Addressing a refusal to register for failure to function as a trademark, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) reversed, finding that the evidence of consumer perception of “100% THAT BITCH” did not demonstrate that the proposed mark is such a widespread and common expression that it failed to function as a source identifier. In re Lizzo LLC, Serial Nos. 88466264, 88466281 (TTAB Feb. 2, 2023) (Cataldo, Pologeorgis, Coggins, ATJ).
World-renowned, Grammy-winning artist Lizzo, through her company, Lizzo LLC, filed two applications to register 100% THAT BITCH for use in connection with clothing and related goods in International Class 25. The mark is a reference to a lyric (“I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch”) from her chart-topping hit, “Truth Hurts.” The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) issued an office action refusing to register the mark based on failure to function as a trademark under Sections 1, 2 and 45 of the Trademark Act. Specifically, the examining attorney asserted that the phrase is a “commonplace expression widely used by a variety of sources to convey an ordinary, familiar, well-recognized sentiment.” The PTO denied the request for reconsideration, and Lizzo appealed.
In assessing a refusal to register for failure to function as a trademark, the Board must look to consumer perception of the mark; specifically, whether the mark serves merely an ornamental or informational purpose rather than a source-identifying one. In this case, the relevant consumer consists of the general public, as there were no limitations on the channels of trade or classes of consumers identified in the applications. The examining attorney argued that the evidence demonstrated only that the mark, as used on the relevant goods, portrayed “a message of self-confidence and female empowerment used by many different entities in a variety of settings”—a message that Lizzo “did not originate[,] . . . but merely popularized.”
The Board discounted much of the evidence proffered to show that the mark was ornamental as it largely all referred to Lizzo, her music and/or her song, “Truth Hurts,” demonstrating that “consumers encountering 100% THAT BITCH on the specific types of clothing identified in the application—even when offered by third parties—associate the term with Lizzo and her music.” The Board further noted that all of the evidence regarding third-party use corresponded with the release of Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts”—a correlation that suggests the term was not widely known or used until Lizzo popularized it.
Although there was no disagreement that the proposed mark conveys a “feeling of female strength, empowerment and independence,” the Board found that the record supported that “most consumers would perceive 100% THAT BITCH used on goods in the application as associated with Lizzo rather than as a commonplace expression.” Accordingly, the Board reversed the refusal to register.