TMEP 1202.02(a)(vii): Functionality and Service Marks

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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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.