TMEP 1212.05(b): “Substantially Exclusive and Continuous”

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1212.05(b)    “Substantially Exclusive and Continuous”

The five years of use in commerce does not have to be exclusive, but must be “substantially” exclusive. 15 U.S.C. §1052(f); 37 C.F.R. §2.41(a)(2). This makes allowance for use by others that may be inconsequential or infringing, which does not necessarily invalidate the applicant’s claim. L.D. Kichler Co. v. Davoil, Inc., 192 F.3d 1349, 1352, 52 USPQ2d 1307, 1309 (Fed. Cir. 1999).

The existence of other applications to register the same mark, or other known uses of the mark, does not automatically eliminate the possibility of using this method of proof, but the examining attorney should inquire as to the nature of such use and be satisfied that it is not substantial or does not otherwise nullify the claim of distinctiveness. See Levi Strauss & Co. v. Genesco, Inc., 742 F.2d 1401, 1403, 222 USPQ 939, 940-41 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (“When the record shows that purchasers are confronted with more than one (let alone numerous) independent users of a term or device, an application for registration under Section 2(f) cannot be successful, for distinctiveness on which purchasers may rely is lacking under such circumstances.”); Nextel Commc’ns, Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 91 USPQ2d 1393, 1408 (TTAB 2009) (finding opposer’s contemporaneous use of the mark in connection with services closely related to applicant’s goods rose to the level necessary to rebut applicant’s contention of substantially exclusive use); Target Brands, Inc. v. Hughes, 85 USPQ2d 1676, 1682-83 (TTAB 2007) (finding substantial use of mark by opposer’s parent company and additional use of mark by numerous third parties “seriously undercuts if not nullifies applicant’s claim of acquired distinctiveness.”); Marshall Field & Co. v. Mrs. Fields Cookies, 11 USPQ2d 1355, 1357-58 (TTAB 1989) (“[T]he existence of numerous third party users of a mark, even if junior, might well have a material impact on the Examiner’s decision to accept a party’s claim of distinctiveness.”); Flowers Indus. Inc. v. Interstate Brands Corp., 5 USPQ2d 1580, 1588-89 (TTAB 1987) (“[L]ong and continuous use alone is insufficient to show secondary meaning where the use is not substantially exclusive.”).

The use of the mark during the five years must also be continuous, without a period of “nonuse” or suspension of trade in the goods or services in connection with which the mark is used. 15 U.S.C. §1052(f); 37 C.F.R. §2.41(a)(2).