Monday, December 02, 2019

Precedential No. 33: Another Failure-to-Function Refusal

In yet another in a stream of failure-to-function decisions, the Board affirmed refusals to register the word+design marks shown immediately below, for "crabmeat," on the ground that the proposed marks fail to function as a trademarks under Sections 1, 2, and 45 of the Lanham Act. The Board also affirmed refusals based on applicant's failure to comply with a Rule 2.61(b)r equirement to provide information about the identified goods . In re Ocean Technology, Inc., 2019 USPQ2d 450686 (TTAB 2019) [precedential] (Opinion by Judge Cindy B. Greenbaum).

Rule 2.61(b) Refusals: Examining Attorney Cameron McBride requested information and documents in order to determine whether applicant's goods were in fact all natural, 100% real Callinectes crabmeat from North America: i.e., whether the proposed marks are deceptive under Section 2(a), or alternatively deceptively misdescriptive under Section 2(e)(1). The Board found these requests to be "reasonably necessary to the proper examination of the applications, as stated in Trademark Rule 2.61(b)," And so the Board affirmed these refusals, noting that applicant’s failure to comply with the Rule 2.61(b) requirements "is a sufficient basis, in itself, for affirming the refusals to register Applicant’s proposed marks." Nonetheless, the Board went on to consider the failure-to-function refusals.

Failure-to-Function: A failure-to-function refusal is based on a determination as to how the proposed mark would be perceived by the relevant public. In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d 1227, 1229 (TTAB 2010); In re Aerospace Optics, Inc., 78 USPQ2d 1861, 1862 (TTAB 2006). To make that assessment, the Board looks at the specimens of use and other evidence showing how the terms are actually used in the marketplace. In re Hulting, 107 USPQ2d 1175, 1177 (TTAB 2013) (quoting Eagle Crest, 96 USPQ2d at 1229). "The more commonly a [term or expression] is used, the less likely that the public will use it to identify only one source and the less likely that it will be recognized by purchasers as a trademark." Id.

The examining attorney contended that the proposed mark would not be perceived as a source indicator because it is "presented in an informational manner and consists of terms that are commonly used in Applicant’s trade or industry to denote the purity, quality and ingredients of crabmeat and other food products." She provided evidence of third-party use of "the same or essentially synonymous terms to inform purchasers of the quality and ingredients of the products."

The Board found that the minimal stylization of the wording in the proposed mark does not create a commercial impression separate from the words themselves, and the photographic depiction of a crab merely reinforces the informational nature of the wording. Moreover, the Board agreed with the examining attorney that proposed marks, as displayed on the specimen of use, "just convey[] the contents of the package to consumers, and do[] not show any indication of source that may be perceived by the general public."

The specimen displays the proposed mark on the side of the product container in a manner that simply informs purchasers that the package contains all-natural, gourmet, pasteurized crabmeat (from North America, as to application Serial No. 87405233). Nothing in the combination of wording, carriers, font and crab design in the proposed marks . . . results in a registrable composite. Rather, this evidence supports a finding that the proposed marks, as a whole, fail to function as a trademark for the identified goods.

Ocean Technology attempted to overcome this refusal by amending to the Supplemental Register, by claiming acquired distinctiveness, and by asserting inherent distinctiveness. However, the Board pointed out, matter that does not indicate source cannot be registered because it does not meet the statutory definition of a mark. See Sections 1, 2, and 45 of the Lanham Act; In re Boston Beer Co., L.P., 198 F.3d 1370, 53 USPQ2d 1056, 1058 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (THE BEST BEER IN AMERICA “is so highly laudatory and descriptive of the qualities of its product that the slogan does not and could not function as a trademark” and is incapable of acquiring distinctiveness under Section 2(f)); Water Gremlin, 208 USPQ at 90 (“Appellant's asserted intention to adopt the package design to indicate source may well be true, but intent or lack of intent at the time is not controlling. Nor is proof that a particular container actually functions as a means of indication of source to some purchasers. Not all designs or words which in fact indicate or come to indicate source will be restricted in use to a single merchant.”) (emphasis added by the Board).

The Board then considered four declarations submitted by applicant - not as proof of distinctiveness, but only on the issue of whether the proposed mark functions as a trademark - but found the declarations to be of limited probative value because, among other reasons, they did not reflect the viewpoint of ordinary consumers.

In conclusion, the Board found that the proposed marks would not be perceived as identifying a particular source.

While we have given careful consideration to Applicant’s evidence of alleged consumer perception (i.e., the four declarations) solely to determine whether the proposed marks function as trademarks, the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate that the relevant consumers recognize the proposed marks as indicating the source of the identified goods rather than as merely informational. See Eagle Crest, 96 USPQ2d at 1229. Accordingly, Applicant’s proposed marks fail to function as trademarks for Applicant’s goods.

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Text Copyright John L. Welch 2019.


At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Board's failure-to-function reasoning is utterly incoherent. The Board writes, "The standard for a failure to function refusal is . . . whether the relevant public will recognize it as a trademark identifying only one source" and "matter that does not indicate the source or origin of the identified goods and distinguish them from those of others cannot be registered because it does not meet the statutory definition of a trademark. See Sections 1, 2 and 45 of the Trademark Act. This is so regardless of the register on which registration is sought (i.e., Principal or Supplemental), or a claim of acquired distinctiveness."

This makes no sense. According to the Board, it cannot consider evidence of acquired distinctiveness because the matter "does not indicate the source or origin of the identified goods and distinguish them from those of others," but that begs the question! The whole point of acquired distinctiveness is to demonstrate that matter that is not inherently distinctive does in fact perform the function of a trademark, i.e., to identify and distinguish one's goods from the goods of others. In short, if acquired distinctiveness is shown, then the asserted mark does in fact perform the function of a trademark.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Reconsideration and Appeal make sense since the Board does not address Applicant's 2(f) prior registration claim for a nominally different version -- identical crab design and primary wording ALL NATURAL, with the differences being replaced generic/descriptive wording. The mark in the subject application is a re-fresh of the existing registered mark. This original registration was obtained with the same number or maybe 1 more acquired distinctiveness industry rep declarations. The Board rejects the industry recognition of this refreshed mark/brand. Applicant has pending applications that it recognizes may well need need more declaration evidence.


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