Monday, January 29, 2007

Out on a Limb? TTAB Says "GREEN BRANCH" Not Merely Descriptive of Banking Services

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "GREEN BRANCH" in connection with banking services? A tree limb? An environmentally-friendly bank building? A cash-only bank? In any case, the Board found the mark GREEN BRANCH not to be merely descriptive of banking, financial, investment, and insurance services, and therefore it reversed the PTO's Section 2(e)(1) refusal to register. In re PNC Bank, N.A., Serial No. 78492942 (January 16, 2007) [not precedential].

The Examining Attorney contended that the mark describes financial and banking service offered in branches that have environmentally-friendly features. She pointed to Applicant's own press release "referencing 'green branch' in connection with environmentally friendly buildings," to dictionary definitions of "green," and to a newspaper article using the terms "green branch," "green offices," and "green bank branches" in referring to Applicant PNC.

PNC argued that the term GREEN BRANCH has a wide range of "potential meanings" and that its identified services "do not imply or suggest environmental protection."

The Board recognized that "the line between descriptive and suggestive marks in not clear," and that this determination may "require the drawing of fine lines similar to making distinctions among shades of gray." Of course, doubts are to be resolved in Applicant's favor.

The Board came down on PNC's side, deeming the mark suggestive rather than merely descriptive:

"Applicant's mark GREEN BRANCH does not evoke an immediate association with financial and banking services because such services are not generally associated with environmentally friendly or ecologically efficient characteristics. The rendering of such services in environmentally friendly or ecologically efficient facilities does not affect the basic principles of the financial and banking business. In so far as the record in this case shows, the placement of applicant's financial and banking services in the environmentally friendly buildings, rather than traditional buildings, serves no particular purpose in the performance of those activities."

The Board ruled that "some level of thought is necessary to make a connection between the mark and the services," and the connection between the mark GREEN BRANCH and banking services "is too indirect or remote to find the mark merely descriptive."

So the Board reversed the refusal.

TTABlog comment: Perhaps I am not the most objective observer, having just bought a Toyota Prius and thus being particularly sensitive to environmental issues at the moment. But it seems to me that use of the term GREEN BRANCH for banking facilities is meant to be descriptive of the bank's services, so that the bank can attract customers like me. The fact that the "basic principles of the financial and banking businesses" are not affected by the type of facility is hardly the point. Shouldn't every bank be able to use this term when it provides environmentally-friendly facilities?

I question whether customers really think of verdant foliage when encountering the phrase GREEN BRANCH used by a bank to promote its services. Maybe I'm the one out on the limb, but a little birdie tells me that the seeds of an opposition or two have been planted here.

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2007.


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