The Board affirmed a refusal to register the proposed mark shown below, consisting of a repeated diamond pattern applied to the lower third of the cylinder of "electronic hookahs," deeming it to be a non-distinctive, merely ornamental design that lacks acquired distinctiveness under Section 2(f). In re Fantasia Distribution, Inc., Serial No. 86185623 (September 21, 2016) [precedential].

The Board noted that the refusal to register is consistent with TMEP Section 1209.19 (April 2016), incorporating a 2015 USPTO examination guide that addressed the potential lack of inherent distinctiveness of repeating patterns because they often serve an ornamental function. Analogous to color and product design, repeating patterns are often used to make products more attractive, and so consumers would not be predisposed to equate the pattern with source. The Board did not rule out the possibility that a repeating pattern could be inherently distinctive, but in most cases it would not be. "A pattern may function as a mark only 'if it is arbitrary and distinctive and its principal function is to identify and distinguish the source of the goods to which it is applied ....' See In re Soccer Sport Supply Co., 184 USPQ 345, 347 (CCPA 1975)."

Inherent Distinctiveness: To assess the inherent distinctiveness of the pattern, the Board followed Seabrook Foods, Inc. v. Bar-Well Foods Ltd., 196 USPQ 289 (CCPA 1977), adapting its factors to the following:

  • the nature of Applicant's goods and whether there is an industry practice of ornamenting such goods;
  • the nature of the pattern, including whether any element of the pattern might be perceived as source indicating if it were standing alone;
  • how common the pattern is, whether is is composed of common or unusual repeating shapes, whether such shapes repeat in a common or unusual manner, and whether the overall pattern is similar to, or a mere refinement or variation of, a common or well-known form of ornamentation;
  • the manner in which the repeating pattern appears on the product, including the size and location of the pattern on the product and how much of the product is covered by the pattern; and
  • whether the pattern creates a distinct commercial impression apart from any accompanying wording and design elements.

Examining Attorney April Roach submitted evidence regarding three other brands of electronic hookahs that display patterns placed at one end of the device, in a manner similar to applicant's pattern, contending that this evidence demonstrated that such placement of ornamental designs is a common practice in the industry. The Board rejected applicant's contention that the evidence must show other diamond patterns, pointing out that even if applicant's is the first and only user of a diamond pattern, that fact alone "does not imbue the design with source-identifying significance, where Applicant's design merely repeats an ordinary shape in an unremarkable pattern and places it on the goods in an unremarkable way."

Applicant's basic diamond pattern blends with other elements of the trade dress and does not make a distinct commercial impression. It appears in a location often used for ornamentation in this industry.

The Board concluded that applicant's repeating diamond pattern is not inherently distinctive. It "plays a significant role in giving the devices and attractive appearance," and consumers would not be predisposed to view the pattern as source-indicating.

Acquired Distinctiveness: Of course, an ornamental element may be registrable as a trademark on the Principal Register upon proof of acquired distinctiveness. The Board found, however, that applicant's proofs fell short. There was no evidence of "look for" advertising, and the handful of Internet references to applicant's diamond pattern did not indicate its significance. The evidence showed that applicant's are sold in packaging that hides the diamond pattern from view. Moreover, the wording and pattern color signify the flavor of the hookah, and thus the diamond pattern blends with the other elements of trade dress rather than standing out on its own.

The Board therefore concluded that the proposed mark lacks acquired distinctiveness.

And so the Board affirmed the refusal to register under section 1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act.

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TTABlog comment: It seems to me that if ornamentation at the lower end of the hookah is common in the industry, this may indeed be a way of distinguishing source.

Maybe applicant should try to register this at the U.S. Pattern and Non-Trademark Office.