The Board affirmed a Section 2(e)(4) refusal of WEISS WATCH COMPANY for watches, clocks, and related goods [WATCH COMPANY disclaimed], finding the applied-for mark to be primarily merely a surname. Applicant argued that WEISS has non-surname significance because "weiss" means "white" in German, and thus the doctrine of foreign equivalents immunizes WEISS from the surname bar. Nein, said the Board. In re Weiss Watch Company, Inc., Serial No. 86782562 (June 13, 2017) [not precedential] (Opinion by Judge Kuhlke).
WEISS is the surname of applicant's founder and head watchmaker, Cameron Weiss. The surname WEISS ranks number 531 on the list of common surnames in America for the year 2000. A LEXIS/NEXIS search revealed 99,683 appearances of the surname WEISS in a nationwide telephone directory. In short, the evidence showed that "WEISS is not rarely encountered as a surname in the United States."
There was no evidence that WEISS has a recognized meaning in English other than as a surname, out applicant pointed to the meaning of WEISS in German as "white," relying on In re Isabella Fiore LLC, where a surname refusal of FIORE was reversed because it is the Italian equivalent of "flower." [TTABlogged here]. This other meaning, applicant argued, removes WEISS from the surname bar.
Under the doctrine of foreign equivalents applies when it is likely that the ordinary American purchaser would "stop and translate" the foreign word into its English equivalent. The "ordinary American purchaser" includes "all American purchasers, including those proficient in a non-English language, who would ordinarily be expected to translate words into English."
The Board has found that consumers would stop and translate a term when it is from a major, modern language, spelled in the standard way in the foreign language, and is the only translation of the English word to which it translates, so that there is no question that its translated meaning would be recognized and not considered obscure. Isabella Fiore, 75 USPQ2d at 1569.
The Board recognized that German is a major, modern language and the proposed other meaning ("white") is not obscure, but WEISS is not the standard orthography for the word 'white' in German." In German, the word "white" is spelled "Weiß." (ß is the letter B in the German alphabet). The evidence did not show that "weiss," spelled without the eszett, translates into "white" in English.
Moreover, the Board took judicial notice that WEISS derives from a German habitational name - i.e., a German surname based on a location. This fact reinforces the consumer perception of WEISS as a surname.
In Isabella Fiore, the term FIORE was spelled in the standard Italian form and the English equivalent of "flower" resolved only to "fiore." There was no question that the term "fiore" would be recognized as the Italian word for "flower." Nor was the meaning obscure, and so the Board concluded that consumers would stop and translate the term, a fact that detracted from its surname significance.
Here, however, WEISS is not spelled in the standard German dictionary form. Moreover, WEISS is more common as a surname than FIORE (5193 NEXIS entries) and there was no evidence that FIORE was a surname associated with applicant, whereas here WEISS is advertised to consumers as the name of applicant's founder and head watchmaker. Finally, the surname WEISS originated as a habitational name in Germany and therefore a German speaker is likely to view WEISS as a surname rather than translate it into another word.
The Board concluded that application of the doctrine of equivalents is not appropriate here.
The addition of the words WATCH COMPANY to WEISS does not affect the surname significance of the mark, viewed in its entirety, in the context of applicant's goods, since neither "watch" nor "company" has any source-identifying significance.
Therefore, the Board affirmed the refusal to register.