TMEP 1202.17(e)(i): Awareness Ribbon Symbols

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1202.17(e)(i)    Awareness Ribbon Symbols

Description: Gray scale awareness ribbon.

The awareness ribbon symbol is a representation of a ribbon intended to signify and promote awareness of a particular cause. The specific cause represented depends on the color or color scheme displayed. See, e.g., Support Store, Cause Awareness By Color, http://www.bumperstickermagnet.com/cause-awareness-by-color.html (accessed Aug. 24, 2012). For example, the pink awareness ribbon is commonly associated with awareness of breast cancer and related causes. See id. Yellow ribbons are frequently used to indicate support of the armed forces. See id. And red ribbons are typically associated with awareness of HIV/AIDS or heart disease. See id.

Due to the widespread use of the awareness ribbon in various colors to indicate support for, or raise awareness of, a cause, the awareness ribbon shape by itself will not function as a source indicator. However, the examining attorney must evaluate an awareness ribbon symbol in a mark as a whole, including the color, color scheme, pattern, or other matter inside of the ribbon, to determine whether it functions as a source indicator.

Some awareness ribbons have become so widely used and well known that they are unlikely to function as a mark when used in connection with almost any goods or services. These include ribbons in pink, yellow, red, and possibly others. The pink awareness ribbon, for example, has become the universal symbol of breast cancer awareness. This symbol appears in connection with the charity activities of numerous organizations and is used on a wide variety of products, including clothing, jewelry, sports equipment, and household items. Often, when it is used, it has informational or ornamental characteristics, or both. Thus, it is more likely that consumers, upon encountering the pink ribbon symbol on a product, would view it as informational or decorative regardless of the particular context or use. For instance, evidence may support the conclusion that, when a pink ribbon is displayed on the packaging for a household appliance, the ribbon would likely be viewed as indicating that the product has some connection to a breast cancer-related cause (e.g., some portion of the proceeds from the sale of the appliance would go towards breast cancer research). Or evidence may establish that the pink ribbon symbol displayed on a shirt would be viewed as conveying the message that the wearer is a supporter of breast cancer survivors or breast cancer causes in general. Even when an awareness ribbon symbol features a particular color, color scheme, or pattern that is not commonly used or widely recognized, the examining attorney should evaluate whether the symbol is inherently distinctive.

The actions an examining attorney will take when examining a mark featuring an awareness ribbon symbol depend on which of the following categories the awareness ribbon symbol falls under:

Category 1: The awareness ribbon symbol is not displayed in the mark in a way that creates a distinct commercial impression or forms a source-indicating unitary whole. The color, color scheme, pattern, or other matter inside the awareness ribbon shape is not inherently distinctive and the evidence shows that the symbol’s use by various parties in that color, color scheme, or pattern is so widespread, and its meaning so widely understood, that it will likely be perceived as only providing information or conveying an informational message when used in connection with the goods or services.

This type of awareness ribbon symbol fails to function as a mark and the examining attorney must refuse registration if the symbol forms the entire mark or appears with only other non-source-indicating matter, or disclaim the symbol if it appears with registrable matter.

Awareness ribbon symbols in this category are incapable of functioning as a mark. Thus, if the mark consists entirely of this type of symbol, claiming acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) or amending the application to seek registration on the Supplemental Register will not overcome the refusal. Likewise, a claim of acquired distinctiveness in part will not obviate a disclaimer requirement.

Awareness ribbon symbols that do not contain inherently distinctive matter inside the ribbon, and are displayed in black and white, or gray scale, because they appear in non-color mark drawings, are incapable of functioning as a mark and would be subject to the same procedures set forth above.

Exanples:

Description: image of Pink Awareness Ribbon

Pink ribbon

Description: image of Yellow awareness ribbon.

Yellow Ribbon

Description: image of Gray scale awareness ribbon.

Black-and-White or Gray Scale Ribbon

Category 2: The awareness ribbon symbol is not displayed in the mark in a way that creates a distinct commercial impression or forms a source-indicating unitary whole. The color, color scheme, pattern, or other matter inside the awareness ribbon shape is not inherently distinctive, but there is no evidence that the awareness ribbon symbol shown in the mark is widely used by various parties or that its meaning is widely understood.

In these cases, the symbol is not inherently distinctive and fails to function as a mark because, given the widespread use of awareness ribbons in various colors and patterns generally, the symbol will not be perceived as a source indicator. Thus, the examining attorney must refuse registration if the symbol forms the entire mark (or appears with other non-source-indicating matter), or require a disclaimer of the symbol if the symbol appears with registrable matter. However, the applicant may overcome the refusal by showing acquired distinctiveness based on actual evidence establishing recognition of the proposed mark as a source indicator, or by amending the application to seek registration on the Supplemental Register. For awareness ribbon symbols in this category, evidence of five years’ use usually will not be sufficient to show that the mark has acquired distinctiveness. See TMEP §§1212.06–1212.06(e)(iv) for information on establishing acquired distinctiveness by actual evidence. A disclaimer requirement may be obviated by claiming acquired distinctiveness in part as to the symbol based on actual evidence.

Examples:

Description: image of an awareness ribbon that is half teal, half purple, and outlined in blue.

for "promoting public awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse"

Description: image of an awareness ribbon shape featuring the outline of West Virginia

for "surgery; and medical services, namely, treatment of breast disease"

Category 3: The matter inside the awareness ribbon shape in the mark is inherently distinctive or otherwise registrable (e.g., non-descriptive/non-informational wording, registrable design elements) and there is no evidence that the awareness ribbon shown in the mark is widely used by various parties or that its meaning is widely understood.

No refusal (or disclaimer) is necessary, as long as the awareness ribbon is not used ornamentally on the specimen, because the ribbon shape and the matter within it create a registrable unitary whole.

Examples:

Description: image of an awareness ribbon with stylized tire tracks and a checkered flag.

for “charitable fund raising, namely, raising funds for breast cancer research and treatment”

Description: image of an awareness ribbon with a puzzle piece motif.

for “educational services, namely, conducting conferences, workshops, seminars, classes, and meetings in the field of autism and advocacy on behalf of autistic children and adults”