A frequently asked question in our practice is, can an acronym register at the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) and be protected as a federal trademark? The answer is it depends on the circumstances, but under the right circumstances acronyms as well as abbreviations can function as trademarks. See our web page entitled, Can Abbreviations And Acronyms Be protected Under U.S. Trademark Law, for a summary of the treatment of abbreviations, acronyms, and initialism by the USPTO. A recent case from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board” or the “TTAB”) supports the use of acronyms as trademarks as long as they satisfy the standard enunciated in the case of Modern Optics, Inc. v. Univis Lens Co., 234 F.2d 504, 110 USPQ 293 (CCPA 1956).
See In re Life Cycle Engineering, Inc. Serial No. 85692710 (August 4, 2014) [not precedential], where the Board reversed a refusal of an acronym based on merely descriptiveness. The applicant filed for registration of the acronym RBAM for business management and consultation in the field of engineering and maintenance of industrial, military, and marine equipment in addition to some other related services. The applicant filed a request for reconsideration after the final refusal but that was denied and this appeal followed.
The merely descriptiveness refusal is based on Section 2(e)(1) of the Trademark Act. This section mandates refusal on the Principal Register if the mark immediately conveys information regarding a function, feature, purpose, characteristic, quality, ingredient or use of the goods or services. This determination is a finding of fact and must be based on substantial evidence. An acronym is merely descriptive of the goods and services only if it has become so generally understood by the relevant consumers that it is representative of the descriptive words and it is accepted as substantially synonymous therewith. In other words, a consumer or user of the services when viewing the acronym in connection with the services would recognize it as an abbreviation for the descriptive wording.