Friday, November 09, 2007

Precedential No. 62: TTAB Affirms Surname Refusal of "VOSE & SONS" for Pianos

In what we will count as the 62nd precedential decision of 2007, the Board has re-designated as "precedential" its decision in In re Piano Factory Group, Inc., 85 USPQ2d (TTAB 2006) [precedential], wherein the mark VOSE & SONS was deemed to be primarily merely a surname under Section 2(e)(4).

Examining Attorney Esther A. Belenker established a prima facie case under Section 2(e)(4) with the following evidence: a PhoneDisk database search showing 838 separate residential listing for individuals with the surname VOSE; 93 LEXIS/NEXIS stories about people named VOSE; and Internet search results showing thousands of hits for the name VOSE. The Board agreed with the PTO that the addition of the words "& SONS" does not detract from the surname significance of VOSE, but in fact strengthens it.

Applicant advanced two principal arguments: (1) that James Whiting Vose is an historical figure in the field of piano-making and, like the name SOUSA, the term VOSE would be seen as a reference to that person and not primarily as a surname; and (2) the fact that VOSE & SONS was at one time registered for pianos on the Principal Register demonstrates the registrability of the mark.

As to the historical figure argument, the Board found "no evidence that the name VOSE is, in fact, the name of any widely-known historical figure."

"Decisions concerning historical names generally draw a line between names which are so widely recognized that they are almost exclusively associated with a specific historical figure and are thus not considered primarily a surname *** [e.g., DAVINCI] and names which are only semi-historical in character and thus can be perceived as primarily merely a surname *** [e.g., ROTHSCHILD and McKINLEY]."

As to the prior registration of VOSE & SONS (owned by a different entity), the Board pointed out that this "does not justify registration in light of the substantial evidence herein as to the primary significance of the term 'VOSE' as a surname."

The Board therefore affirmed the refusal to register.

TTABlog comment: As to the historical figure issue, should the Board have focused on whether Mr. Vose is well-known vis-a-vis pianos, rather than well-known generally? See, e.g., the Board's 2004 decision in favor of registrability of MOSCONI for billiard equipment (TTABlogged here), and this year's refusal of WATSON for laboratory software (here).

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2007.


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