TMEP 1202.16(a): Examination of Marks with Model and Grade Designations

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1202.16(a)    Examination of Marks with Model and Grade Designations

A trademark comprises a word, name, symbol, device, or combination thereof that is used to identify the goods of an applicant, to distinguish them from the goods of others, and to indicate the source of the goods. Trademark Act §§1-2, 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051-1052, 1127; see TMEP §1202. Similar to a trademark, a model or grade designation is generally comprised of numbers or letters, or a combination thereof. However, the manner of use, and resulting commercial impression imparted by the matter, differentiate a mere model or grade designation from that of a trademark (or a dual-purpose mark that is both a model or grade designation and a trademark). While letters, numbers, or alphanumeric matter may serve as both a trademark and a model or grade designation, matter used merely as a model or grade designation serves only to differentiate between different products within a product line or delineate levels of quality, and does not indicate source. See Eastman Kodak Co. v. Bell & Howell Document Mgmt. Prods. Co., 994 F.2d 1569, 1576, 26 USPQ2d 1912, 1919 (Fed. Cir. 1993); Neapco Inc. v. Dana Corp., 12 USPQ2d 1746, 1748 (TTAB 1989); 1 Anne Gilson LaLonde, Gilson on Trademarks §2.03(4)(a) (Matthew Bender 2011); J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition §11.36 (4th ed. 2011).

Even though a model or grade designation seems "arbitrary" in the sense that the combination of letters, numbers, or both does not immediately describe the goods, it often does not function as a trademark. See Gilson LaLonde, supra, §2.03(4)(a). Where the model or grade designation fails to distinguish the applicant’s goods from those of others or to identify the applicant as the source, the proposed mark must be refused registration on the Principal Register under §§1, 2, and 45 for failure to function as a trademark. 15 U.S.C §§1051 -1052, 1127. However, if the mark both identifies a model or grade designation and serves as a trademark, no failure-to-function refusal should issue. See Ex parte Eastman Kodak Co., 55 USPQ 361, 362 (Comm’r Pats. 1942) ("The fundamental question is not whether or not the mark as used by applicant serves to indicate grade or quality but rather whether it is or is not so used that purchasers and the public will recognize the mark as indicating the source of origin of the goods.").

In addition, the examining attorney must also consider whether the proposed mark is merely descriptive, or even generic. Trademark Act §2(e)(1), 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(1). Grade designations often become synonymous with (and thus merely descriptive of) a classification, value, size, weight, type, degree, mode of manufacturing, or level of quality of the goods. And, more infrequently, model designations can be used in a merely descriptive manner. See Textron, Inc. v. Omark Indus., Inc., 208 USPQ 524, 527-28 (TTAB 1980) (holding that model numbers which have been used in the same manner by competitors for indicating the size of the saw chains as to pitch and gauge are merely descriptive and not registrable).