TMEP 1203.03(a)(iii): “National Symbols”

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1203.03(a)(iii)    “National Symbols”

A “national symbol” is subject matter of unique and special significance that, because of its meaning, appearance, and/or sound, immediately suggests or refers to the country for which it stands. In re Consol. Foods Corp., 187 USPQ 63, 64 (TTAB 1975) (noting national symbols include the bald eagle, Statue of Liberty, designation “Uncle Sam” and the unique human representation thereof, the heraldry and shield designs used in governmental offices, and certain uses of the letters “U.S.”). National symbols include the symbols of foreign countries as well as those of the United States. In re Anti-Communist World Freedom Cong., Inc., 161 USPQ 304, 305 (TTAB 1969).

“National symbols” cannot be equated with the “insignia” of nations, which are prohibited from registration under §2(b). As noted in Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Liberty Ins. Co. of Texas, 185 F. Supp. 895, 908, 127 USPQ 312, 323 (E.D. Ark. 1960):

The Act... does not put national symbols on a par with the flag, coat of arms, or other insignia of the United States, which may not in any event be made the subject matter of a trade or service mark. With regard to national symbols the statute provides merely that they shall not be disparaged or held up to contempt or disrepute, and shall not be used as falsely to suggest a connection between the holder of the mark and the symbol.

See TMEP §1204regarding insignia.

Trademark Act Section 2(a) does not prohibit registration of marks comprising national symbols; it only prohibits registration of matter that may disparage national symbols, falsely suggest a connection with them, or hold them up to contempt or disrepute. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 185 F. Supp. at 908, 127 USPQ at 323 (finding marks comprising portion of the Statue of Liberty not to disparage, bring into contempt or disrepute, or falsely suggest a connection with the Statue of Liberty or the United States government, the Court “[a]ssuming without deciding” that the statue is a national symbol).

Designations have been held to be national symbols within the meaning of §2(a) in the following cases: In re Anti-Communist World Freedom Cong., 161 USPQ 304 (holding a representation of a hammer and sickle to be a national symbol of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.)); In re Nat'l Collection & Credit Control, Inc., 152 USPQ 200, 201 n.2 (TTAB 1966) (“The American or bald eagle with wings extended is a well-known national symbol or emblem of the United States”).

Designations have been held not to be national symbols in the following cases: In re Consol. Foods Corp., 187 USPQ 63 (TTAB 1975) (holding OSS, the acronym for the Office of Strategic Services, not to constitute a national symbol); W. H. Snyder & Sons, Inc. v. Ladd, 227 F. Supp. 185, 140 USPQ 647 (D.D.C. 1964) (holding HOUSE OF WINDSOR not to be a national symbol of England, but merely the name of its present reigning family); NASA v. Bully Hill Vineyards, Inc., 3 USPQ2d 1671 (TTAB 1987) (holding SPACE SHUTTLE not to constitute a national symbol on the evidence of record, the Board also finding “shuttle” to be a generic term for a space vehicle or system); Jacobs v. Int'l Multifoods Corp., 211 USPQ 165, 170-71 (TTAB 1981), aff’d on other grounds, 668 F.2d 1234, 212 USPQ 641 (C.C.P.A. 1982) (“[H]istorical events such as the ‘BOSTON TEA PARTY’..., although undoubtedly associated with the American heritage, do not take on that unique and special significance of a ‘national symbol’ designed to be equated with and associated with a particular country.”); In re Mohawk Air Serv. Inc., 196 USPQ 851, 854 (TTAB 1977) (stating MOHAWK is not immediately suggestive of the United States and, therefore, not a national symbol); In re Gen. Mills, Inc., 169 USPQ 244 (TTAB 1971) (finding UNION JACK, which applicant was using on packages of frozen fish marked “English cut cod” and in its restaurant near representations of the British national flag, did not suggest a particular country, the Board noting that it could consider only the matter for which registration was sought).

The name of a country is not a national symbol within the meaning of §2(a) of the Trademark Act, In re Sweden Freezer Mfg. Co., 159 USPQ 246, 248-49 (TTAB 1968), nor does use of the name of a country as a mark, by itself, amount to deception, disparagement, or a “false connection” under §2(a). In re Fortune Star Prods. Corp., 217 USPQ 277, 277 (TTAB 1982).

The common names of, and acronyms for, government agencies and instrumentalities are not considered to be national symbols. In re Consol. Foods, 187 USPQ at 64 (OSS, acronym for the Office of Strategic Services, held not to be a national symbol, but merely to designate a particular (and long defunct) government agency, the Board contrasting national symbols with names and acronyms of government agencies: “’National symbols’... are more enduring in time,... and immediately conjure up the image of the country as a whole. Symbols of a country take on a special meaning and significance and are not so numerous as to dilute the special meaning and significance that each has.”)

While the prohibition of §2(a) against the registration of matter that may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with national symbols, 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.