TMEP 1202.19(i): Functional Repeating Patterns

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1202.19(i)    Functional Repeating Patterns

It is possible, although rare, that a repeating pattern applied to the surface of an item will serve a functional purpose. This could be a utilitarian function, which is essential to the use of the item or affects the cost or quality of the item, or an aesthetic function, which does not have a truly utilitarian function in terms of the item’s use or performance, but nonetheless provides a real and significant competitive advantage. See TMEP §§1202.02(a)(iii)(A), 1202.02(a)(vi). For example, a repeating pattern could function as camouflage for a product that requires concealment (utilitarian functionality). Or a repeating pattern could make a product more aesthetically desirable, beyond mere ornamentation, by allowing the product to be visually coordinated with a variety of other related items (aesthetic functionality). See Brunswick Corp. v. British Seagull Ltd., 35 F.3d 1527, 1531-1533, 32 USPQ2d 1120, 1122-1124 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (affirming TTAB’s determination that the color black on the surface of outboard motors is functional because, while it has no utilitarian effect on the mechanical purpose of the engines, it does provide other identifiable competitive advantages, including compatibility with a wide variety of boat colors and reduction in the perceived size of the engines). If the available evidence supports the conclusion that a repeating-pattern mark is functional, the examining attorney must refuse registration accordingly. See TMEP §§1202.02(a)–(a)(viii) regarding functionality and the procedures for refusing registration.