TMEP 1203.03(a)(i): “Persons”

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1203.03(a)(i)    “Persons”

Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(a), protects, inter alia, “persons, living or dead.”

Section 45 of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1127, defines “person” and “juristic person” as follows:

The term “person” and any other word or term used to designate the applicant or other entitled to a benefit or privilege or rendered liable under the provisions of this Act includes a juristic person as well as a natural person. The term “juristic person” includes a firm, corporation, union, association, or other organization capable of suing and being sued in a court of law.

The term “persons” in §2(a) refers to real persons, not fictitious characters. With respect to natural persons, they may be living or dead. However, §2(a) may not be applicable with regard to a deceased person when there is no longer anyone entitled to assert a proprietary right or right of privacy. Lucien Piccard Watch Corp. v. Since 1868 Crescent Corp., 314 F. Supp. 329, 165 USPQ 459 (S.D.N.Y. 1970) (holding DA VINCI not to falsely suggest a connection with the deceased artist Leonardo Da Vinci); In re MC MC S.r.l., 88 USPQ2d 1378 (TTAB 2008 (holding MARIA CALLAS did not falsely suggest a connection with deceased opera singer Maria Callas). See TMEP §1203.03(c)(i) regarding elements of a §2(a) false suggestion of a connection refusal.

In the case of a mark comprising the name of a deceased natural person, the “right to the use of a designation which points uniquely to his or her persona may not be protected under Section 2(a) after his or her death unless heirs or other successors are entitled to assert that right…. In order to possess rights, such person, or someone to whom those rights have been transferred, must exist.” In re MC MC S.r.l., 88 USPQ2d at 1380 (quoting In re Wielinski, 49 USPQ2d 1754, 1758 (TTAB 1998) (overruled on other grounds by In re WNBA Enter., LLC, 70 USPQ2d 1153 (TTAB 2003)); see In re Jackson Int'l Trading Co. Kurt D. Bruhl GmbH & Co. KG, 103 USPQ2d 1417, 1421 (TTAB 2012). A key consideration is “whether or not there is someone (this may be a natural person, estate, or juristic entity) with rights in the name.” Id. Any doubt regarding the existence of heirs or successors with such rights must be resolved in favor of the applicant. In re MC MC S.r.l., 88 USPQ2d at 1381.

In addition to natural persons, §2(a) includes juristic persons, that is, legally created entities such as firms, corporations, unions, associations, or any other organizations capable of suing and being sued in a court of law. See Morehouse Mfg. Corp. v. J. Strickland & Co., 407 F.2d 881, 160 USPQ 715 (C.C.P.A. 1969); Popular Merch. Co. v. “21” Club, Inc., 343 F.2d 1011, 145 USPQ 203 (C.C.P.A. 1965); John Walker & Sons, Ltd. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 110 USPQ 249 (Comm’r Pats. 1956); Copacabana, Inc. v. Breslauer, 101 USPQ 467 (Comm’r Pats. 1954). Juristic persons do not have to be well known to be protected from the registration of a mark that falsely suggests a connection with or disparages them, or brings them into contempt or disrepute. See generally Gavel Club v. Toastmasters Int’l, 127 USPQ 88, 94 (TTAB 1960) (noting that §2(a) protection is not limited to large, well known, or nationally recognized institutions).

A juristic person’s rights under §2(a) are extinguished when the juristic person ceases to exist. In re Wielinski, 49 USPQ2d at 1758 (overruled on other grounds, In re WNBA Enter., LLC, 70 USPQ2d 1153 (TTAB 2003)).

Section 45 of the Act, 15 U.S.C. §1127, also defines “person” to include the United States and its agencies and instrumentalities, as well as any state:

The term “person” also includes the United States, any agency or instrumentality thereof, or any individual, firm, or corporation acting for the United States and with the authorization and consent of the United States. The United States, any agency or instrumentality thereof, and any individual, firm, or corporation acting for the United States and with the authorization and consent of the United States, shall be subject to the provisions of this Act in the same manner and to the same extent as any nongovernmental entity.

The term “person” also includes any State, any instrumentality of a State, and any officer or employee of a State or instrumentality of a State acting in his or her official capacity. Any State, and any such instrumentality, officer, or employee, shall be subject to the provisions of this Act in the same manner and to the same extent as any non-governmental entity.

It is well settled that the United States government is a "person" within the meaning of §2(a). 15 U.S.C. §1127; FBI v. Societe: “M.Bril & Co.”, 172 USPQ 310, 313 (TTAB 1971). Therefore, the common names of, and acronyms for, United States government agencies and instrumentalities are considered persons. See In re Peter S. Herrick P.A., 91 USPQ2d 1505, 1506-08 (TTAB 2009) (stating the statutory definition of “person” includes the United States and any agency or instrumentality thereof and concluding that “[t]he only entity the name ‘U.S. Customs Service’ could possibly identify is the government agency” formerly known as the United States Customs Service and now known as United States Customs and Border Protection); NASA v. Record Chem. Co., 185 USPQ 563, 566 (TTAB 1975) (finding the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a juristic person); FBI, 172 USPQ at 313 (noting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a juristic person).