Jul
05

ANOTHER TRADEMARK APPLICATION BITES THE DUST BECAUSE OF UNACCEPTABLE SPECIMENS!

Imagine having a proposed mark meet the requirements for overcoming a finding of likelihood of confusion or mere descriptiveness only to have the mark rejected for registration as the result of insufficient specimens. As this post discusses, specimens can make or break a trademark application.

THANK YOU FOR READING THIS BLOG.  PLEASE SHARE IT WITH ANYONE WHO MIGHT BENEFIT.  AS ALWAYS, THE CONTENT IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE AND IS PRESENTED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.

Perhaps no other area of trademark application prosecution is more misunderstood by applicants than the requirement that specimens must show use of the proposed mark with the applicant’s specified goods or services. The commentator, Susan D. Troy, who is in charge of the business and intellectual property law practice areas for the law firm, has previously posted blogs on this important topic. Today’s post relates to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s (“Board”) recent affirmance of the refusal to register the mark THE CARDIO GROUP & Design for the Applicant’s failure to submit specimens reflective of the Applicant’s services.  In re The Cardio Group, LLC  (TTAB June 20, 2019) [precedential] (Application SN 86840860).

The application’s specified services under international class 35 were for “retail store services featuring medical devices.” The Board found that the Applicant is clearly engaged in selling products. Nevertheless, the inclusion of the words “retail services” suggests that the Applicant’s products were either being sold being sold in a brick-and-mortar location, on-line, or via catalogues. The Applicant, however, did not provide specimens showing how the mark was being used in the “retail services” arena. This commentator notes that maybe the original description of services incorrectly used the word retail.

In reaching its conclusion, the Board focused on “whether the evidence of Applicant’s use of its mark creates an association between the mark and the Applicant’s retail store services.” Importantly, the specimens must show a direct association between the mark and the service activity [or goods] and the source of the services [or goods]. To create such a “direct association,” the specimens must contain a reference to the service and identify the service and its source (generally the applicant which may be an entity or an individual).

Here, the Applicant submitted a website screenshot, a confidential sales agreement, and an invoice, all displaying the proposed mark. The website specimen merely presented the results of an analysis from a medical device and no information that the Applicant was making the device available for sale on-line, by personal sales calls, or otherwise. The invoice likewise did not refer to any activity that might be considered a retail store service. The commentator notes that invoices are generally not acceptable specimens for goods or services but can serve as a proof that the mark was in in commerce as of the invoice’s date. Additionally, why the Applicant, would have provided a confidential sales agreement as a specimen that becomes available to the public at www.USPTO.gov is indeed puzzling.

The Board concluded that the Applicant’s specimens of use were unacceptable because they failed to show the mark used in connection with the specified “retail services.” Although the Applicant is engaged in selling products, “nothing in the documents submitted by Applicant … refer to a retail store (of either on-line or brick-and-mortar variety) or create an association of any kind between THE CARDIO GROUP and design and a retail store service.”

In assessing the adequacy of specimens, the USPTO must consider any explanations offered by an applicant that “clarify the nature, content, or context of use of the specimen that are consistent with what the specimen itself shows.” See In re Pitney Bowes, Inc., 125 U.S.P.Q.2d 1417, 1420 (T.T.A.B. 2018); In re DSM Pharms., Inc., 87 U.S.P.Q.2d 1623, 1626 (T.T.A.B. 2008). Here, the Applicant stated that its services are in the nature of activities provided by a retail store – i.e., it is selling goods – and it argued that such activities do not have to take place in an actual retail store. The Board noted that retail stores services may be offered in various ways, including through physical locations, catalogs, or on-line, but the Applicant’s specimens did not suggest that any of these retail “avenues” were being used to make the medical device available in interstate commerce.

The Applicant also tried to amend its description of services to retail sales services, but the Board found that the proposed change simply restated that applicant’s specimens “reflect a product sale” and not that any retail store services were provided in selling the product. Considering all the specimens along with Applicant’s explanations, the Board found “no direct association in any of the specimens between THE CARDIO GROUP and design and any type of retail store service.” The Board emphasized that the specimens had to establish that the mark and design were a source indicator for retail services. Emphasis added. Nothing in provided specimens demonstrated to the Board’s satisfaction that consumers would perceive THE CARDIO GROUP and design as a source indicator for retail store services. “Ultimate consumers who choose to purchase Applicant’s products very well may understand they are engaging in a retail sales transaction with Applicant, but even if this is assumed, it would not establish that such consumers, prior to making their decision to make such a  purchase, were exposed to any advertising or promotion of Applicant as the operator of a retail store selling medical devices.”

In conclusion, specimens can make or break a trademark application. Don’t let this situation happen to you!

A Note to Trademark Applicants

Trademark applicants who become the clients of Troy & Schwartz, LLC will understand the requirements for specimens for 1A applications from the get-go. Attorney Susan Troy also works closely with clients for whom intent-to-use applications are filed to ensure that the subsequent specimens will comply with the USPTO’s requirements by keeping in contact with these clients to discuss the specimen creation progress.  For example, she reviews websites where screen shots are to be provided as specimens to ensure that they are presented in the manner required for “website page” specimens and will make suggestions to the website designer where changes are required in her opinion to comply with specimen requirements. This hands-on approach is an example of the added value of working with our firm to achieve your trademark registration and branding goals.  We are about providing value in all our attorney-client relationships.

© Troy & Schwartz, LLC

Where Legal Meets Entrepreneurship™