TTAB Affirms 2(a) False Association Refusal of SEAL TEAM PHYSICAL TRAINING, INC.
The Board affirmed a Section 2(a) refusal of the mark SEAL TEAM PHYSICAL TRAINING, INC., in the stylized form shown below, for "consulting services in the field of fitness and exercise; physical fitness instruction" [PHYSICAL TRAINING INC. disclaimed], finding that the mark falsely suggests a connection with the Department of the Navy's elite units known as SEAL teams or SEALs. In re Seal Team PTI Incorporated, Serial No. 86420547 (June 30, 2016) [not precedential].
The Board applied its standard, four-part test under Section 2(a). Examining Attorney Mark Sparacino maintained that "SEAL Team" is the name of the Navy's elite units, and has no other recognized meaning. The record demonstrated that "SEAL Team" is a reference to members of special weapons operation and tactical units or teams in the Navy, known as SEAL (Sea-Air-Land) Teams (also known as SEAL, or Navy SEAL).
Applicant feebly contended that the mark does not point to the Navy because the term "Inc." signifies that applicant is not a governmental entity and the word "team" refers to the team-oriented nature of its fitness program. The Board was unimpressed, observing that "the addition of matter to the name of an institution does not avoid the commercial impression that the mark is a close approximation of the institution."
Next, applicant argued that the term "Seal Team" does not uniquely pointing to the Navy, relying on two existing registrations for a logo mark includes the words PADI SEAL TEAM, for diving instruction services, and an associated website. The Board, however, found that this single use was insufficient to defeat "the contrary evidence that there is a unique and unmistakable association of 'SEAL Team' with elite units of the Navy."
As to the third factor, applicant did not dispute that it is not connected with the Navy or its SEAL units.
The fourth factor looks to whether the elite units of the Navy are of such renown that when the mark SEAL TEAM PHYSICAL TRAINING INC. is used with applicant's services, consumers will understand "SEAL Team" as referring to these elite units and that a connection or association with these units will be presumed.
Applicant argued that "no rational person would sign up for physical fitness training with the Applicant under the assumption that he or she is joining the U.S. Navy SEALs or that he or she would actually be trained by active duty SEALS." The Board pointed out, however, that the question is whether consumers would presume a connection with the Navy units.
The Navy offers, as part of its recruiting efforts and outreach program, an athletic and fitness event for the public. It provides SEAL training engagements to athletic clubs, colleges, and universities. Applicant and other companies offer fitness programs using SEAL training methods. Moreover, applicant's website states that applicant was founded by a former Navy SEAL and offers SEAL-type workout by trainers who may be former SEALS.
In view of these recruiting and outreach efforts of the Navy, the public would assume that the Navy has an interest in sponsoring, approving, or supporting activities like applicant's. The Board therefore found that the public would presume a connection between applicant and the SEALS, i.e., that the Navy approves or endorses applicant's services.
The Board therefore concluded that applicant's mark falsely suggests a connection with the Navy's elite SEAL units, and it affirmed the refusal under Section 2(a).
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Text Copyright John L. Welch 2016.