Monday, February 04, 2008

"AMERICAN MASALA" Geographically Descriptive of Food Products, Says TTAB

The TTAB found unsatisfactory the recipe offered by author and Chef Suvir Saran for registration of the mark AMERICAN MASALA for various food items and for restaurant services [MASALA disclaimed]. The Board affirmed the PTO's Section 2(e)(2) refusal because the mark is primarily geographically descriptive. In re Saran, Serial No. 78713958 (January 18, 2008) [not precedential].

The Board first found that the primary significance of AMERICAN MASALA "is that of a generally known geographic place, i.e., the United States of America." Applicant translated the word MASALA to mean "spice," and the PTO submitted dictionary evidence defining "masala" as a mixture of spices used in Indian cookery. The Board therefore deemed MASALA to be generic for certain of Applicant's goods (spices, spice blends, food flavorings, seasonings, curry powder) and at least merely descriptive of restaurant services, which presumably include restaurants serving Indian dishes featuring masala.

The composite AMERICAN MASALA would be perceived primarily as the place of origin of Applicant's goods: masala in or from America.

Applicant argued that AMERICAN MASALA "creates a popular, separate, non-geographic meaning," because "masala" has meanings other than a mixture of spices: i.e., a connotation of "Indian culture." e.g., the blending of Indian art, entertainment, literature and cuisine. So AMERICAN MASALA primarily denotes "the unique blend of the American and Indian cultures."

The Board, however, found Applicant's evidence to be insufficient to prove that the American public would understand "masala" to refer to Indian culture generally, rather than to "its obvious and primary culinary significance." As applied to Applicant goods, the primary significance of AMERICAN MASALA would be geographic.

Suvir Saran

Since Applicant is located in New York City, which is located in America, and because America is neither remote nor obscure, a goods/place association may be presumed.

Therefore, the Board affirmed the 2(e)(2) refusal.

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2008.


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