Articles Tagged with Geographically Descriptive Trademarks

In a recently issued Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB” or the “Board”) decision, we are reminded that using a geographically descriptive term in a trademark may risk a refusal by the Examining Attorney and the Board could affirm the refusal. See In re National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, Inc.Serial No. 87228944 (September 14, 2018) [not precedential], where the applicant in an effort to reverse the Examining Attorney’s refusal put forth several losing arguments to the Board. A mark is merely descriptive under Section 2(e)(2) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(2) when it immediately conveys information concerning a feature, purpose, function, characteristic, quality or ingredient of the goods or services. In re Engineering Systems Corp., 2 USPQ2d 1075 (TTAB 1986). The test is once a consumer knows what the product or service is, will the trademark convey information about the goods or services. A mark will also be considered merely descriptive if it describes the types of consumers or the uses of the goods or services.

The Examining Attorney must establish the following elements:

(1) the primary significance of the term in the mark is the name of a place generally known to the public;

(2) the source of the goods and/or services is the place named in the mark; and

(3) the public would make an association between the goods or services and the place named in the mark by believing that the goods or services originate in that place.

A public association will be presumed if there is no dispute about the geographic significance being the primary significance and the goods or services originate from the geographic place named in the mark, and if the geographic location is neither obscure nor remote. To learn more about descriptive marks, see our web page entitled, Trademark Application Refusal Based On Descriptiveness or Deceptiveness. The test for geographically misdescriptive marks is similar to the test above. The primary significance of the mark must be a known geographic location, the goods or services do not originate from the place named in the mark, but purchasers are likely to believe they would, and this fact is a material consideration when deciding to buy the goods or services. See the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure Section 1210.01(b).

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In a recent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB” or the “Board”) decision issued on October 13, 2017, the TTAB rejected the Applicant’s claim of acquired distinctiveness. See John Edward Guzman d/b/a Club Ed Surf School and Camp v. The New Santa Cruz Surf School, LLC, Opposition No.912208843 (October 13, 2017) [not precedential]. The New Santa Cruz Surf School, LLC (“Applicant”) filed an application with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”) for the mark SANTA CRUZ SURF SCHOOL in standard characters. Applicant sought to register the mark on the Principal Register under Section 2(f) of the Trademark Act (claiming acquired distinctiveness). Applicant was providing surfing lessons under the mark. In addition, the Applicant applied to use the mark for a website that provided information on surfing.

If a mark is not inherently distinctive, an applicant may be able to show that the mark has developed distinctiveness or secondary meaning through evidence submitted to the USPTO. See our web page entitled, What Is Acquired Distinctiveness & Secondary Meaning?, and review the three types of evidence that may be submitted to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness. In the case at bar, Applicant was claiming it used the mark in commerce for five years. Applicant was required to disclaim the term “Surf School” being that it was generic for its services. That being the case, the only remaining element of the mark is a geographically descriptive term. Santa Cruz is a city in California. The only option for registering this mark on the Principal Register would be to prove acquired distinctiveness. For the differences between the Principal and Supplemental Register, see our web page entitled, Filing Your Trademark On The Principal and Supplemental Register

A competitor of the Applicant, Club Ed Surf School, (“Opposer”) filed a Notice of Opposition. The Opposer claimed the mark SANTA CRUZ SURF SCHOOL was geographically descriptive and that the Applicant’s use was not substantially exclusive and continuous over the five year period. In addition, the Opposer claimed that the mark, SANTA CRUZ SURF SCHOOL was generic. The Board reviewed the evidence submitted on the generic claim first and concluded that the Opposer failed to meet its burden and dismissed the claim.

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