Be First To File on the Principal Register

Principal Registration has more rights, trying to stop someone from using your unregistered (common law) or pending mark or Supplemental Register mark is difficult. Be The First to File!























First to File Isn’t Just a Patent Issue.

The first to file a trademark application has an advantage as well. It has been implicitly recognized that there is a policy of encouraging prompt registration of marks by rewarding those who first seek registration under the Lanham Act. Weiner King, Inc. v. Wiener King Corp., 615 F.2d 512 (CCPA 1980). Even a weak mark [that was filed first or has the benefit of priority] is entitled to protection against the registration of a very similar mark for closely related goods. See King Candy Co. v. Eunice King's Kitchen, Inc., 496 F.2d 1400, 182 USPQ 108, 109 (CCPA 1974) (likelihood of confusion is to be avoided as much between weak marks as between strong marks).


What is a Refusal Under 2e [15 USC 1052(e)]?

15 U.S.C. § 1052. Trademarks registrable on principal register

No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it —


(e) Consists of a mark which (1) when used on or in connection with the goods of the applicant is merely descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive of them, (2) when used on or in connection with the goods of the applicant is primarily geographically descriptive of them, except as indications of regional origin may be registrable under section 1054 of this title, (3) when used on or in connection with the goods of the applicant is primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive of them, (4) is primarily merely a surname, or (5) comprises any matter that, as a whole, is functional.

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OVERCOMING A MERELY DESCRIPTIVE REFUSAL

Call us at 651-500-7590. We do this all the time and our rates are very reasonable.


3 DIY Strategies For Overcoming Merely Descriptive Refusals

A mark does not have to be totally lacking in meaning (completely non-descriptive) to be registrable, the USPTO trademark examiner may require an applicant to disclaim exclusive rights to part of the mark that is unregistrable rather than refuse the entire mark. See 15 U.S.C. §1056(a) Disclaimer of unregisterable matter.


1. Refusals can be overcome by arguing that the trademarks are suggestive, arbitrary, fanciful  rather than descriptive or merely descriptive.

 2. Refusals (sometimes called rejections) can be overcome by arguing that the trademark or service mark falls into one of the many exceptions to the rules rather than merely descriptive.

3. Overcoming a merely descriptive refusal is also possible when it can be effectively argued that the mark has acquired distinctiveness sufficient to move it to the left (red arrow) in the diagram below. Unfortunately, what would constitute an effective argument is subjective to the facts involved in any particular situation and is not conducive to form answers.


Acquired Distinctiveness (see also Trademark2f.com)

15 U.S.C. § 1052. Trademarks registrable on principal register [(2(f) or 2(f) in part]

No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it —

(f) Except as expressly excluded in subsections (a), (b), (c), (d), (e)(3), and (e)(5) of this section, nothing in this chapter shall prevent the registration of a mark used by the applicant which has become distinctive of the applicant's goods in commerce. The Director may accept as prima facie evidence that the mark has become distinctive, as used on or in connection with the applicant's goods in commerce, proof of substantially exclusive and continuous use thereof as a mark by the applicant in commerce for the five years before the date on which the claim of distinctiveness is made. Nothing in this section shall prevent the registration of a mark which, when used on or in connection with the goods of the applicant, is primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive of them, and which became distinctive of the applicant's goods in commerce before December 8, 1993.



Descriptive Trademark = Narrow Scope of Protection Scenarios

  • A narrow scope of protection translates into Competitor B being able to use a trademark very close to Competitor A and getting away with it even if Competitor A was first. Competitor A has to spend more and more to defend their market (advertising) and name (legal fees). If Competitor A had a stronger mark to begin with, the advertising could be offensive instead of defensive and the defensive legal fees could be avoided and invested in being more innovative or some other long term goal.
  • A narrow scope of protection may mean that USPTO trademark examiners do not refuse new applications from Competitor B and Competitor C that have some similarity to Competitor A. Competitor A has to oppose, cancel or sue in order to defend their rights. (This can be good for the Competitor A attorney’s cash flow to always have some kind of legal proceeding in the works.) Sacrificing investing in growth in order to pay legal fees has long term consequences.
  • A narrow scope of protection may mean that USPTO trademark examiners refuse registration to Competitor A and clearly state the reasons for refusal in the public record for anyone to see. Competitor B has a head start on its defensive strategy if Competitor A ever tries to stop it since the reasons for refusal at the USPTO are derived from federal  statutes, rules, and case law. Merely descriptive matter is supposed to be in the public domain for anyone’s use and a long term strategy  whose foundation stands on a narrow base is easier to topple.



What is the definition of Merely Descriptive?

A mark is merely descriptive under Trademark Act Section 2(e)(1), 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(1), if it describes an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the relevant goods and/or services.  In re Gyulay, 820 F.2d 1216, 3 USPQ2d 1009 (Fed. Cir. 1987);  In re Bed & Breakfast Registry, 791 F.2d 157, 229 USPQ 818 (Fed. Cir. 1986); In re MetPath Inc., 223 USPQ 88 (TTAB 1984); In re Bright-Crest, Ltd., 204 USPQ 591 (TTAB 1979); TMEP §1209.01(b).  A mark that describes an intended user of a product or service is also merely descriptive within the meaning of Section 2(e)(1).  Hunter Publishing Co. v. Caulfield Publishing Ltd., 1 USPQ2d 1996 (TTAB 1986); In re Camel Mfg. Co., Inc., 222 USPQ 1031 (TTAB 1984); In re Gentex Corp., 151 USPQ 435 (TTAB 1966). See Examples of Merely Descriptive Trademarks.

According to the USPTO (see merely descriptive refusals): The two major reasons for not protecting [allowing registration of] descriptive marks are:  (1) to prevent the owner of a mark from inhibiting competition in the sale of particular goods or services; and (2) to avoid the possibility of costly infringement suits brought by the registrant.  This thus enables businesses and competitors to have the freedom to use common descriptive language when merely describing their own goods or services to the public in advertising and marketing materials.  In re Abcor Development Corp., 588 F.2d 811, 200 USPQ 215 (C.C.P.A. 1978); In re Colonial Stores, Inc., 394 F.2d 549, 157 USPQ 382, 383 (C.C.P.A. 1968); Armour & Co. v. Organon Inc., 245 F.2d 495, 114 USPQ 334, 337 (C.C.P.A. 1957); In re Styleclick.com Inc., 58 USPQ2d 1523, 1526-1527 (TTAB 2001); In re Styleclick.com Inc., 57 USPQ2d 1445, 1448 (TTAB 2000).


Is there anything worse than being merely descriptive? Being Generic.

Generic terms are terms that the relevant purchasing public understands primarily as the common or class name for the goods or services.  In re Dial-A-Mattress Operating Corp., 240 F.3d 1341, 57 USPQ2d 1807 (Fed. Cir. 2001); In re American Fertility Society, 188 F.3d 1341, 51 USPQ2d 1832 (Fed. Cir. 1999); In re Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 828 F.2d 1567, 4 USPQ2d 1141 (Fed. Cir. 1987); H. Marvin Ginn Corp. v. Int'l Ass'n of Fire Chiefs, Inc., 782 F.2d 987, 228 USPQ 528 (Fed. Cir. 1986).  Generic terms are by definition incapable of indicating a particular source of the goods or services, and cannot be registered as trademarks; doing so “would grant the owner of the mark a monopoly, since a competitor could not describe his goods as what they are.In re Merrill Lynch, 828 F.2d at 1569, 4 USPQ2d at 1142. See Merely Descriptive Refusals for a case where a pro se applicant went from first just being merely descriptive to being generic. Sometimes things get worse when you are not sure how to answer a trademark refusal correctly.


Can my unregistered mark (common law) be merely descriptive or generic?

Yes, and it may make enforcement difficult. Federal trademark infringement, 15 U.S.C. S 1114, federal unfair competition, 15 U.S.C. S 1125(a)(1)(A), and trademark registration principles are based on the same principles. “To prove either form of Lanham Act violation, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) it has a valid and legally protectable mark; (2) it owns the mark; and (3) the defendant's use of the mark to identify goods or services causes a likelihood of confusion.” A&H Sportswear v. Victoria's Secret Stores, 237 F.3d at 210 (3rd Cir., 2000).

Claims for trademark infringement for registered or unregistered marks require findings that the marks owned by plaintiff are either inherently distinctive [rather than descriptive] or have acquired a secondary meaning and are likely to be confused with defendants' marks by members of the relevant public. Duncan Mcintosh Co. v. Newport Dunes Marina LLC, 324 F.Supp.2d 1083-1084 (C.D. Cal., 2004) quoting Int'l Jensen, 4 F.3d at 823; Vision Sports, 888 F.2d at 613; California Cooler, Inc. v. Loretto Winery, Ltd., 774 F.2d 1451, 1455 (9th Cir.1985).




How can you Avoid Descriptive Trademarks?

Verify Trademark Strength

Two factors affect the overall strength of a trademark: its inherent strength based on the nature of the mark itself  (its inherent potential) and its commercial strength, based on the marketplace recognition value of the mark (how much strength is acquired). See Tea Board of India v. Republic of Tea Inc., 80 USPQ2d 1881, 1899 (TTAB 2006); McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition § 11:83 (4th ed. 2011).


Nature of the mark itself: “The more distinctive a trademark, the greater its strength.” Exxon Corporation v. Texas Motor Exchange of Houston, 628 F.2d 500, 504 (5th Cir.1980).


Nonuse by others: “A strong trademark is one that is rarely used by parties other than the owner of the trademark, while a weak trademark is one that is often used by other parties.” Exxon Corporation v. Texas Motor Exchange of Houston, 628 F.2d 500, 504 (5th Cir.1980).


Weak marks are generally descriptive or suggestive or common words where the use of the mark (acquired commercial strength) has not or does not overcome the mark's intrinsic or inherent shortcomings. Weak marks are often accorded a narrower scope of protection.


Ordinary strength marks that are neither weak nor exceptionally strong are entitled to the same scope of protection as other registered marks of the same character, not to the broader protection which an exceptionally strong or famous mark would merit.


Strong marks or famous marks are given broader protection. Fame would play a dominant role in the likelihood-of-confusion analysis because famous marks enjoy a broad scope of protection. Bose Corp. v. QSC Audio Products Inc., 293 F.3d 1367, 63 USPQ2d 1303, 1305 (Fed. Cir. 2002); Recot Inc. v. M.C. Becton, 214 F.3d 1322, 54 USPQ2d 1894, 1897 (Fed. Cir. 2000); Kenner Parker Toys, Inc. v. Rose Art Industries, Inc., 963 F.2d 350, 22 USPQ2d 1453, 1456 (Fed. Cir. 1992).



Trademark Rights

Principal Register

Supplemental

Register

Common Law

Bring infringement suit in federal court based on the federal registration

YES

YES

NO

Can be used by trademark examiner against future applications of confusing similar marks

YES

YES

NO

Mark is easy to find for search reports

YES

YES

NO

Owner can use ® to symbolize federal registration

YES

YES

NO

Incontestability of mark after 5 years

YES

NO

NO

Statutory presumption of validity

YES

NO

NO

Statutory presumption of ownership

YES

NO

NO

Statutory presumption of distinctiveness or inherently distinctive

YES

NO

NO

Statutory presumption of exclusive right to use the mark in commerce

YES

NO

NO

Can be recorded with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prevent importation of infringing goods

YES

NO

NO

Ability to bring federal criminal charges against traffickers in counterfeits

YES

NO

NO

Use of the U.S. registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries

YES

NO

NO

Overcoming A Merely Descriptive Refusal




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Call 1-651-500-7590 or email WP@NJP.legal for Responses to Office Actions; File or Defend an Opposition or Cancellation; Trademark Searches and Applications; Send or Respond to Cease and Desist Letters.

For more information from Not Just Patents, see our other sites:      

Steps to a Patent    How to Patent An Invention

Should I Get A Trademark or Patent?

Trademark e Search    Strong Trademark     Enforcing Trade Names

Common Law Trademarks  Trademark Goodwill   Abandoned Trademarks

Patentability Evaluation

Chart of Patent vs. Trade Secret

Patent or Trademark Assignments

Trademark Disclaimers   Trademark Dilution     TSDR Status Descriptors

Oppose or Cancel? Examples of Disclaimers  Business Name Cease and Desist

Sample Patent, Trademark & Copyright Inventory Forms

Verify a Trademark  Be First To File    How to Trademark Search

Are You a Content Provider-How to Pick an ID  Specimens: webpages

How to Keep A Trade Secret

State & Federal Trade Secret Laws

Using Slogans (Taglines), Model Numbers as Trademarks

Which format? When Should I  Use Standard Characters?

Shop Rights  What is a Small or Micro Entity?

Patent Drawings

Opposition Pleadings    UDRP Elements    

Oppositions-The Underdog    Misc Changes to TTAB Rules 2017

How To Answer A Trademark Cease and Desist Letter

Converting Provisional to Nonprovisional Patent Application (or claiming benefit of)

Trademark Refusals    Does not Function as a Mark Refusals

How to Respond to Office Actions

What is a Compact Patent Prosecution?

Acceptable Specimen       Supplemental Register   $199 Statement of Use

How To Show Acquired Distinctiveness Under 2(f)

Patent search-New invention

Patent Search-Non-Obvious

Trademark Attorney for Overcoming Office Actions Functional Trademarks   How to Trademark     

What Does ‘Use in Commerce’ Mean?    

Grounds for Opposition & Cancellation     Cease and Desist Letter

Trademark Incontestability  TTAB Manual (TBMP)

Valid/Invalid Use of Trademarks     Trademark Searching

TTAB/TBMP Discovery Conferences & Stipulations

TBMP 113 Service of TTAB Documents  TBMP 309 Standing

Examples and General Rules for Likelihood of Confusion

USPTO Search Method for Likelihood of Confusion

Examples of Refusals for Likelihood of Confusion   DuPont Factors

What are Dead or Abandoned Trademarks?

 Can I Use An Abandoned Trademark?

Color as Trade Dress  3D Marks as Trade Dress  

Can I Abandon a Trademark During An Opposition?

Differences between TEAS and TEAS plus  

How do I Know If Someone Has Filed for An Extension of Time to Oppose?

Ornamental Refusal  Standard TTAB Protective Order

SCAM Letters Surname Refusal


What Does Published for Opposition Mean?

What to Discuss in the Discovery Conference

Descriptive Trademarks Trademark2e.com  

Likelihood of Confusion 2d

Acquired Distinctiveness  2(f) or 2(f) in part

Merely Descriptive Trademarks  

Merely Descriptive Refusals

ID of Goods and Services see also Headings (list) of International Trademark Classes

Register a Trademark-Step by Step  

Protect Business Goodwill Extension of Time to Oppose

Geographically Descriptive or Deceptive

Change of Address with the TTAB using ESTTA

Likelihood of confusion-Circuit Court tests

Pseudo Marks    How to Reply to Cease and Desist Letter

Not Just Patents Often Represents the Underdog

 Overcome Merely Descriptive Refusal   Overcome Likelihood Confusion

Protecting Trademark Rights (Common Law)

Steps in a Trademark Opposition Process   

Section 2(d) Refusals   FilingforTrademark.com

Zombie Trademark  

What is the Difference between Principal & Supplemental Register?

Typical Brand Name Refusals  What is a Family of Marks? What If Someone Files An Opposition Against My Trademark?

How to Respond Office Actions  

DIY Overcoming Descriptive Refusals

Trademark Steps Trademark Registration Answers TESS  

Trademark Searching Using TESS  Trademark Search Tips

Trademark Clearance Search   DIY Trademark Strategies

Published for Opposition     What is Discoverable in a TTAB Proceeding?

Counterclaims and Affirmative Defenses


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