Addressing whether the mark EVERYBODY VS. RACISM was registrable, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s final refusal to register the mark because it failed to function as a source identifier. In re: GO & Assoc., LLC, Case No. 22-1961 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 13, 2023) (nonprecedential) (Fed. Cir. Jan. 22, 2024) (precedential) (Lourie, Reyna, Hughes, JJ.)
On June 2, 2020, GO & Associates filed a trademark application seeking registration on the principal register of EVERYBODY VS. RACISM, identifying the goods and services as various apparel “promoting public interest and awareness of the need for racial reconciliation and encouraging people to know their neighbor and then affect change in their own sphere of influence.”
In a non-final office action, the examining attorney refused to register the mark, asserting that it “failed to function as a source identifier for GO’s goods and services.” The examiner noted that the mark “merely convey[ed] support of, admiration for, or affiliation with the ideals conveyed by the message.” The examiner presented examples of the mark being used in informational settings, such as by referees in the National Basketball Association; in YouTube videos; on clothing; and in titles of rap songs, podcasts and church sermons. Although GO presented evidence that the mark had hardly been used or searched prior to its use in May 2020, the examining attorney continued to reject the application. The examiner found that “the ornamental uses of the mark only reinforced the fact that consumers would likely view the mark as a sentiment rather than a source.” The examiner also noted that the applicant’s first use of the mark coincided with the “general timeline of the heated anti-racism protests throughout the nation in the wake of the George Floyd killing.”
GO appealed to the Board. The Board found “that the record as a whole show[ed] wide use of the proposed mark in a non-trademark manner to consistently convey an informational, anti-racist message to the public, as opposed to a source identifier of GO’s goods and services,” and affirmed the examiner’s refusal to register the mark. GO appealed to the Federal Circuit.
Affirming the Board’s decision, the Federal Circuit emphasized that the threshold requirement for the issuance of a mark is whether it is source identifying: “what makes a trademark a trademark under the Lanham Act is its source-identifying function.” The mark must identify the source for the public and distinguish that source from others.
The Federal Circuit noted that whether a mark is source identifying depends on “how the mark is used in the marketplace and how consumers perceive it.” In particular, the US Patent & Trademark Office prohibits registering marks that it calls “informational matter” (i.e., “slogans, terms, and phrases used by the public to convey familiar sentiments, because consumers are unlikely to perceive the matter as a trademark or service mark for any goods and services”). Reviewing the Board’s findings for substantial evidence, the Court found that the Board properly weighed the [...]