TMEP 1211.01: “Primarily Merely a Surname”

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1211.01    “Primarily Merely a Surname”

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 question of whether a term is primarily merely a surname depends on the primary, not the secondary, significance to the purchasing public. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has identified five factors to be considered in making this determination:

In re Benthin Mgmt. GmbH, 37 USPQ2d 1332, 1333-1334 (TTAB 1995). Where the mark is in standard characters, it is unnecessary to consider the fifth factor. In re Yeley, 85 USPQ2d 1150, 1151 (TTAB 2007).

If there is any doubt as to whether a term is primarily merely a surname, the Board will resolve the doubt in favor of the applicant. Yeley, 85 USPQ2d at 1151; Benthin, 37 USPQ2d at 1334.