1213.01(c) Voluntary Disclaimer of Registrable or Unregistrable Matter
Section 6(a) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1056(a), was amended in 1962 to add the sentence, “An applicant may voluntarily disclaim a component of a mark sought to be registered.” Disclaimers volunteered by applicants generally should conform to the guidelines set forth in this Manual. See TMEP §§1213.08–1213.08(d).
In In re MCI Commc’ns Corp., 21 USPQ2d 1534 (Comm’r Pats. 1991), the Commissioner held that §6(a) of the Act permits an applicant to disclaim matter voluntarily, regardless of whether the matter is registrable or unregistrable. The Commissioner specifically overruled all previous USPTO authority holding otherwise. Id. at 1539. (Previous practice prohibited the entry of disclaimers of registrable components of marks.) Therefore, if an applicant offers a disclaimer of any matter in a mark, the USPTO will accept the disclaimer.
The MCI decision states emphatically that the entry of a voluntary disclaimer does not render registrable a mark that is otherwise unregistrable under relevant sections of the Trademark Act, such as §2(d) or §2(e). Id. at 1538. The examining attorney must evaluate the entire mark, including any disclaimed matter, to determine registrability. Id. See In re RSI Sys., LLC, 88 USPQ2d 1445, 1448 (TTAB 2008) (finding voluntary disclaimer of “RSI” has no legal effect on the issue of likelihood of confusion because it is not a weak term). Furthermore, the MCI decision states that the applicant may not disclaim the entire mark. MCI, 21 USPQ2d at 1538. See TMEP §1213.06.
An applicant may volunteer a disclaimer in the mistaken belief that a disclaimer would be required when, in fact, USPTO policy would not require a disclaimer. If this appears to be the case, the examining attorney must offer the applicant the opportunity to withdraw the disclaimer.
If it is necessary to communicate with the applicant about another matter, the examining attorney must state in the Office action that the disclaimer appears to be unnecessary, and inquire as to whether the applicant wants to withdraw the disclaimer. If the applicant does not respond to the inquiry regarding the unnecessary disclaimer, and the application is otherwise in condition for final action or approval for publication for opposition or registration, the examining attorney must enter a Note to the File regarding the disclaimer and issue the final action or approve the application for publication for opposition or registration, as appropriate, without deleting the disclaimer.
In applications under §1 or §44, if it is otherwise unnecessary to issue a first Office action, the inquiry may be made by telephone or e-mail. If the applicant wants to delete the disclaimer, this may be done by examiner’s amendment. If the applicant does not respond promptly to the telephone or e-mail message (applicant should be given at least a week), the examining attorney must enter an appropriate Note to the File and approve the application for publication for opposition or registration without deleting the disclaimer.
In applications under §66(a), if it is otherwise unnecessary to issue a first Office action, the examining attorney should issue a “no-call” Examiner’s Amendment informing the applicant that the disclaimer appears to be unnecessary and inquiring as to whether the applicant wants to withdraw the disclaimer. (This is meant only to provide information to the applicant and does not “amend” the application. An examiner’s amendment may not be issued as a first Office action because the IB will not accept such amendments.) The examining attorney should then approve the application for publication for opposition without deleting the disclaimer. It is not necessary to wait for the applicant to respond.