Thursday, June 03, 2010

5th Circuit lays out analytical framework for assessing distinctiveness of registered design mark

The Fifth Circuit yesterday issued an opinion discussing how to analyze the distinctiveness of a registered design mark. In Amazing Spaces, Inc. v. Metro Mini Storage, No. 09-20702 (5th Cir. June 2, 2010), the court first held that the presumption of validity flowing from registration was not itself enough to stave off summary judgment of nondistinctiveness (at least in this case).

Moving on to an assessment of inherent distinctiveness, the court held that this registered design mark:

could not be analyzed under the seminal distinctiveness (generic, descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary/fanciful) test set forth in Abercrombie & Fitch Co. v. Hunting World, Inc., 537 F.2d 4 (2d Cir. 1976) (Friendly, J.) (generic, descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary/fanciful) because it was a "futile endeavor" to try to apply any of those labels to the mark. (The court resisted saying that Abercrombie could never be applied to a non-word mark, however.)

Instead, the court applied the distinctiveness test from Seabrook Foods, Inc. v. Bar-Well Foods Ltd., 568 F.2d 1342 (CCPA 1978), which is geared more toward design marks. The Seabrook test looks at whether the design is a common shape or form of ornamentation (as opposed to being unusual in its field), or is capable of being perceived as an indicator of source apart from any words it is used with. Applying Seabrook, the court held that so many others use designs similar to this one that it was not inherently distinctive.

The mark owner tried to establish secondary meaning by offering evidence of long usage, substantial sales revenue, and substantial advertising expenditures. But the 5th Circuit affirmed summary judgment of no secondary meaning because the evidence showed that the mark owner primarily used the mark as a form of ornamentation, along with word marks that were more clearly the main product identifiers. In other words, these other facts severed the inferential link the mark owner tried to make between this circumstantial evidence and the conclusion that the star design itself thereby acquired secondary meaning.


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