TMEP 1202.10: Names and Designs of Characters in Creative Works

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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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.