TMEP 1203.03(a)(ii): “Institutions”

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

Previous: §1203.03(a)(i) | Next: §1203.03(a)(iii)

1203.03(a)(ii)    “Institutions”

The term “institution” has been broadly construed. See In re Shinnecock Smoke Shop, 571 F.3d 1171, 91 USPQ2d 1218, 1219 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (“[T]he ordinary meaning of ‘institution’ suggests the term is broad enough to include a self-governing Indian nation,” quoting Black's Law Dictionary 813, 1133 (8th ed. 2004), which defines “institution” as “[a]n established organization,” and defines “organization” as a “body of persons... formed for a common purpose”); In re White, 73 USPQ2d 1713, 1718 (TTAB 2004) (“each federally recognized Apache tribe is necessarily either a juristic person or an institution”); In re Urbano, 51 USPQ2d 1776, 1779 (TTAB 1999) (“[T]he entire organization which comprises the Olympic Games, as a whole, qualifies as an ‘institution’ within the meaning of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act.

In addition to qualifying as a person, United States government agencies and instrumentalities, as identified by their common names and acronyms therefor, also may be considered institutions within the meaning of §2(a). See In re Peter S. Herrick P.A., 91 USPQ2d 1505, 1506 (TTAB 2009) (“Institutions, as used in Section 2(a), include government agencies.”); In re Cotter & Co., 228 USPQ 202, 204-05 (TTAB 1985) (finding the United States Military Academy is an institution and West Point or Westpoint “has come to be solely associated with and points uniquely to the United States Military Academy”). The common names of, and acronyms and terms for, United States government programs may also be considered institutions, depending on the evidence of record. See In re N. Am. Free Trade Ass’n, 43 USPQ2d 1282, 1285-86 (TTAB 1997) (finding that the “NAFTA is an institution, in the same way that the United Nations is an institution,” the Board noted that the “legislative history... indicates that the reference to an ‘institution’ in Section 2(a) was designed to have an expansive scope.”); NASA v. Record Chem. Co., 185 USPQ 563, 565 (TTAB 1975) (finding NASA’s Apollo space program is an institution).

Institutions do not have to be large, well known, or “national” 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. Gavel Club v. Toastmasters Int’l, 127 USPQ 88, 94 (TTAB 1960).

While the §2(a) prohibition against the registration of matter that may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with institutions, or bring them into contempt or disrepute, may not be applicable to a particular designation, many names, acronyms, titles, terms, and symbols are protected by other statutes or rules. See TMEP §1205.01 and Appendix C (setting forth a nonexhaustive list of United States statutes protecting designations of certain government agencies and instrumentalities).