TMEP 1209.04: Deceptively Misdescriptive Marks

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1209.04    Deceptively Misdescriptive Marks

Section 2(e)(1) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(1), also prohibits registration of designations that are deceptively misdescriptive of the goods or services to which they are applied. The examining attorney must consider the mark in relation to the applicant’s goods or services to determine whether a mark is deceptively misdescriptive.

The examining attorney must first determine whether a term is misdescriptive as applied to the goods or services. A term that conveys an immediate idea of an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, or feature of the goods or services with which it is used is merely descriptive. See TMEP §1209.01(b). If a term immediately conveys such an idea but the idea is false, although plausible, then the term is deceptively misdescriptive and is unregistrable under §2(e)(1). See In re AOP LLC, 107 USPQ2d 1644 (TTAB 2013) (AOP deceptive, deceptively misdescriptive, or, alternatively, merely descriptive for wine, after the applicant failed to fully respond to the examining attorney’s inquiries regarding the origin and certification of applicant’s goods); In re Woodward & Lothrop Inc., 4 USPQ2d 1412 (TTAB 1987) (CAMEO deceptively misdescriptive of jewelry); In re Ox-Yoke Originals, Inc., 222 USPQ 352 (TTAB 1983) (G.I. deceptively misdescriptive of gun cleaning patches, rods, brushes, solvents, and oils); see also In re Hinton, 116 USPQ2d 1051, 1055 (TTAB 2015) (finding that the misdescription presented by the mark THCTEA is plausible and would be highly relevant to a consumer’s purchasing decision); In re Shniberg, 79 USPQ2d 1309, 1311 (TTAB 2006) (“[T]he misdescription must concern a feature that would be relevant to a purchasing decision.”).

The Trademark Act does not prohibit the registration of misdescriptive terms unless they are deceptively misdescriptive, that is, unless persons who encounter the mark, as used on or in connection with the goods or services in question, are likely to believe the misrepresentation. See Binney & Smith Inc. v. Magic Marker Indus., Inc., 222 USPQ 1003 (TTAB 1984) (LIQUID CRAYON held neither common descriptive name, nor merely descriptive, nor deceptively misdescriptive of coloring kits or markers).

As explained in the case of In re Quady Winery Inc., 221 USPQ 1213, 1214 (TTAB 1984):

The test for deceptive misdescriptiveness has two parts. First we must determine if the matter sought to be registered misdescribes the goods. If so, then we must ask if it is also deceptive, that is, if anyone is likely to believe the misrepresentation. Gold Seal Co. v. Weeks, 129 F. Supp. 928 (D.D.C. 1955), aff’d sub nom. S.C. Johnson & Son v. Gold Seal Co., 230 F.2d 832 (D.C. Cir.) (per curiam), cert. denied, 352 U.S. 829 (1956), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 2001 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 86 USPQ2d 1527, 1532 (D.C. Cir. 2008). A third question, used to distinguish between marks that are deceptive under Section 2(a) and marks that are deceptively misdescriptive under Section 2(e)(1), is whether the misrepresentation would materially affect the decision to purchase the goods. Cf. In re House of Windsor, Inc., 221 USPQ 53 (TTAB 1983).

Thus, if the identification of goods/services does not include the wording in the mark, the examining attorney must make of record evidence demonstrating why the mark is misdescriptive. Specifically, the record must show the meaning of the wording at issue and that the identification indicates that the applicant’s goods/services lack the feature or characteristic. Examples of such evidence are dictionary definitions, LexisNexis® articles, Internet websites, advertising material, product information sheets, hang tags, point-of-purchase displays, and trade journals. The applicant’s admission regarding its goods/services may also satisfy the first prong of the test.

The examining attorney must then prove that the description conveyed by the mark is plausible by demonstrating that consumers regularly encounter goods or services that contain the features or characteristics in the mark. For example, to support the believability element as to the mark LOVEE LAMB for seat covers that were not made of lambskin, the examining attorney provided evidence that seat covers can be and are made from lambskin. See In re Budge Mfg. Co. Inc., 857 F.2d 773, 775, 8 USPQ2d 1259, 1260 (Fed. Cir. 1988). Excerpts from a LexisNexis® search for the phrases “organic clothing,” “organic fabric,” “organically grown cotton,” and “organic cotton” were used to prove that consumers were familiar with clothing and textiles from organically grown plants or plants free of chemical processing or treatment. See In re Organik Techs., Inc., 41 USPQ2d 1690, 1693–94 (TTAB 1997). Applicant’s own hang tags, labels, advertising, and product information may also provide evidence of the believability of the misdescription. See In re Shapely, Inc., 231 USPQ 72, 75 (TTAB 1986) (concluding that statements on hangtags can be used to show the materiality of the mispresentation in the purchasing decision); Evans Products Co. v. Boise Cascade Corp., 218 USPQ 160, 164–5 (TTAB 1983) (finding that applicant’s advertising materials and affidavit indicated that it did attempt to “adopt a mark [CEDAR RIDGE] which conveyed the impression of authentic cedar”).

If the misdescription represented by the mark is material to the decision to purchase the goods or use the services, then the mark must be refused registration under §2(a) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(a). See TMEP §1203.02 regarding deceptive marks, TMEP §1203.02(c) regarding the distinction between deceptive marks and deceptively misdescriptive marks, and TMEP §§1203.02(d)–1203.02(d)(ii) regarding determining materiality.

The examining attorney should consider and make of record, or require the applicant to make of record, all available information that shows the presence or absence, and the materiality, of a misrepresentation. See Glendale Int’l Corp. v. United States Patent & Trademark Office, 374 F. Supp. 2d 479, 486, 75 USPQ2d 1139, 1144 (E.D. VA 2005) (TITANIUM deceptively misdescriptive of recreational vehicles that do not contain titanium, where the examining attorney made of record articles which showed that titanium is a lightweight metal, and discussed the use or potential use of titanium in the automotive industry).

The mere fact that the true nature of the goods or services is revealed by other matter on the labels, advertisements, or other materials to which the mark is applied does not preclude a determination that a mark is deceptively misdescriptive. See R. Neumann & Co. v. Overseas Shipments, Inc., 326 F.2d 786, 790, 140 USPQ 276, 279 (C.C.P.A. 1964) (DURA-HYDE held deceptive and deceptively misdescriptive of plastic material of leather-like appearance made into shoes regardless of the presence of tags stating that the material “outwears leather”); In re Shniberg, 79 USPQ2d 1309, 1313 (TTAB 2006) (SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 held deceptively misdescriptive of books and entertainment services which did not in any way cover the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; the fact that the nature of the misdescription would become known after consumers studied applicant’s books and entertainment services does not prevent the mark from being deceptively misdescriptive).

See also In re ALP of South Beach Inc., 79 USPQ2d 1009 (TTAB 2006) (holding that pre-sale deception may occur without a sale taking place based on the deception); Nw. Golf Co. v. Acushnet Co., 226 USPQ 240 (TTAB 1985) (finding deception unlikely given alternative meanings of the mark and that even cursory curiosity on the part of consumers would avoid any potential deception); R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 226 USPQ 169 (TTAB 1985) (NEW LOOK not likely to deceive consumers into believing that “cigarettes” will actually offer anything like a “new look”); and Am. Speech-Language-Hearing Ass’n v. Nat'l Hearing Aid Soc'y, 224 USPQ 798 (TTAB 1984) (CERTIFIED HEARING AID AUDIOLOGIST held deceptive in that it implies the user of the mark is a certified audiologist) regarding the issue of deceptive misdescriptiveness.

Marks that have been refused registration pursuant to §2(e)(1) on the ground of deceptive misdescriptiveness may be registrable under §2(f) upon a showing of acquired distinctiveness, or on the Supplemental Register if appropriate. 15 U.S.C. §§1052(f) and 1091. Similarly, marks that contain registrable matter in addition to deceptively misdescriptive components can be registered with a disclaimer of the deceptively misdescriptive matter, when appropriate. See TMEP §1213.03(a). Marks that are deceptive under §2(a) are not registrable on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register under any circumstances.