Trademarks – Principal Register vs. Supplemental Register

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Some marks are not as strong as other marks, and certain marks that are not eligible for registration on the Principal Register, but are “capable” of one day distinguishing an applicant’s goods or services (such as descriptive terms) upon the acquisition of secondary meaning (proof that the mark has become distinctive as applied to the applicant’s goods or services in commerce), may be registered on the Supplemental Register.

Descriptive marks describe an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the product or service.  Examples of descriptive marks include BANK OF AMERICA for a bank headquartered in the United States and WHOLE FOODS for a grocery store that sells health foods (both of which have since acquired distinctiveness and are now registered on the Principal Register).

Only marks actually used in commerce may be registered on the Supplemental Register, so an intent-to-use application is not eligible for registration on the Supplemental Register until the applicant has filed an acceptable allegation of use.

Benefits of Registration on the Supplemental Register

While not the preferred trademark register, registration on the Supplemental Register does provide the following benefits over purely common law rights (i.e., no registration at all):

  • Notice of the mark to anyone who searches the USPTO records.
  • Protection against third-parties registering confusingly similar trademarks at the USPTO.
  • Right to use the official registered trademark symbol “®” as notice of federal registration.
  • Right to sue infringers in federal court and have federal law control key issues of validity, ownership, infringement, injunctions and damages.
  • Ability to obtain foreign trademark protection in countries with international treaties.
  • After five years of usage and/or registration on the Supplemental Register, the registrant can apply for registration of the mark on the Principal Register.

Benefits of Registration on the Principal Register Not Applicable to the Supplemental Register

The following benefits of registration on the Principal Register are not enjoyed by registration on the Supplemental Register:

  • Constitutes prima facie evidence of the registrant’s exclusive right to use the mark nationwide.
  • Constitutes constructive notice of the registrant’s claim of ownership to eliminate the good faith defense.
  • Has a presumption of validity.
  • Carries a presumption that the registrant is the owner of the registered trademark.
  • May be filed with the United States Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.
  • Can become incontestable after five years of registration.

Acquired Distinctiveness/Secondary Meaning

A mark that is descriptive in nature and/or registered on the Supplemental Register cannot likely be registered on the Principal Register without a showing that the mark has become distinctive of the applicant’s goods or services in commerce, namely, that the mark has “acquired distinctiveness” or “secondary meaning.”

After five years of use or registration on the Supplemental Register, a statement verified by the applicant that the mark has become distinctive of the applicant’s goods or services by reason of substantially exclusive and continuous use in commerce by the applicant for the five years before the date when the claim of distinctiveness is made is usually sufficient to show acquired distinctiveness/secondary meaning.

However, depending on the nature of the mark and the facts in the record, the examining attorney may determine that a claim of ownership of a prior registration(s) or a claim of five years’ substantially exclusive and continuous use in commerce is insufficient to establish a prima facie case of acquired distinctiveness. The mark owner may then submit actual evidence of acquired distinctiveness.

The amount and character of evidence required to establish acquired distinctiveness depends on the facts of each case and particularly on the nature of the mark sought to be registered.

To support the claim of acquired distinctiveness, a mark owner may respond by submitting additional evidence. Such evidence may include specific dollar sales under the mark, advertising figures (or indicating the types of media through which the goods and services have been advertised (e.g., national television) and how frequently the advertisements have appeared), samples of advertising, consumer or dealer statements of recognition of the mark as a source identifier, affidavits, and any other evidence that establishes the distinctiveness of the mark as an indicator of source.  So, if you are using a descriptive mark, it is wise to keep these requirements in mind and keep track of this information so it is available if needed.

If additional evidence is submitted, the following factors are generally considered when determining acquired distinctiveness: (1) length and exclusivity of use of the mark in the United States by the applicant; (2) the type, expense and amount of advertising of the mark in the United States; and (3) the applicant’s efforts in the United States to associate the mark with the source of the goods or services, such as unsolicited media coverage and consumer studies.  A showing of acquired distinctiveness need not consider all these factors, and no single factor is determinative.

 

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