TMEP 1202.16: Model or Grade Designations

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1202.16    Model or Grade Designations

Model designations appear in connection with a wide variety of products, such as retaining rings, hand tools, and pens, to identify a specific style, type, or design of a product within a particular line of goods. See In re Petersen Mfg. Co., 229 USPQ 466 (TTAB 1986) (noting that the following alphanumeric designations served as model numbers on the specimens, but finding the evidence of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) sufficient for registration: 18R for a C clamp; 6LN for a locking plier with elongated jaw; 9LN for a locking plier with elongated jaw; 7CR for a locking plier with curved jaw; 6R for a C clamp; 20R for a chain clamp; 10CR for a locking plier with curved jaw; 7R for a locking plier with straight jaw; 10WR for a locking plier with wire cutter; 7WR for a locking plier with wire cutter; 5WR for a locking plier with wire cutter; RR for a locking specialty tool, namely, a pinch-off tool; 10R for a locking plier with straight jaw; 9R for a locking specialty tool, namely, a welding clamp; 8R for locking specialty tools, namely, metal clamping tools; and 11R for a C clamp); In re Waldes Kohinoor, Inc., 124 USPQ 471 (TTAB 1960) (holding that 5131, 5000, and 5100 for retaining rings functioned only to differentiate one type of the applicant’s retaining rings from its other types and did not function as a trademark to distinguish the applicant’s goods from those of others); Ex parte Esterbrook Pen Co., 109 USPQ 368 (Comm’r Pats. 1956) (holding that 2668 for pen points did not function as a mark because it was merely a style number for a particular pen point used to differentiate one pen point from other points in the product line).

Model designations also are commonly used to distinguish between different types of automobile parts within a single product line. See In re Dana Corp., 12 USPQ2d 1748 (TTAB 1989) (holding that the following alphanumeric designations used in connection with vehicle parts functioned only as part numbers and not as trademarks: 5-469X; 5-438X; 5-510X; 5-515X; 5-407X; 5-279X; and 5-281X). In addition, model designations may serve the purpose of providing users with product compatibility information between goods and parts, accessories, and/or fittings for the goods. See In re Otis Eng’g Corp., 218 USPQ 959, 960 (TTAB 1983) (noting that the fact that various pieces of applicant’s "X" equipment for oil wells are compatible with each other tends to support the position that "X" is a style or model designation, but finding that the specimens, advertising brochures, and affidavits when considered together demonstrate that "X" also functions as a trademark). They also facilitate ordering and tracking of goods. Id. (noting that the use of the same designation on various goods that work together would enable purchasers to order compatible equipment).

Grade designations are used to denote that a product has a certain level of quality within a defined range. They may also indicate that a product has a certain classification, size, weight, type, degree, or mode of manufacturing. Mere grade designations are often used by competitors within an industry, or by the general public, and do not indicate origin from a single source because their principal function is to provide information about the product to a consumer. See 1 Anne Gilson LaLonde, Gilson on Trademarks §2.03(4)(a) (Matthew Bender 2011). (Note: the use of a grade designation in the context of a certification mark is not discussed herein.)

For example, the fuel industry utilizes grade designations in the form of particular numbers to delineate different octane ratings of fuel. See In re Union Oil Co., 33 USPQ 43 (C.C.P.A. 1937) (affirming the decision of the Commissioner of Patents refusing to register 76 for gasoline because the term functioned merely as a grade or quality mark to indicate either the octane rating or the Baume gravity rating and did not indicate origin). Grade designations have also been used to signify the composition or strength of various types of steel. See Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. v. Armco Steel Corp., 139 USPQ 132 (TTAB 1963) (holding that the terms 17-4PH and 17-7PH originally served only as a grade designation for stainless steel based on the composition of chromium and nickel, but finding the evidence of secondary meaning sufficient for registration). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) assigns grades in connection with butter to delineate between different quality levels based on flavor, aroma, and texture. See Agric. Mktg. Serv., U.S. Dep’t of Agric., How to Buy Butter (Feb. 1995), http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3002487. The USDA also assigns grades to other food products, such as eggs, meat, and poultry. See Agric. Mktg. Serv., U.S. Dep’t of Agric., Egg-Grading Manual (July 2000), http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004502; Inspection & Grading of Meat and Poultry: What Are the Differences?, U.S. Dep’t of Agric. (Aug. 22, 2008), http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Inspection_&_Grading/index.asp.