TMEP 1207.01(b)(viii): Marks Consisting of Multiple Words

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1207.01(b)(viii)    Marks Consisting of Multiple Words

When assessing the likelihood of confusion between compound word marks, although each mark must be considered as a whole, it is appropriate to consider whether a portion of the mark is dominant in creating the mark’s commercial impression. As the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has noted, "in articulating reasons for reaching a conclusion on the issue of confusion, there is nothing improper in stating that, for rational reasons, more or less weight has been given to a particular feature of a mark, provided the ultimate conclusion rests on consideration of the marks in their entireties." In re Nat’l Data Corp., 753 F.2d 1056, 1058, 224 USPQ 749, 750-51 (Fed. Cir. 1985); see also Juice Generation, Inc. v. GS Enters. LLC, 794 F.3d 1334, 1340-41, 115 USPQ2d 1671, 1676 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (noting that "the message of a whole phrase may well not be adequately captured by a dissection and recombination").

Although there is no mechanical test to select a "dominant" element of a compound word mark, consumers would be more likely to perceive a fanciful or arbitrary term, rather than a descriptive or generic term, as the source-indicating feature of the mark. See, e.g., In re Dixie Rests., Inc., 105 F.3d 1405, 1407, 41 USPQ2d 1531, 1533-34 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (affirming TTAB’s finding that "DELTA," not the disclaimed generic term "CAFE," is the dominant portion of the mark THE DELTA CAFE); In re Binion, 93 USPQ2d 1531, 1534 (TTAB 2009) (finding that "BINION’S," not the disclaimed descriptive wording "ROADHOUSE," is the dominant portion of the mark BINION’S ROADHOUSE). Accordingly, if two marks for related goods or services share identical or similar dominant features and the marks, when viewed in their entireties, create similar overall commercial impressions, then confusion is likely. See, e.g., In re Cynosure, Inc., 90 USPQ2d 1644 (TTAB 2009) (holding CYNERGY for medical lasers for, inter alia, treatment of the face and skin, and SYNERGIE PEEL for medical devices for microdermabrasion, likely to cause confusion, noting that "SYNERGIE" is the dominant portion of the cited mark and "PEEL" is insufficient to distinguish the marks); In re J.M. Originals Inc., 6 USPQ2d 1393 (TTAB 1987) (holding JM ORIGINALS (with "ORIGINALS" disclaimed) for various items of apparel, and JM COLLECTABLES for sport shirts, likely to cause confusion).

If the common element of two marks is "weak" in that it is generic, descriptive, or highly suggestive of the named goods or services, it is unlikely that consumers will be confused unless the overall combinations have other commonality. See, e.g., Juice Generation, Inc. v. GS Enters. LLC, 794 F.3d at 1338-40, 115 USPQ2d at 1674-75 (remanded for consideration of whether and to what degree the phrase PEACE & LOVE was suggestive or descriptive in the food-service industry); In re Bed & Breakfast Registry, 791 F.2d 157, 159 229 USPQ 818, 819 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (reversing TTAB’s holding that contemporaneous use of BED & BREAKFAST REGISTRY for making lodging reservations for others in private homes, and BED & BREAKFAST INTERNATIONAL for room booking agency services, is likely to cause confusion, because, inter alia, the descriptive nature of the shared wording weighed against a finding that the marks are confusingly similar); U.S. Shoe Corp. v. Chapman, 229 USPQ 74 (TTAB 1985) (holding COBBLER’S OUTLET for shoes, and CALIFORNIA COBBLERS (in typed and stylized forms) for footwear and women’s shoes, not likely to cause confusion); In re Istituto Sieroterapico E Vaccinogeno, Toscano "SCLAVO" S.p.A., 226 USPQ 1035 (TTAB 1985) (holding ASO QUANTUM (stylized, with "ASO" disclaimed) for diagnostic laboratory reagents, and QUANTUM I for laboratory instruments for analyzing body fluids, not likely to cause confusion); see also TMEP §§1207.01(b)(iii), (b)(ix).

However, while the public may rely more on the nondescriptive portions of marks to distinguish them, "this does not mean that the public looks only at the differences [between the marks], or that descriptive words play no role in creating confusion." Nat’l Data Corp., F.2d at 1060, 224 USPQ at 752.