TMEP 1209.02(a)(ii): Assertion of §2(f) in Response to Office Action

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1209.02(a)(ii)    Assertion of §2(f) in Response to Office Action

If the applicant responds to a §2(e)(1) descriptiveness refusal by amending its application to assert acquired distinctiveness under §2(f), this also raises a new issue. See TMEP §§714.05(a)(i) and 1212.02(h). If the examining attorney determines that the designation is a generic name for the applicant’s goods or services, the examining attorney must issue a new nonfinal action refusing registration under §2(e)(1) on the basis that the mark is generic and stating that the claim of acquired distinctiveness is insufficient to overcome the refusal. The examining attorney must also maintain and continue, in the alternative, the refusal under §2(e)(1) that the mark is merely descriptive and must separately explain why the showing of acquired distinctiveness is insufficient to overcome the descriptiveness refusal even if the mark is ultimately deemed not to be generic. As the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board noted in In re Women’s Publ'g Co. Inc., 23 USPQ2d 1876, 1877 n.2 (TTAB 1992):

The Examining Attorney’s refusal that applicant’s mark is “so highly descriptive that it is incapable of acting as a trademark” is not technically a statutory ground of refusal. Where an applicant seeks registration on the Principal Register, the Examining Attorney may refuse registration under Section 2(e)(1) of the Act, 15 USC 1052(e)(1), on the basis that the mark sought to be registered is generic. See, e.g., In re Northland Aluminum Products Inc., 777 F.2d 1556, 227 USPQ 961, 962 (Fed. Cir. 1985), Weiss Noodle Co. v. Golden Cracknel & Specialty Co., 290 F.2d 845, 129 USPQ 411, 413 (C.C.P.A. 1961), In re Deutsche Airbus GmbH, 224 USPQ 611 (TTAB 1984) and Conde Nast Publ'ns Inc. v. Redbook Publ'g Co., 217 USPQ 356, 360 (TTAB 1983). Alternatively, an Examining Attorney may refuse registration under the same section if he or she believes that the mark is merely descriptive and that applicant’s showing of acquired distinctiveness is unpersuasive of registrability.

If the examining attorney fails to separately address the sufficiency of the §2(f) evidence, this may be treated as a concession that the evidence would be sufficient to establish distinctiveness if the mark is ultimately found not to be generic. See In re Country Music Ass’n, 100 USPQ2d 1824, 1834 (TTAB 2011) (interpreting the examining attorney’s silence on the sufficiency of the evidence submitted in support of applicant’s claim of acquired distinctiveness “as a concession that, if the term is not generic, the record evidence is sufficient to show acquired distinctiveness under Section 2(f)”). Compare In re Dietrich, 91 USPQ2d 1622, 1625 (TTAB 2009), in which the Board held that an examining attorney had “effectively conceded that, assuming the mark is not functional, applicant’s evidence is sufficient to establish that the mark had acquired distinctiveness,” where the examining attorney rejected the applicant’s §2(f) claim on the ground that applicant’s bicycle wheel configuration was functional and thus unregistrable even under §2(f), but did not specifically address the sufficiency of the §2(f) evidence or the question of whether the mark would be registrable under §2(f) if it were ultimately found to be nonfunctional.

Therefore, the descriptiveness refusal must be maintained, in the alternative, in the event that the mark is ultimately determined not to be generic. See TMEP §§1212–1212.10 regarding distinctiveness under §2(f), and TMEP §1212.02(i) regarding assertion of §2(f) claims with respect to generic matter. See, e.g., In re Candy Bouquet Int’l Inc., 73 USPQ2d 1883 (TTAB 2004); In re Am. Acad. of Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, 64 USPQ2d 1748 (TTAB 2002); In re A La Vieille Russie Inc., 60 USPQ2d 1895 (TTAB 2001).