TMEP 1203.03(c)(i): Elements of a §2(a) False Suggestion of a Connection Refusal

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1203.03(c)(i)    Elements of a §2(a) False Suggestion of a Connection Refusal

To establish that a proposed mark falsely suggests a connection with a person or an institution, it must be shown that:

  • 1 the mark is the same as, or a close approximation of, the name or identity previously used by another person or institution;
  • 2 the mark would be recognized as such, in that it points uniquely and unmistakably to that person or institution;
  • 3 the person or institution named by the mark is not connected with the activities performed by the applicant under the mark; and
  • 4 the fame or reputation of the person or institution is such that, when the mark is used with the applicant’s goods or services, a connection with the person or institution would be presumed.

In re Pedersen, 109 USPQ 2d 1185, 1188-89 (TTAB 2013); In re Jackson Int'l Trading Co. Kurt D. Bruhl GmbH & Co. KG, 103 USPQ2d 1417, 1419 (TTAB 2012); In re Peter S. Herrick, P.A., 91 USPQ2d 1505, 1507 (TTAB 2009); In re MC MC S.r.l., 88 USPQ2d 1378, 1379 (TTAB 2008); Ass'n Pour La Def. et la Promotion de L'Oeuvre de Marc Chagall dite Comite Marc Chagall v. Bondarchuk, 82 USPQ2d 1838, 1842 (TTAB 2007); In re White, 80 USPQ2d 1654, 1658 (TTAB 2006); In re White, 73 USPQ2d 1713, 1718 (TTAB 2004); In re Nuclear Research Corp., 16 USPQ2d 1316, 1317 (TTAB 1990); Buffett v. Chi-Chi’s, Inc., 226 USPQ 428, 429 (TTAB 1985); In re Cotter & Co., 228 USPQ 202, 204 (TTAB 1985); see also Univ. of Notre Dame du Lac v. J.C. Gourmet Food Imps. Co., 703 F.2d 1372, 1375-77, 217 USPQ 505, 508-10 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (providing foundational principles for the current four-part test used to determine the existence of a false connection).

With regard to the first element, "[a] nickname or an informal reference, even one created by the public, can qualify as an entity's ‘identity,’ thereby giving rise to a protectable interest." Bos. Athletic Ass'n v. Velocity, LLC, 117 USPQ2d 1492, 1496 (TTAB2015). In addition,the fact that a term identifies both a particular group of people and the language spoken by some of the members of the group is not evidence that it fails to identify the group. In re Pedersen, 109 USPQ 2d at 1190 (rejecting applicant’s argument that because the term LAKOTA identifies a language, it does not approximate the name or identity of a people or institution).

The requirement that the proposed mark would be recognized as pointing uniquely and unmistakably to the person or institution does not mean that the term itself must be unique. Rather, the question is whether, as used on the goods or services in question, consumers would view the mark as pointing uniquely to petitioner, or whether they would perceive it to have a different meaning. Hornby v. TJX Cos., Inc., 87 USPQ2d 1411, 1427 (TTAB 2008) (in granting the petition to cancel registration of the mark TWIGGY, Board found that, at the time of registration in 2000, the mark TWIGGY on children’s clothing would be recognized as pointing uniquely and unmistakably to petitioner, who was recognized as a famous British model, and that consumers would presume an association with petitioner). In addition, unassociated third-party use of a term does not in and of itself establish that that the term does not point uniquely or unmistakably to a particular people or institution. In re Pedersen, 109 USPQ2d at 1196 (finding consumer exposure to third-party use of LAKOTA on products and services unrelated to applicant’s insufficient to show that applicant’s use of LAKOTA does not point uniquely to the Lakota people); Hornby v. TJX Cos., 87 USPQ2d at 1427 (finding evidence of third-party registrations showing registration of the term "TWIGGY" for goods unrelated to children’s clothing to have "no probative value").

A connection with an entity is established when the record establishes a specific endorsement, sponsorship, or the like of the particular goods and services, whether written or implied. In re White, 80 USPQ2d 1654, 1660-61 (TTAB 2006). In In re Sloppy Joe’s Int’l Inc., 43 USPQ2d 1350, 1353-54 (TTAB 1997), the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board held that Ernest Hemingway’s friendship with the original owner of applicant’s bar, his frequenting the bar, and his use of the back room as an office did not establish the kind of "connection" that entitled applicant to register a mark consisting in part of a portrait of Hemingway. Rather, a commercial connection, such as an ownership interest or commercial endorsement or sponsorship of applicant’s services would be necessary to entitle the applicant to registration. Id.

If it is unclear whether the person or institution is connected with the goods sold or services performed by the applicant, the examining attorney must make an explicit inquiry under 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b). If the examining attorney independently confirms that the person or institution is connected with the goods sold or services performed by the applicant, a Note to the File must be entered in the record to reflect that no further action is required as to the issue of false suggestion of a connection. See TMEP §710.02.

A refusal on this basis requires, by implication, that the person or institution with which a connection is falsely suggested must be the prior user. In re Nuclear Research, 16 USPQ2d at 1317; In re Mohawk Air Servs. Inc.,196 USPQ 851, 854-55 (TTAB 1977). However, it is not necessary that the prior user ever commercially exploit the name as a trademark or in a manner analogous to trademark use. In re Pedersen, 109 USPQ2d at 1193. A false suggestion of a connection may be found when the party’s right to control the use of its identity is violated, even if there is no juristic entity having the authority to authorize use of the mark. Id.

Intent to identify a party or trade on its goodwill is not a required element of a §2(a) claim of false suggestion of an association with such party. S & L Acquisition Co. v. Helene Arpels, Inc., 9 USPQ2d 1221, 1224 (TTAB 1987); Consol. Natural Gas Co. v. CNG Fuel Sys., Ltd., 228 USPQ 752, 754 (TTAB 1985). However, evidence of such an intent could be highly persuasive that the public would make the intended false association. Univ. of Notre Dame du Lac, 703 F.2d at 1377, 217 USPQ at 509, aff’g213 USPQ 594 (TTAB 1982).