TMEP 1202.04(b): Widely Used Messages

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1202.04(b)    Widely Used Messages

"Widely used messages" include slogans, terms, and phrases used by various parties to convey ordinary or familiar concepts or sentiments, as well as social, political, religious, or similar informational messages that are in common use or are otherwise generally understood. The more commonly a term or phrase is used in everyday speech or in an associational or affinitive manner by various sources, the less likely consumers will perceive the matter as a trademark or service mark for any goods and services. In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d 1227, 1229-30 (TTAB 2010).

Messages that merely convey ordinary, familiar concepts or sentiments that are used by a variety of sources in the marketplace are considered commonplace and will be understood as conveying the ordinary concept or sentiment normally associated with them, rather than serving any source-indicating function. See, e.g., D.C. One Wholesaler, Inc. v. Chien, 120 USPQ2d 1710, 1716 (TTAB 2016) (I ♥ DC was found not to function as a mark for clothing items because it would be perceived merely as an expression of enthusiasm for the city); In re Volvo Cars of N. Am. Inc., 46 USPQ2d 1455, 1460 (TTAB 1998) (DRIVE SAFELY was found not to function as a mark when used in connection with automobiles and structural parts therefor because it would be perceived as an everyday, commonplace safety admonition); In re Manco, 24 USPQ2d 1938, 1942 (TTAB 1992) (THINK GREEN for products advertised to be recyclable and to promote energy conservation was found not to function as a mark because it merely conveys a message of environmental awareness or ecological consciousness).

Messages that are used by a variety of sources to convey social, political, religious, or similar sentiments or ideas are likely to be perceived as an expression of support for, or affiliation or affinity with, the ideas embodied in the message rather than as a mark that indicates a single source of the goods or services. Furthermore, goods that feature such messages are typically purchased because of the expressive sentiment conveyed by the message and not because they serve as a means for the consumer to identify and distinguish the applicant’s goods or services from those of others. For example, the proposed mark ONCE A MARINE, ALWAYS A MARINE, for clothing, was found not to function as a mark because the evidence showed that it is a common motto used by, and in support of, the U.S. Marines. In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d at 1232. Similarly, the proposed mark NO MORE RINOS!, for various goods, including bumper stickers, signs, and t-shirts, was found not to function as a mark because the evidence showed that consumers were accustomed to seeing this well-known political slogan on these types of goods from a variety of different sources. In re Hulting, 107 USPQ2d 1175, 1179 (TTAB 2013).

Derivatives or variations of widely used messages also fail to function as marks if they convey the same or similar type of information or sentiment as the original wording. See In re Melville Corp., 228 USPQ 970, 971 (TTAB 1986) (finding BRAND NAMES FOR LESS failed to function as a mark based evidence of widespread use of similar marketing phrases, noting that "[t]he fact that applicant may convey similar information in a slightly different way than others is not determinative."); In re Remington Prods., Inc., 3 USPQ2d 1714, 1715 (TTAB 1987) (finding PROUDLY MADE IN THE USA informational in nature; the addition of "Proudly" before the common phrase "Made in USA" merely added "further information about the state of mind of the manufacturer and/or its employees in connection with the production of the goods"); see also D.C. One Wholesaler, Inc. v. Chien, 120 USPQ2d 1710, 1716 (TTAB 2016) (noting that the informational significance of I ♥ DC was "reinforced by the fact that similar expressions in the form of ‘I ♥__’ have also been widely used to express such enthusiasms with respect to other places and things").

Any evidence demonstrating that the public would perceive the wording merely as conveying the ordinary meaning of the message, or enthusiasm for, affinity with, or endorsement of the message, supports this refusal. In addition to dictionary or encyclopedia entries showing the meaning or significance of wording, supporting evidence may include materials (e.g., website pages, Internet search results lists if sufficient surrounding text is included, social-media pages, product fact sheets, and other promotional materials) showing the applicant’s manner of use and the manner of use by third parties. See, e.g., D.C. One Wholesaler, Inc., 120 USPQ2d at 1716 (finding that I ♥ DC failed to function as a mark for clothing items, stating that the evidence shows that the wording "has been widely used, over a long period of time and by a large number of merchandisers as an expression of enthusiasm, affection or affiliation with respect to the city of Washington, D.C.").

The size, location, dominance, and significance of the wording as it is used in connection with the goods or services should also be considered to determine if any of these elements further support the perception of the wording merely as an informational message rather than as indicating the source of goods or services. For example, evidence of use of the wording as adornment, by either the applicant or third parties, may support a determination that a proposed mark does not convey the commercial impression of a trademark that identifies a single source. In re Hulting, 107 USPQ2d 1175, 1179 (TTAB 2013); see also D.C. One Wholesaler, Inc., 120 USPQ2d at 1716 (noting that the marketplace is inundated with products featuring the wording "as a prominent ornamental feature of such goods, in such a way that the display itself is an important component of the product and customers purchase the product precisely because it is ornamented with a display of the term in an informational manner, not associated with a particular source"). In addition, use of the matter in a less prominent manner than other clear source identifiers may also support the conclusion that the matter will be perceived as merely conveying an informational message. Cf. In re Duvernoy & Sons, Inc., 212 F.2d 202, 101 USPQ 288 (C.C.P.A. 1954) (finding that the phrase "Consistently Superior," which appeared less prominently than appellant’s trade name, was "merely an adjunct thereto, operating in the shadow thereof, to indicate to purchasers that appellant’s goods are always superior in quality" and was "merely a statement of fact which should be available to anyone who feels that his products are, in fact or belief, consistently superior, and wishes to so advise the public").