Monday, October 23, 2017

Is This Trademark Application for ALMOND BUTTER Merely Descriptive or Generic? Not So Fast...

As I've blogged about before, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will not register (on the Principal Register at least) trademarks that are merely descriptive without a showing of acquired distinctiveness in the marketplace. 15 USC 1052(e)(1). Merely descriptive trademarks describe "an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose, or use of the specified goods or services" and the law prefers that these descriptive designations remain free for all to use, at least until the relevant consuming public starts to associate that designation with a particular product or service. TMEP 1209.01(b). Generic terms, which are primarily understood to be the common or class name for particular goods or services, are never registerable as trademarks. TMEP 1209.01(c).
So will the USPTO register the mark ALMOND BUTTER (standard characters) filed by Slippery Squid, LLC on October 18, 2017? It's a descriptive, or possibly even generic, word combination, right? Not so fast. It all depends on the underlying goods or services, which in this case are described as "Audio recording and production; Entertainment services in the nature of live musical performances; Music publishing services; Presentation of musical performances; Production of sound and music video recordings." Is ALMOND BUTTER descriptive or generic for audio recording, music publishing, and music performances? Probably not (unless maybe the music is about almond butter).

In this case, ALMOND BUTTER is likely an arbitrary trademark because it has nothing to do with the underlying music services. Arbitrary trademarks "comprise words that are in common linguistic use but, when used to identify particular goods or services, do not suggest or describe a significant ingredient, quality, or characteristic of the goods or services." TMEP 1209.01(a). APPLE for computers is a good example of an arbitrary trademark. Arbitrary marks are much stronger than descriptive trademarks and therefore typically enjoy a greater degree of protection. Such marks can also be registered on the Principal Register without a showing of acquired distinctiveness.

This ALMOND BUTTER application is a good example of two important trademark concepts - (1) merely descriptive trademarks are weak, more difficult to register, and should be avoided, if possible and (2) the underlying goods and services play an important role in determining a trademark's strength (use of a word on some goods may be generic while use of the same word on other goods may be arbitrary).

In sum, had this application covered "almond butter" rather than music services, the applicant would have been in trouble. However, because the underlying services [probably] have nothing to do with almond butter, the risk of a refusal for being generic or descriptive is probably not likely (although there are several other issues that could prevent registration, such as creating a likelihood of confusion with a mark in a previously filed application or registration).

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