TTAB Refused Registration for Commonplace Phrase That Fails to Function as a Trademark

In order for a word, phrase or other device to operate as a trademark, it must convey to purchasers or potential purchasers a single source of the goods or services in connection with which the mark is used – or, simply put, it must be a “source indicator” for those goods and services.  This is true whether the trademark owner seeks to simply use a mark at common law or to apply for registration of the mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).

In a recent decision, the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB” or “Board”) affirmed the Trademark Office Examining Attorney’s refusal to register the mark DESIGNED, SOURCED, AND BUILT IN THE USA in connection with the following goods:

Class 1:  “a wide variety of chemicals for a wide variety of industrial uses”;

Class 5:  “Hand-sanitizing preparations; disinfectants”;

Class 10:  “Face masks for use by health care providers; surgical masks; human face protectors, namely, transparent face shields for use in the medical and dental fields; sanitary masks for medical wellness purposes; respiratory masks for medical purposes; masks for use by medical personnel”; and

Class 20:  “Freestanding sneeze guards, namely, plastic shields for protection between retail clerks and customers; plastic shields to isolate retail clerks from customers; plastic shields to guard retail clerks against sneezes and coughs of customers; plastic dividers for protection between retail cashiers and customers”.

In re NuGeneration Technologies, LLC, 10 TTABVUE, Ser. No. 88852858, 88866690 (TTAB Apr. 7, 2022) (non-precedential) (appeal consolidated under Ser. No. 88852858); see also application file histories at Ser. Nos. 88/852,858 (Classes 1 and 5, filed March 30, 2020) and 88/866,690 (Classes 10 and 20, filed April 9, 2020).  Both applications were filed on an “intent to use” basis, but Applicant did not submit evidence of any use in commerce for either application.

The Examining Attorney essentially refused registration of the mark DESIGNED, SOURCED, AND BUILT IN THE USA on the grounds that it failed to function as a trademark – in particular because “the wording is merely informational and constitutes a commonplace phrase that is widely used in the marketplace.”  10 TTABVUE 2 (Ser. No. 88/852,858).

In affirming the refusal to register the mark, the Board agreed with the Examiner that the phrase simply conveyed “information to the consumer to support American made goods and services” that also “taps into the American consumer’s desire to purchase products of higher quality and better design, that are durable and sourced locally, ensuring safety & quality at every step of the supply chain.”  Id. at 16-17.

The Board disagreed with the Applicant’s position that the Examiner’s evidence of common usage of separate components of the mark (e.g., “designed in the USA” and “sourced in the USA”) was insufficient to show that the longer phrase, DESIGNED, SOURCED AND BUILT IN THE USA was in “widespread use.” Id. at 14.  In so doing, the Board explained that the evidence of use of these components, spanning multiple industries in connection with varied products, was “sufficient to show a marketing environment where consumers are accustomed to the use of these similar informational phrases by businesses.”  Id.

By way of comparison, the Board pointed to other marks that had been refused registration as commonly-used phrases in business that convey support for an American ideal – and do not operate as an indication of a single source of specific goods or services:

  • GOD BLESS THE USA – Ser. No. 87/168,719 (In re Lee Greenwood, 2020 USPQ2d 11439, at *3 (TTAB 2020) (considered simply an “expression of patriotism, affection, or affiliation” with the US))
  • INVESTING IN AMERICAN JOBS – Ser. No. 86/261,962 (In re Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 129 USPQ2d 1148, 1156 (TTAB 2019))
  • PROUDLY MADE IN THE USA, Ser. No. 74/375,437 (In re Remington Prods., 3 USPQ2d 1714, 1715 (TTAB 1987)) *Westlaw account required to access this decision.

Interestingly, the Board relied on the analysis in the 1987 Remington decision for the proposition that, “[i]t is common knowledge that today’s American marketplace has a surplus of foreign-made goods and that American manufacturers are anxious to encourage purchasers to give preference to American products.”  Id. at 16 (quoting In re Remington Prods., at 1715).  Despite the passage of 35 years, this marketplace reality remains the same today.

Refusal to register the phrase DESIGNED, SOURCED AND BUILT IN THE USA was affirmed as “merely informational matter” that would not be perceived “as a source of Applicant’s goods.”  Id. at 17.  Essentially, the Board concluded that this phrase failed to function as a trademark that would allow the “relevant public, i.e., purchasers or potential purchasers of Applicant’s goods” to perceive the phrase as “identifying the source or origin of Applicant’s goods.”  See id. at 5.

Recommended Additional Reading:

  • USPTO’s Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) § 904.07(b) (Whether the Specimen Shows the Applied-for Mark Functioning as a Mark)
  • TMEP § 1202.04 (Informational Matter)
  • TMEP § 1202.17(c) (Failure to Function)
  • TMEP § 1301.02(a) (Matter that Does Not Function as a Service Mark)

New Trademark Fees in Effect on Jan. 2, 2021

On January 2, 2021, the USPTO’s new trademark filing fees went into effect, applicable to trademark application prosecution matters, as well as proceedings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. See prior post, entitled “USPTO Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Revised Trademark Filing Fees,” Privacy and IP Law Blog (June 19, 2020).

Among the notable changes (for electronic filing only*) are the following:

Application Filing Fees

Description Prior Fees New Fees (eff. Jan. 2, 2021)
TEAS Standard Application, per class $ 275 $ 350
TEAS Plus Application (37 C.F.R. §2.22), per class $ 225 $ 250
Application under the Madrid Protocol [15 U.S.C. § 1141f, or “Section 66(a) of the Act”], per class $ 400 $ 500

Maintenance Filing Fees

Description Prior Fees New Fees (eff. Jan. 2, 2021)
§ 8 or § 71 declaration (through TEAS), per class $ 125 $ 225
[NEW] Deleting Goods or Services [or classes] from a registration after submitting a § 8 or § 71 declaration, but before the declaration has been accepted [filing through TEAS, per class] N/A $ 250
[NEW] § 7 amendment before filing a § 8 or § 71 declaration, and only deleting goods, services or classes N/A $ 0 fee
§ 7 Amendment (at any time – for any reason other than simply deleting goods or services or classes) $ 100 $ 100

Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Fees

Description Prior Fees New Fees (eff. Jan. 2, 2021)
Initial 30-day Request for Extension of Time to File a Notice of Opposition, through ESTAA, per class $ 0 $ 0
Initial 90-day or the Second 60-day Request for Extension of Time to File a Notice of Opposition, through ESTAA, per class $ 100 $ 200
Final 60-day Request for Extension of Time to File a Notice of Opposition, through ESTAA, per class $ 200 $ 400
Notice of Opposition through ESTTA, per class $ 400 $ 600
Petition for Cancellation through ESTTA, per class $ 400 $ 600
Ex Parte Appeal to the TTAB through ESTTA, per class $ 200 $ 225
[NEW] Filing a Brief in an Ex Parte Appeal to the TTAB through ESTTA, per class N/A $ 200
[NEW] Initial Request for Extension of Time to File an Appeal Brief in ex parte appeal cases, per class N/A $ 0
[NEW] Second and Subsequent Requests for Extension of Time to File an Appeal Brief in ex parte appeal cases, per class N/A $200
[NEW] Requests for oral hearings, per proceeding N/A $ 500

Miscellaneous Fees

Description Prior Fees New Fees (eff. Jan. 2, 2021)
Petition to the Director under 37 C.F.R. § 2.146 or § 2.147 $ 100 $ 250
[NEW] Petition to the Director under 37 C.F.R. § 2.66 (to revive an abandoned application) N/A $ 150
[NEW] Letter of Protest under 37 C.F.R. § 2.149, per subject application N/A $ 50

* Technically, there are still fees posted for paper filings, but given that the USPTO now mandates electronic filing in all instances (see prior posts), there will only be very narrow instances where these might apply. In the interests of brevity for purposes of this post, we have omitted the paper-filing fees in the charts above. If these are relevant to your situation, you can find the comparison here: https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Trademark-Fees-Current-Final-Unit-Cost-2020.xlsx.

Note also that the list above is not a comprehensive recitation of all of the applicable filing fees for trademark filings with the USPTO or proceedings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. For a complete list, see the USPTO’s Current Trademark Fee Table.

Sources for Additional Information:

Yankees Successfully Oppose Registration of “BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE” Trademark

On February 8, 2013, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (“TTAB”) sustained the opposition filed by the New York Yankees Partnership (“Yankees”) against the registration of “BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE” filed by Evil Enterprises, Inc., on likelihood of confusion grounds and on the ground that the mark falsely suggests a connection with the Yankees baseball team.  New York Yankees Partnership v. Evil Enterprises, Inc., Opp. No. 91192764 at 25 (TTAB Feb. 8, 2013) (non-precedential).  The Yankees did not succeed on its claim that the mark would be disparaging.  Id.

Evil Enterprises (the “Applicant”) filed its application for registration of the mark BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE in connection with clothing (Class 25) on July 7, 2008, alleging a future intent to use the mark in commerce.  On its website, Applicant indicated that the goods would be directed to consumers who were looking for Yankees-related merchandise:  “If you are passionate about the New York Yankees then you have come to the right place.”  Id. at 5.

Record evidence also indicated that the Yankees had come to be known as the “evil empire” over the years, and even played the “ominous music from the soundtrack of the STAR WARS movies at baseball games.”  Id. at 5, 12.  Since being coined by a rival baseball club to refer to the Yankees, the “term EVIL EMPIRE has . . . been taken up by the media, Yankees’ fans, and detractors as a reference to the Yankees.” Id. at 5.

It was because of this implicit adoption of the phrase by the Yankees that the portion of its opposition alleging disparagement was denied.  Id. at 25.

In connection with the claims of likelihood of confusion under § 2(d) and false suggestion of a connection between the applicant’s goods and the Yankees under § 2(a), however, the Yankees’ opposition succeeded.

Likelihood of Confusion (§ 2(d))

In its opposition, the Yankees alleged that the applicant’s mark so resembled the mark “EVIL EMPIRE which has come to be associated with opposer [the Yankees] as to be likely to cause confusion.”  Id. at 8.  The court based its analysis on the du Pont factors, noting that not all of them would be relevant in every case, “and only factors of significance to the particular mark need be considered.”  Id. (citing In re E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 476 F.2d 1357 (C.C.P.A. 1973).

The Yankees, as the Opposer, bore the burden to introduce sufficient facts to allow the fact finder to conclude that confusion, mistake or deception was likely.  Id.at 9 (citations omitted).  Notably, however, the Yankees were not required to actually use the mark in commerce in order to establish their rights to the mark.  All that was required was that the public associate that mark with their goods and services.  Id.  “[T]he public’s adoption of [the mark] to refer to [opposer] is enough to establish trade name and service mark use.”  Id. (quoting Martahus v. Video Duplication Servs., Inc., 3 F.3d 417, 27 U.S.P.Q.2d 1846, 1845 n.9 (Fed. Cir. 1993)).

In support of their position, the Yankees introduced hundreds of news articles, stories and blog entries, as well as admissions by applicant showing that the phase “Evil Empire” had come to be known by the public to refer to the Yankees Ball Club.  Id.at 11.  Applicant even included the following sales pitch on its web site:  “Baseballs Evil Empire takes pride in our merchandise and our great task of alerting all baseball fans and the like to send the message out loud that the Yankees are Baseballs Evil Empire.”  Id. at 12.

The court went on to analyze whether the mark had become famous, the level of similarity between the goods, channels of trade and classes of consumers, as well as that of the marks themselves as to “appearance, sound, connotation and commercial impression” and the remaining duPont factors.  Id. at 17.

Notwithstanding the many duPont factors weighing heavily against its position, the applicant also argued that its use of the mark was a “spoof and parody of the New York Yankees baseball club, and thus no likelihood of confusion can be established . .  .,” an argument that the court rejected when it held that “[p]arody . . . is not a defense to opposition if the marks are otherwise confusingly similar, as they are here.”  Id. at 20 (citations omitted).  The court found that a likelihood of confusion had been shown.

False Association (§ 2(a))

To establish a claim of falsely suggesting a connection between the mark and the opposer, the opposer must prove “(1) that the applicant’s mark is the same or a close approximation of opposer’s previously used name or identity; (2) that applicant’s mark would be recognized as such by purchasers, in that the mark points uniquely and unmistakably to opposer; (3) that opposer is not connected with the goods that are sold or will be sold by applicant under its mark; and (4) that opposer’s name or identity is of sufficient fame or reputation that when applicant’s mark is used on its goods, a connection with opposer would be presumed.”  Id. at 20-21 (citations omitted).  Considering all of the evidence previously discussed in the opinion, the court concluded that the Yankees demonstrated that the mark falsely suggests a connection with the Yankees.

Summary

As mentioned above, the court concluded that there was a likelihood of confusion, that the mark falsely suggested a connection with the Yankees, and that the disparagement claim could not stand.  As a result, the court sustained the opposition on two of the three grounds, and registration was refused.

For more information about this decision, the following links may be of interest:


John L. Welch, “Yankees Win!  TTAB Sustains Opposition to BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE on Confusion and False Association Grounds,” TTABlog, Feb. 21, 2013.

Joan Schear, “TTAB Rules NY Yankees Baseball’s Only “Evil Empire,”” Boston College Legal Eagle Blog, Mar. 22, 2013.

Revised TTAB Manual of Procedure is Now Available


The long-awaited revision of the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s Manual of Procedure (TBMP) is now available for download from the USPTO as a single document (large) or by individual chapters. The most-recent version prior to this one was May 2004, but the rules substantially changed in 2007, so this is a welcome publication for practitioners. (The USPTO’s summary of the 2007 rule changes remains available on the TTAB site as a quick reference.)

This new version of the TBMP is current through November 15, 2010. The Index of Changes provides a summary of what’s new.

The May 2004 version of the TBMP remains available from the TTAB’s website, but perhaps these links have not yet been updated to reflect the new version and will disappear shortly.

Fraud on the PTO – A Trademark Perspective

Last Friday (April 9), during the American Bar Association Intellectual Property Law Section conference, I delivered a presentation on Trademark Prosecution Ethics, and in particular, the history and current status of the fraud in the procurement theory used to cancel registrations (or oppose applications) when material misrepresentations have been made to the Patent & Trademark Office during the application or renewal process.

I plan to upload both my article and my PowerPoint presentation to my firm’s web site as quickly as feasible, and you are welcome to review them there. In sum, however, my conclusions were as follows:

“While the test for determining that an applicant’s or registrant’s conduct in filing an application or maintaining trademark registrations was fraudulent has become more stringent, applicants, registrants and their counsel still face some pitfalls in the process. Indeed, although certain amendments of an inaccurate filing may be accepted (provided that no challenge to the validity of the application or registration has yet been filed), it is clear that both the TTAB and the Federal Circuit discourage carelessness in preparing these filings.

Accordingly, applicants and registrants are strongly encouraged to do at least the following to avoid increasing the risk of claims or counterclaims of fraud on the USPTO, and thus, loss of a pending application or a particular registration:

  • Conduct appropriate due diligence to ensure that the marks sought to be registered (or renewed) qualify as “in use” or validly subject to the “intent to use” process;
  • Ensure that the intended signatory for the declaration has the appropriate level of personal knowledge to support the allegations of use or intent to use, exclusive right to use the mark and other averments of fact;
  • Ensure that any licensees upon whose use the applicant/registrant will rely to maintain the registration properly use the mark in commerce and provide sufficient evidence to the applicant/registrant to support the maintenance filing; and
  • Undertake proper due diligence before filing an Opposition or Cancellation proceeding to ensure that the trademark or service mark forming the basis of a challenge to another application or registration does not have any exposure to a counterclaim for fraud on the USPTO and thus at risk for cancellation during the pendency of the proceeding.

Note that undertaking these preparations cannot completely moot claims of fraud on the USPTO, but they lend support and reasonableness to a potential response that no “intent to deceive” can be demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence. Finally, this entire line of cases confirms that the USPTO, TTAB and Federal Circuit Court of Appeals have strong interests in ensuring that the trademark Register be kept current and accurate, and demonstrates a disfavor of carelessly filed and unreliable factual statements about the use or non-use of trademarks and services marks in active use in U.S. commerce.

I welcome your comments.

UPDATE on 4/20/10: The slides from the presentation can be found on the ABA’s IPL Section site.

UPDATE on 5/7/10: The published article and the accompanying slides are now available on my firm’s web site. The direct links are here: “Ethics in Trademark Application Prosecution: Alleging ‘Fraud in the PTO’ After In re Bose,” ABA Intellectual Property Law Section 25th Annual Conference (April 9, 2010)(with presentation slides).