1203.02(d)(i) Objective Criteria
In assessing whether a misdescription would affect the decision to purchase, the following are examples (not a comprehensive list) of the type of objective criteria that should be used to analyze whether a term is a material factor. The evidence may often point to more than one characteristic, thereby strengthening the examining attorney’s prima facie case. For example, the evidence may show that goods deemed “organic” because they are produced in compliance with objective criteria can also be more costly, provide health benefits, and satisfy a social policy of reducing the impact on the environment by utilizing chemical-free growing practices. The evidence also must suffice to indicate that the misdescriptive quality or characteristic would affect the purchasing decision of a significant portion of the relevant consumers. In re Spirits Int’l, N.V., 563 F.3d 1347, 1353, 90 USPQ2d 1489, 1493 (Fed. Cir. 2009). Generally, evidence of the objective inducement to purchase supports a presumption that a significant portion of the relevant consumers would likely be deceived.
Superior Quality - The evidence must support a finding that goods or services that contain or feature the misdescriptive term are superior in quality to similar goods and/or services that do not. For example, silk can be shown to be a more luxurious and expensive material because of the difficulty in making silk, its unique feel, and its breathability. Similarly, cedar wood can be shown to have superior durability and resistance to decay.
Enhanced Performance or Function - The evidence must support a finding that goods possessing the characteristic or feature at issue are superior to those that do not. For example, certain wood species are naturally resistant to termite attack or may be more durable than others. There might also be evidence of an increasing interest in reducing the potential leaching of chemicals from treated wood into the environment.
Difference in Price - Evidence of a price differential between items that do and those that do not possess the feature or characteristic described by the misdescriptive term may be enough to support a §2(a) refusal, depending upon the nature of the goods or services. It is also important to remember that because a difference in price is relative to the goods and/or services in a particular industry, a particular term may be deceptive for goods and services that are not typically thought of as luxury items.
Health Benefit - The evidence must establish a belief that the feature or characteristic provides a health benefit.
Religious Practice or Social Policy - The evidence must show that the religious practice or social policy has definable recognized criteria for compliance in order to support a finding of deceptiveness when the criteria are not adhered to by the applicant. For example, a body of Jewish law deals with what foods can and cannot be eaten and how those foods must be prepared and eaten. The term “kosher" refers to food prepared in accordance with these standards as well as to the selling or serving of such food. See The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Ed. 2000. Another example is the term “vegan,” which is defined as someone who eats plant products only and who uses no products derived from animals, such as fur or leather. Id.
The evidence necessary to establish deceptiveness can come from the same sources used to show that the term is misdescriptive. Internet searches that combine the deceptive term with terms such as “desirable,” “superior,” “premium,” “better quality,” “sought after,” “more expensive,” or “established standards” may be useful in seeking evidence to support the second and third prongs of the test.
Applicant’s own advertising - in the form of specimens, brochures, web pages, press releases, or product and service information sheets - may provide the best evidence of deceptiveness. Moreover, the examining attorney should make of record any instances where the applicant attempts to benefit from the potentially deceptive term and where the advertising includes false assertions related to the deceptive wording. Although not a requirement for a deceptive refusal, proof of an actual intent to deceive may be considered strong evidence of deceptiveness.