic of the goods or services (e.g., APPLE for computers; OLD CROW for whiskey).
Suggestive marks are those that, when applied to the goods or services at issue, require imagination, thought or perception to reach a conclusion as to the nature of those goods or services. Thus, a suggestive term differs from a descriptive term, which immediately tells something about the goods or services. See In re Shutts, 217 USPQ 363 (TTAB 1983) (SNO-RAKE held not merely descriptive of a snow removal hand tool). See also In re Quik-Print Copy Shop, Inc., 203 USPQ 624 (TTAB 1979), aff'd, 616 F.2d 523, 205 USPQ 505 (C.C.P.A. 1980) (QUIK-PRINT held merely descriptive of printing services); In re Aid Laboratories, Inc., 223 USPQ 357 (TTAB 1984) (BUG MIST held merely descriptive of insecticide). Suggestive marks, like fanciful and arbitrary marks, are registrable on the Principal Register without proof of secondary meaning. Therefore, a designation does not have to be devoid of all meaning in relation to the goods and services to be registrable.
1209.01(b) Merely Descriptive Marks
To be refused registration on the Principal Register under §2(e)(1) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(e)(1), a mark must be merely descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive of the goods or services to which it relates. A mark is considered merely descriptive if it describes an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the specified goods or services. See In re Gyulay, 820 F.2d 1216, 3 USPQ2d 1009 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (APPLE PIE held merely descriptive of potpourri); In re Bed & Breakfast Registry, 791 F.2d 157, 229 USPQ 818 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (BED & BREAKFAST REGISTRY held merely descriptive of lodging reservations services); In re MetPath Inc., 223 USPQ 88 (TTAB 1984) (MALE-P.A.P. TEST held merely descriptive of clinical pathological immunoassay testing services for detecting and monitoring prostatic cancer); In re Bright-Crest, Ltd., 204 USPQ 591 (TTAB 1979) (COASTER-CARDS held merely descriptive of a coaster suitable for direct mailing).
The determination of whether or not a mark is merely descriptive must be made in relation to the goods or services for which registration is sought, not in the abstract. This requires consideration of the context in which the mark is used or intended to be used in connection with those goods or services, and the possible significance that the mark would have to the average purchaser of the goods or services in the marketplace. See In re Omaha National Corp., 819 F.2d 1117, 2 USPQ2d 1859 (Fed. Cir. 1987); In re Abcor Development Corp., 588 F.2d 811, 200 USPQ 215 (C.C.P.A. 1978); In re Venture Lending Associates, 226 USPQ 285 (TTAB 1985).
It is not necessary that a term describe all of the purposes, functions, characteristics or features of a product to be considered merely descriptive; it is enough if the term describes one significant function, attribute or property. In re Oppedahl & Larson LLP, 373 F.3d 1171, 1173, 71 USPQ2d1370, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2004) ("A mark may be merely descriptive even if it does not describe the 'full scope and extent' of the applicant's goods or services," citing In re Dial-A-Mattress Operating Corp., 240 F.3d 1341, 1346, 57 USPQ2d 1807, 1812 (Fed. Cir. 2001)); In re Gyulay, 820 F.2d at 1218, 3 USPQ2d at 1010.
The great variation in facts from case to case prevents the formulation of specific rules for specific fact situations. Each case must be decided on its own merits. See In re Ampco Foods, Inc., 227 USPQ 331 (TTAB 1985); In re Venturi, Inc., 197 USPQ 714 (TTAB 1977).
See TMEP §§1209.03(a) et seq. regarding factors that often arise in determining whether a mark is merely descriptive or generic.
See also TMEP §§1213 et seq. concerning disclaimer of merely descriptive matter within a mark.
1209.01(c) Generic Terms
Generic terms are terms that the relevant purchasing public understands primarily as the common or class name for the goods or services. In re Dial-A-Mattress Operating Corp., 240 F.3d 1341, 57 USPQ2d 1807, 1811 (Fed. Cir. 2001); In re American Fertility Society, 188 F.3d 1341, 1346, 51 USPQ2d 1832, 1836 (Fed. Cir. 1999). These terms are incapable of functioning as registrable trademarks denoting source, and are not registrable on the Principal Register under §2(f) or on the Supplemental Register.
There is a two-part test used to determine whether a designation is generic: (1) What is the class of goods or services at issue? and (2) Does the relevant public understand the designation primarily to refer to that class of goods or services? H. Marvin Ginn Corp. v. International Association of Fire Chiefs, Inc., 782 F.2d 987, 990, 228 USPQ 528, 530 (Fed. Cir. 1986). The test turns upon the primary significance that the term would have to the relevant public.
The examining attorney has the burden of proving that a term is generic by clear evidence. In re Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc., 828 F.2d 1567, 4 USPQ2d 1141 (Fed. Cir. 1987). Evidence of the public's understanding of a term can be obtained from any competent source, including dictionary definitions, research databases, newspapers and other publications. See In re Northland Aluminum Products, Inc., 777 F.2d 1556, 227 USPQ 961 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (BUNDT, a term that designates a type of cake, held generic for ring cake mix); In re Analog Devices Inc., 6 USPQ2d 1808 (TTAB 1988), aff'd, 871 F.2d 1097, 10 USPQ2d 1879 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (ANALOG DEVICES held generic for devices having analog capabilities).
When a term is a compound word, the examining attorney may establish that a term is generic by producing evidence that each of the constituent words is generic, and that the separate words retain their generic significance when joined to form a compound that has "a meaning identical to the meaning common usage would ascribe to those words as a compound." In re Gould Paper Corp., 834 F.2d 1017, 5 USPQ2d 1110, 1111-1112 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (SCREENWIPE held generic as applied to premoistened antistatic cloths for cleaning computer and television screens).
However, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has expressly limited the holding in Gould to "compound terms formed by the union of words" where the public understands the individual terms to be generic for a genus of goods or services, and the joining of the individual terms into one compound word lends "no additional meaning to the term." In re Dial-A-Mattress Operating Corp., 240 F.3d 1341, 57 USPQ2d 1807, 1810 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (citing In re American Fertility Society, 188 F.3d 1341, 51 USPQ2d 1832, 1837 (Fed. Cir. 1999)). Where the mark is a phrase, the examining attorney cannot simply cite definitions and generic uses of the individual components of the mark, but must provide evidence of the meaning of the composite mark as a whole.
In American Fertility Society, the court held that evidence that the components "Society" and "Reproductive Medicine" were generic was not enough to establish that the composite phrase SOCIETY FOR REPRODUCTIVE MEDICINE was generic for association services in the field of reproductive medicine. The court held that the examining attorney must show: (1) the genus of services that the applicant provides; and (2) that the relevant public understands the proposed composite mark to primarily refer to that genus of services. 51 USPQ2d at 1836-37.
In Dial-A-Mattress, the court held that an alphanumeric phone number "bears closer conceptual resemblance to a phrase than a compound word." 57 USPQ2d at 1811. The court found that 1-888-M-A-T-R-E-S-S was not generic as applied to "telephone shop-at-home retail services in the field of mattresses," because there was no evidence of record that the public understood the term to refer to shop-at-home telephone mattress retailers. Therefore, to establish that a mnemonic phone number is generic, the examining attorney must show that the relevant public would understand the mark as a whole to have generic significance.
With respect to top level domain indicators (TLDs), the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board held that, unlike an alphanumeric telephone number, a generic term combined with a TLD "cannot be characterized as a mnemonic phrase." The Board stated:[The designation CONTAINER.COM] is instead a compound word, a generic term combined with the top level domain indicator, ".COM." In proving genericness, the Office may satisfy its burden by showing that these separate generic words have a meaning identical to the meaning common usage would ascribe to those words as a compound. In re Gould Paper Corp., 834 F.2d 1017, 5 USPQ2d 1110 (Fed. Cir. 1987). In a similar sense, neither the generic term nor the domain indicator has the capability of functioning as an indication of source, and combining the two does not result in a compound term that has somehow acquired this capability.
In re Martin Container, Inc., 65 USPQ2d 1058, 1061 (TTAB 2002).
The Board has also noted that mnemonic telephone numbers differ from TLDs in that telephone numbers comprise unique ten-digit numbers that can be used by only a single entity, whereas the precise generic term and TLD combination employed by one entity can be incorporated into other domain names. In re Eddie Z's Blinds and Drapery, Inc., 74 USPQ2d 1037 (TTAB 2005) (BLINDSANDDRAPERY.COM generic for retail store services featuring blinds, draperies and other wall coverings, sold via the Internet); In re CyberFinancial.Net, Inc., 65 USPQ2d 1789, 1793 (TTAB 2002) (BONDS.COM, used in an offer of services, generic for providing information regarding financial products and services via the Internet). See also TMEP §§1209.03(m) and 1215.05 regarding domain names.
When examining an application for a mark that includes a TLD, the examining attorney must include evidence such as dictionary definitions to establish that the TLD lacks trademark significance.
As specifically amended by the Trademark Law Revision Act of 1988, §14 of the Trademark Act provides for the cancellation of a registration of a mark at any time if the mark "becomes the generic name for the goods or services, or a portion thereof, for which it is registered...." 15 U.S.C. 1064(3). Previously, that provision had pertained to a mark that "becomes the common descriptive name of an article or substance...." Cases previously distinguished between generic names and "apt or common descriptive names," which referred to matter that, while not characterized as "generic," had become so associated with the product that it was recognized in the applicable trade as another name for the product, serving as a term of art for all goods of that description offered by different manufacturers rather than identifying the goods of any one producer. See Questor Corp. v. Dan Robbins & Associates, Inc., 199 USPQ 358, 364 (TTAB 1978), aff'd, 599 F.2d 1009, 202 USPQ 100 (C.C.P.A. 1979). In addition, the Trademark Law Revision Act of 1988 amended §15 of the Trademark Act to adopt the term "generic name" to refer to generic designations. 15 U.S.C. 1065(4). In view of the amendment of §§14 and 15, a distinction between "generic" names and "apt or common descriptive" names should not be made. Rather, the terminology of the Act should be consistently used, e.g., in refusals to register matter that is a generic name for the goods or services, or a portion thereof. See In re K-T Zoe Furniture Inc., 16 F.3d 390, 29 USPQ2d 1787 (Fed. Cir. 1994).
Similarly, cases have distinguished between "generic" terms and terms that were deemed "so highly descriptive as to be incapable of exclusive appropriation as a trademark." See In re Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 222 USPQ 820 (TTAB 1984) (LAW & BUSINESS held so highly descriptive as to be incapable of distinguishing applicant's services of arranging and conducting seminars in the field of business law); In re Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc., 224 USPQ 309 (TTAB 1984) (INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COUNSELORS, INC. held an apt name or so highly descriptive of educational services in the industrial relations field that it is incapable of exclusive appropriation and registration, notwithstanding de facto source recognition capacity). Regarding current practice for refusing registration of such matter, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board noted as follows in In re Women's Publishing Co. Inc., 23 USPQ2d 1876, 1877 n.2 (TTAB 1992):
The Examining Attorney's refusal that applicant's mark is "so highly descriptive that it is incapable of acting as a trademark" is not technically a statutory ground of refusal. Where an applicant seeks registration on the Principal Register, the Examining Attorney may refuse registration under Section 2(e)(1) of the Act, 15 USC 1052(e)(1), on the basis that the mark sought to be registered is generic (citations omitted). Alternatively, an Examining Attorney may refuse registration under the same section if he or she believes that the mark is merely descriptive and that applicant's showing of acquired distinctiveness is unpersuasive of registrability.
In essence, the Board was merely emphasizing the need to use precise statutory language in stating grounds for refusal. While the decision does not explicitly bar the use of the terminology "so highly descriptive that it is incapable of acting as a trademark" under all circumstances, the case illustrates that the use of this terminology may lead to confusion and should be avoided. It is particularly important in this context to use the precise statutory language to avoid doctrinal confusion. See generally McLeod, The Status of So Highly Descriptive and Acquired Distinctiveness, 82 Trademark Rep. 607 (1992). Therefore, examining attorneys should not state that a mark is "so highly descriptive that it is incapable of acting as a trademark" in issuing refusals. Rather, in view of the amendments of the Trademark Act noted above, the terminology "generic name for the goods or services" should be used in appropriate refusals, and use of the terminology "so highly descriptive" should be discontinued when referring to incapable matter.
This does not mean that designations that might formerly have been categorized as "so highly descriptive" should not be regarded as incapable. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has specifically stated that "a phrase or slogan can be so highly laudatory and descriptive as to be incapable of acquiring distinctiveness as a trademark." In re Boston Beer Co. L.P., 198 F.3d 1370, 53 USPQ2d 1056, 1058 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (THE BEST BEER IN AMERICA for beer and ale held to be "so highly laudatory and descriptive of the qualities of [applicant's] product that the slogan does not and could not function as a trademark to distinguish Boston Beer's goods and serve as a indication of origin").
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has also stated that "[t]he critical issue in genericness cases is whether members of the relevant public primarily use or understand the term sought to be registered to refer to the genus of goods or services in question." H. Marvin Ginn Corp. v. International Association of Fire Chiefs, Inc., 782 F.2d 987, 989-990, 228 USPQ 528, 530 (Fed. Cir. 1986). Also note that it is entirely appropriate to consider whether a particular designation is "highly descriptive" in evaluating registrability under §2(f), or in similar circumstances.
The expression "generic name for the goods or services" is not limited to noun forms but also includes "generic adjectives," that is, adjectives that refer to a genus, species, category or class of goods or services. In re Reckitt & Colman, North America Inc., 18 USPQ2d 1389 (TTAB 1991) (PERMA PRESS generic for soil and stain removers for use on permanent press products).
1209.01(c)(iii) Generic Matter: Case References
In the following cases, the matter sought to be registered was found generic: In re Boston Beer Co. L.P., 198 F.3d 1370, 53 USPQ2d 1056, 1058 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (THE BEST BEER IN AMERICA for beer and ale held to be "so highly laudatory and descriptive of the qualities of [applicant's] product that the slogan does not and could not function as a trademark to distinguish Boston Beer's goods and serve as a indication of origin"); In re Gould Paper Corp., 834 F.2d 1017, 5 USPQ2d 1110 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (SCREENWIPE held generic as applied to premoistened antistatic cloths for cleaning computer and television screens); In re Northland Aluminum Products, Inc., 777 F.2d 1556, 227 USPQ 961 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (BUNDT, a term that designates a type of cake, held generic for ring cake mix); In re Eddie Z's Blinds and Drapery, Inc., 74 USPQ2d 1037 (TTAB 2005) (BLINDSANDDRAPERY.COM generic for retail store services featuring blinds, draperies and other wall coverings, conducted via the Internet); In re Candy Bouquet International, Inc., 73 USPQ2d 1883 (TTAB 2004) (CANDY BOUQUET generic for "retail, mail, and computer order services in the field of gift packages of candy"); In re Cell Therapeutics Inc., 67 USPQ2d 1795 (TTAB 2003) (CELL THERAPEUTICS INC. generic for pharmaceutical preparations and laboratory research and development services); In re American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 65 USPQ2d 1972 (TTAB 2003) (CPA EXAMINATION held generic for "printed matter, namely, practice accounting examinations; accounting exams; accounting exam information booklets; and prior accounting examination questions and answers"); In re American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 64 USPQ2d 1748 (TTAB 2002) (FACIAL PLASTIC SURGERY held generic for training, association, and collective membership services, where evidence showed that the phrase "facial plastic surgery" is a recognized field of surgical specialization); In re A La Vieille Russie, Inc., 60 USPQ2d 1895 (TTAB 2001) (RUSSIANART generic for dealership services in the field of fine art, antiques, furniture and jewelry); Continental Airlines Inc. v. United Airlines Inc., 53 USPQ2d 1385 (TTAB 1999) (E-TICKET generic for computerized reservation and ticketing of transportation services); In re Log Cabin Homes Ltd., 52 USPQ2d 1206 (TTAB 1999) (LOG CABIN HOMES generic for architectural design of buildings and retail outlets selling kits for building log homes); In re Web Communications, 49 USPQ2d 1478 (TTAB 1998) (WEB COMMUNICATIONS generic for consulting services to businesses seeking to establish sites on a global computer network); In re Central Sprinkler Co., 49 USPQ2d 1194 (TTAB 1998) (ATTIC generic for sprinklers installed primarily in attics); In re Stanbel Inc., 16 USPQ2d 1469 (TTAB 1990), aff'd, 20 USPQ2d 1319 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (ICE PAK for reusable ice substitute for use in food and beverage coolers held generic; even assuming a contrary holding, evidence submitted by applicant deemed insufficient to establish acquired distinctiveness); In re The Paint Products Co., 8 USPQ2d 1863 (TTAB 1988) (PAINT PRODUCTS CO. for "interior and exterior paints and coatings, namely, alkyd, oil, latex, urethane and epoxy based paints and coatings" held so highly descriptive as to be incapable of becoming distinctive; even assuming the term could function as a mark, applicant's evidence deemed insufficient to establish acquired distinctiveness); In re Analog Devices Inc., 6 USPQ2d 1808 (TTAB 1988), aff'd, 871 F.2d 1097, 10 USPQ2d 1879 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (ANALOG DEVICES held generic for devices having analog capabilities); In re Mortgage Bankers Association of America, 226 USPQ 954 (TTAB 1985) (CERTIFIED MORTGAGE BANKER ("MORTGAGE BANKER" disclaimed) for "educational services, namely providing qualifying examinations, testing and grading in the field of real estate finance" held so highly descriptive as to be incapable of functioning as a mark notwithstanding evidence of acquired distinctiveness); In re Half Price Books, Records, Magazines, Inc., 225 USPQ 219, 222 (TTAB 1984) (HALF PRICE BOOKS RECORDS MAGAZINES for retail book and record store services "is incapable of designating origin and any evidence of secondary meaning can only be viewed as 'de facto' in import and incapable of altering the inability of the subject matter for registration to function as a service mark").
In the following cases, the matter sought to be registered was found not to be generic: In re Dial-A-Mattress Operating Corp., 240 F.3d 1341, 57 USPQ2d 1807 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (1-888-M-A-T-R-E-S-S not generic for "telephone shop-at-home retail services in the field of mattresses"); In re American Fertility Society, 188 F.3d 1341, 51 USPQ2d 1832 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (SOCIETY FOR REPRODUCTIVE MEDICINE not generic for association services in the field of reproductive medicine); In re Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc., 828 F.2d 1567, 4 USPQ2d 1141 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (CASH MANAGEMENT ACCOUNT for "stock brokerage services, administration of money market fund services, and providing loans against securities services" held merely descriptive, rather than generic, and remanded to Board to consider sufficiency of §2(f) evidence); H. Marvin Ginn Corp. v. International Association of Fire Chiefs, Inc., 782 F.2d 987, 228 USPQ 528 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (FIRE CHIEF not generic for publications); In re Federated Dept. Stores Inc., 3 USPQ2d 1541 (TTAB 1987) (THE CHILDREN'S OUTLET ("OUTLET" disclaimed), while merely descriptive of applicant's "retail children's clothing store services," held capable of functioning as a mark, with evidence submitted by applicant sufficient to establish acquired distinctiveness pursuant to §2(f)); Hunter Publishing Co. v. Caulfield Publishing Ltd., 1 USPQ2d 1996 (TTAB 1986) (SYSTEMS USER for periodic trade journal held merely descriptive, rather than generic, and applicant's evidence held sufficient to establish acquired distinctiveness pursuant to §2(f)); In re Failure Analysis Associates, 1 USPQ2d 1144 (TTAB 1986) (FAILURE ANALYSIS ASSOCIATES, for "consulting services in the field of mechanical, structural, metallurgical, and metal failures, fires and explosions; engineering services in the field of mechanical design and risk analysis" and "consulting engineering services in the metallurgical field," found to be merely descriptive of applicant's services rather than incapable of distinguishing them from those of others; evidence submitted by applicant held sufficient to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness under §2(f)).