TMEP 1203.02(e)(ii): When It is Not Clear Whether the Mark is Misdescriptive

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1203.02(e)(ii)    When It is Not Clear Whether the Mark is Misdescriptive

When a mark comprises or contains descriptive wording, but it is not clear whether the goods/services possess the relevant feature or characteristic, the examining attorney must first determine whether such feature or characteristic would be believable and material to the decision to purchase.

If the potential misdescription would not be believable, no refusal under either §2(a) or §2(e)(1) should be made. If the application is otherwise in condition for publication, the examining attorney should approve the mark for publication. Otherwise, the examining attorney should issue an Office action containing all other relevant refusals and/or requirements.

If the goods possess the relevant feature or characteristic and the feature or characteristic referenced by the mark would be believable and material, the identification must include the feature or characteristic in order to resolve the ambiguity between the mark and the identification of goods/services. The identification must be amended even if the record indicates elsewhere that the goods/services contain the feature or characteristic. Therefore, if the application could otherwise be put in condition for approval for publication by an examiner’s amendment (see TMEP §707), to expedite prosecution, the examining attorney should:

  • Attempt to contact the applicant to obtain authorization for a disclaimer, if appropriate (i.e., if the term at issue is not part of a unitary expression), and an amendment to the identification to include the feature or characteristic (if believable and material), and for any other amendments that would put the application in condition for approval for publication.
  • If the applicant states that the goods/services do not possess the feature or characteristic, the examining attorney must so indicate in a Note to the File entered in the record, and must then issue a refusal under §2(e)(1) as deceptively misdescriptive (if believable but not material), or disclaimer requirement if appropriate, or a refusal under §2(a) as deceptive (if believable and material) and an alternative refusal under §2(e)(1), or disclaimer requirement if appropriate, as deceptively misdescriptive, and make all other relevant requirements.
  • To ensure the completeness of the record in the event of an appeal, any Office action issued must also include an information request under 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b), asking whether the goods/services possess the feature or characteristic.

If the examining attorney is unable to reach the applicant or cannot obtain authorization for an examiner’s amendment, or if an Office action is otherwise necessary to make substantive refusals or requirements that cannot be satisfied by examiner’s amendment, the examining attorney must:

  • Issue a refusal under §2(e)(1) as descriptive (or a requirement for a disclaimer, if appropriate, i.e., if the term at issue is not part of a unitary expression), based on the presumption that the goods/services possess the feature or characteristic; and
  • Issue a requirement that the applicant amend the identification to include the feature or characteristic (if believable and material); and
  • Issue an information request under 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b), asking whether the goods/services possess the feature or characteristic; and
  • Issue any other relevant refusals and/or requirements.

If the applicant responds that the goods/services possess the feature or characteristic or amends the identification to include the feature or characteristic, the examining attorney must issue a final Office action, assuming that the application is otherwise in condition for final action, as to the descriptiveness refusal (or disclaimer requirement, if not provided), identification requirement (if applicable and not amended), and any other relevant refusals and/or requirements, as appropriate.

If the applicant responds that the goods/services do not possess the feature or characteristic, the examining attorney must withdraw the §2(e)(1) descriptiveness refusal (or disclaimer requirement), as well as the identification requirement (if applicable), and issue a subsequent nonfinal Office action dependent on whether the misdescription would be believable and material:

  • If the misdescription would be believable but not material, the examining attorney must issue a refusal under §2(e)(1) as deceptively misdescriptive (or disclaimer requirement if appropriate), with supporting evidence, and maintain all other relevant refusals and/or requirements.
  • If the misdescription would be believable and material, the examining attorney must issue a deceptiveness refusal under §2(a) with supporting evidence, an alternative refusal under §2(e)(1) as deceptively misdescriptive (or disclaimer requirement if appropriate), and maintain all other relevant refusals and/or requirements.

If the applicant does not respond to the information request and does not amend the identification to include the feature or characteristic, the examining attorney must:

  • Issue a subsequent nonfinal Office action maintaining the descriptiveness refusal (or disclaimer requirement, if not provided), based on the presumption that the goods/services possess the feature or characteristic, as well as the identification requirement (if applicable), information request, and any other relevant refusals and/or requirements raised in the initial Office action, as appropriate; and
  • If the misdescription would be believable and material, issue an alternative refusal under §2(a) as deceptive, based on the presumption that the goods/services do not possess the relevant feature or characteristic, and supported by evidence; and
  • Issue an alternative refusal under §2(e)(1) as deceptively misdescriptive, or disclaimer requirement if appropriate, based on the presumption that the goods/services do not possess the relevant feature or characteristic.

See, e.g., In re AOP LLC, 107 USPQ2d 1644 (TTAB 2013) (holding AOP deceptive, deceptively misdescriptive, or, alternatively, merely descriptive for wine, after the applicant failed to fully respond to the examining attorney’s inquiries regarding the origin and certification of applicant’s goods); In re Cheezwhse.com, Inc., 85 USPQ2d 1917 (TTAB 2008) (holding NORMANDIE CAMEMBERT primarily geographically descriptive or, in the alternative, primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive for cheese; the applicant failed to respond to a 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b) information request as to the origin of the goods).