TMEP 1202.11: Background Designs and Shapes

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

Previous: §1202.10(a) | Next: §1202.12

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).