5 Functionality

Overcoming A Functionality Refusal

Overcoming a functionality refusal can depend on disproving the Morton-Norwich factors. Each individual trademark will have its own set of facts that are applicable, there is no standard response.

TMEP 1202.02(a)(v) Evidence and Considerations Regarding Functionality Determinations A determination of functionality normally involves consideration of one or more of the following factors, commonly known as the “ Morton-Norwich factors”: (1) the existence of a utility patent that discloses the utilitarian advantages of the design sought to be registered; (2) advertising by the applicant that touts the utilitarian advantages of the design; (3) facts pertaining to the availability of alternative designs; and (4) facts pertaining to whether the design results from a comparatively simple or inexpensive method of manufacture. In re Becton, Dickinson & Co., 675 F.3d 1368, 1374-75, 102 USPQ2d 1372, 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2012); In re Morton-Norwich Prods., Inc., 671 F.2d 1332, 1340-1341, 213 USPQ 9, 15-16 (C.C.P.A. 1982).


Excerpts from TMEP 1202

 TMEP 1202 is a very long section of the TMEP dealing with Functionality. The whole section can be found at FunctionAsAMark.com. Below are a few excerpts.

One basic reason for not allowing ‘functional’ trademarks is to separate patent and trademark law into their relevant types of protection. Patents have terms and then become part of the public domain while trademark can last indefinitely. Giving protection to and allowing a functional trademark to last indefinitely would circumvent patent law and would harm the public by using a type of monopoly to keep useful invention out of the public domain.


TMEP 1202.02 Registration of Trade Dress

Trade dress constitutes a “symbol” or “device” within the meaning of §2 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 209-210, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1065-66 (2000). Trade dress originally included only the packaging or “dressing” of a product, but in recent years has been expanded to encompass the design of a product. It is usually defined as the “total image and overall appearance” of a product, or the totality of the elements, and “may include features such as size, shape, color or color combinations, texture, graphics.” Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763, 764 n.1, 23 USPQ2d 1081, 1082 n.1 (1992).

Thus, trade dress includes the design of a product (i.e., the product shape or configuration), the packaging in which a product is sold (i.e., the “dressing” of a product), the color of a product or of the packaging in which a product is sold, and the flavor of a product. Wal-Mart., 529 U.S. at 205, 54 USPQ2d at 1065 (design of children’s outfits constitutes product design); Two Pesos, 505 U.S. at 763, 23 USPQ2d at 1081 (interior of a restaurant is akin to product packaging); Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 34 USPQ2d 1161 (1995) (color alone may be protectible); In re N.V. Organon, 79 USPQ2d 1639 (TTAB 2006) (flavor is analogous to product design and may be protectible unless it is functional). However, this is not an exhaustive list, because “almost anything at all that is capable of carrying meaning” may be used as a “symbol” or “device” and constitute trade dress that identifies the source or origin of a product. Qualitex, 514 U.S. at 162, 34 USPQ2d at 1162. When it is difficult to determine whether the proposed mark is product packaging or product design, such “ambiguous” trade dress is treated as product design. Wal-Mart, 529 U.S. at 215, 54 USPQ2d at 1066. Trade dress marks may be used in connection with goods and services.


TMEP 1202.02(a) Functionality

In general terms, trade dress is functional, and cannot serve as a trademark, if a feature of that trade dress is “essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article.” Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prodts. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 165, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1163-64 (1995) (quoting Inwood Labs., Inc. v. Ives Labs., Inc., 456 U.S. 844, 850, n.10, 214 USPQ 1, 4, n.10 (1982)).


TMEP 1202.02(a)(ii) Purpose of Functionality Doctrine

The functionality doctrine, which prohibits registration of functional product features, is intended to encourage legitimate competition by maintaining a proper balance between trademark law and patent law. As the Supreme Court explained, in Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 164-165, 34 USPQ2d 1161, 1163 (1995):

The functionality doctrine prevents trademark law, which seeks to promote competition by protecting a firm’s reputation, from instead inhibiting legitimate competition by allowing a producer to control a useful product feature. It is the province of patent law, not trademark law, to encourage invention by granting inventors a monopoly over new product designs or functions for a limited time, 35 U.S.C. Sections 154, 173, after which competitors are free to use the innovation. If a product’s functional features could be used as trademarks, however, a monopoly over such features could be obtained without regard to whether they qualify as patents and could be extended forever (because trademarks may be renewed in perpetuity).

In other words, the functionality doctrine ensures that protection for utilitarian product features be properly sought through a limited-duration utility patent, and not through the potentially unlimited protection of a trademark registration. Upon expiration of a utility patent, the invention covered by the patent enters the public domain, and the functional features disclosed in the patent may then be copied by others – thus encouraging advances in product design and manufacture. In TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Mktg. Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23, 34-35, 58 USPQ2d 1001, 1007 (2001), the Supreme Court reiterated this rationale, also noting that the functionality doctrine is not affected by evidence of acquired distinctiveness.



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