TMEP 1203.03(c)(ii): Government Agencies and Instrumentalities

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1203.03(c)(ii)    Government Agencies and Instrumentalities

Registration of matter that may falsely suggest a connection with a United States government agency or instrumentality is prohibited under §2(a). See TMEP §1203.03(c)(i) (setting out the four-element test). Some names, acronyms, titles, terms, and symbols of United States government agencies or instrumentalities are also protected by separate statute. See TMEP §1205.01 for information about statutorily protected matter and Appendix C for a nonexhaustive list of United States statutes protecting designations of certain government agencies and instrumentalities. However, if the mark references a United States government agency or instrumentality in such a manner that a connection with it would not be presumed, a refusal may not be necessary. Instead, a disclaimer may be required, if appropriate. See below for a discussion of situations in which a disclaimer is applicable.

Registration must be refused if the nature of the mark and the nature of the goods or services is such that a United States government agency or instrumentality would be presumed to be the source or sponsorship of the applicant’s goods or services. In re Peter S. Herrick, P.A., 91 USPQ2d 1505, 1507-08 (TTAB 2009) (finding “U.S. CUSTOMS SERVICE” is a close approximation of the former name of the government agency, United States Customs Service, which is now known as the United States Customs and Border Protection but which is still referred to as the U.S. Customs Service by the public and the agency itself, that the seal design in the proposed mark is nearly identical to the seal used by the former United Stated Customs Service, that the only meaning the “U.S. Customs Service” has is to identify the government agency, and that a connection between applicant’s attorney services and the activities performed by the United States Customs and Border Protection would be presumed); In re Nat'l Intelligence Acad., 190 USPQ 570, 572 (TTAB 1976) (stating NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ACADEMY, for educational and instructional services in intelligence gathering for law enforcement officers, falsely suggests a connection with the United States government since intelligence gathering is a known function of a number of government agencies and “[a] normal outgrowth and development of such activities would be the training of officers in intelligence gathering”); In re Teasdale Packing Co., 137 USPQ 482 (TTAB 1963) (holding U. S. AQUA and design unregistrable under §2(a) on the ground that purchasers of applicant’s canned drinking water would be misled into assuming approval or sponsorship by the United States government in view of the nature of the mark, including a red, white, and blue shield design, and the nature of the goods, the Board noting a program for stocking emergency supplies of water in fallout shelters and the setting of standards for drinking water by United States government agencies).

The record must include evidence showing that the designation in the mark refers to the agency or instrumentality and that the goods or services are such that a connection with that agency or instrumentality would be presumed, particularly when it is not readily apparent that the wording or acronym in the mark refers to the agency or instrumentality. Compare In re Mohawk Air Serv. Inc., 196 USPQ 851, 855 (TTAB 1977) (holding MOHAWK 298, for airplanes, to not falsely suggest a connection with the U.S. Army and the Army’s use of the term “Mohawk” to identify one of its airplanes, since there was no evidence of record that the Army continuously used the term since 1958, that the public was aware of such use, or that the public would associate “Mohawk” named airplanes with the U.S. Army), with In re U.S. Bicentennial Soc’y, 197 USPQ 905, 906-07 (TTAB 1978) (holding U.S. BICENTENNIAL SOCIETY, for ceremonial swords, to falsely suggest a connection with the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission and the United States government, based on applicant’s claims in the specimen of record and the fact that “swords have historically been presented by grateful sovereigns and governments to persons who have been honored by such gifts and that ceremonial swords are on display in the museum at Mt. Vernon”).

Furthermore, the question of the registrability of a mark under §2(a) “is determined in each case by the nature of the goods or services in connection with which the mark is used and the impact of such use on the purchasers of goods or services of this type.” NASA v. Record Chemical Co. Inc., 185 USPQ 563, 568 (TTAB 1975). Thus, the identified goods or services must be scrutinized in the context of the current marketplace to determine whether they are of the type to be offered by United States government agencies and instrumentalities. For instance, if the evidence supports a finding that it is commonplace for government agencies to sell or license the sale of consumer merchandise featuring agency names or acronyms, such as clothing, toys, key chains, and calendars, a false connection with a government agency would be presumed if that agency name or acronym is used in connection with those goods and, therefore, the mark should be refused registration under §2(a).

The examining attorney may contact the Trademark Law Library regarding resource materials relating to government agencies and instrumentalities. The examining attorney may also require the applicant to provide additional information about the mark and/or the goods or services, under Trademark Rule 2.61(b). 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b).

Disclaiming the name of, or acronym for, the United States government agency or instrumentality to which the mark refers generally will not overcome the §2(a) refusal. See TMEP §1213.03(a) regarding unregistrable components of marks. If the applicant is the government agency or instrumentality referenced in the mark, no disclaimer of the name or acronym of the agency or instrumentality is necessary because the agency or instrumentality retains the rights to its name or acronym, unless specifically prohibited by statute. A disclaimer of the relevant portion of the mark is required when (i) the applicant is not the government agency or instrumentality referenced in the mark, (ii) the nature of the goods or services is such that the government agency name or acronym is used in a descriptive manner to describe the identified goods or services, and (iii) the mark does not otherwise establish a false connection with the named government agency or instrumentality. For example, the wording “homeland security” in a mark may refer to the United States government agency responsible for handling terrorist threats on American soil or it may be used descriptively to describe actions taken to protect against terrorist attacks. The appropriateness of disclaiming “homeland security” will depend on examination of the mark as a whole in the context of the goods or services of record.

The §2(a) false connection of a suggestion refusal and the procedures stated above also apply to marks containing names of, and acronyms and terms for, United States government programs (e.g., Medicare), military projects (e.g., BigDog), and quasi-government organizations (e.g., Smithsonian Institution), even if such programs, projects, and organizations are not protected by separate statute.