TMEP 1211: Refusal on Basis of Surname

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1211    Refusal on Basis of Surname

15 U.S.C. §1052  (Extract)

No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it... (e) Consists of a mark which... (4) is primarily merely a surname.

Under §2(e)(4) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(4), a mark that is primarily merely a surname is not registrable on the Principal Register absent a showing of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f), 15 U.S.C. §1052(f). See TMEP §§1212–1212.10 regarding acquired distinctiveness. Formerly §2(e)(3) of the Act, this section was designated §2(e)(4) when the NAFTA Implementation Act took effect on January 1, 1994. A mark that is primarily merely a surname may be registrable on the Supplemental Register in an application under §1 or §44 of the Trademark Act.

The legislative history of the Trademark Act of 1946 indicates that the word "primarily" was added to the existing statutory language "merely" with the intent to exclude registration of names such as "Johnson" or "Jones," but not registration of names such as "Cotton" or "King" which, while surnames, have a primary significance other than as a surname. See Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Watson, 204 F.2d 32, 33-34, 96 USPQ 360, 362 (D.C. Cir. 1953); Ex parte Rivera Watch Corp., 106 USPQ 145, 149 (Comm'r Pats. 1955).

The Trademark Act, in §2(e)(4), reflects the common law that exclusive rights in a surname per se cannot be established without evidence of long and exclusive use that changes its significance to the public from that of a surname to that of a mark for particular goods or services. The common law also recognizes that surnames are shared by more than one individual, each of whom may have an interest in using his surname in business; and, by the requirement for evidence of distinctiveness, the law, in effect, delays appropriation of exclusive rights in the name. In re Etablissements Darty et Fils, 759 F.2d 15, 17, 225 USPQ 652, 653 (Fed. Cir. 1985).