With all the rage about Organic products and services weighing on our minds recently, I thought it would be a good time to address how this applies to trademarks. While the label of a product or the website for a service may say ORGANIC, does this mean they really ARE organic? Well, the USPTO is taking issue with that as well with their clause on “Deceptive Matter”. Here’s what they have to say about it:
“[There] is an absolute bar to the registration of deceptive matter on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register. Neither a disclaimer of the deceptive matter nor a claim that it has acquired distinctiveness can obviate a refusal on the ground that the mark consists of or comprises deceptive matter.
A deceptive mark may be comprised of (ANY ONE of the following):
(1) a single deceptive term;
(2) a deceptive term embedded in a composite mark that includes additional non-deceptive wording and/or design elements;
(3) a term or a portion of a term that alludes to a deceptive quality, characteristic, function, composition, or use;
(4) the phonetic equivalent of a deceptive term; or
(5) the foreign equivalent of any of the above
In laymen’s terms what it means is that a mark may not contain the word ORGANIC, or any spelling or phonetic variation thereof, unless the product or service truly is ORGANIC by definition. ORGANIC can generally be defined as a product or service produced WITHOUT the use of chemical fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides. Therefore, when a trademark name includes the word ORGANIC, the consumer naturally assumes it has conformed to the definition of the word. It is this assumption on the part of consumers that has prompted the USPTO to start handing out trademark refusals based on deceptiveness.
When an application comes across the desks at the USPTO that includes ORGANIC in the title, the applicant is required to state that the product or service is, in fact, Organic in nature. Here is an example of the USPTO’s response to one such application, which is now abandoned due to failure to respond:
“In this case, applicant’s mark includes the wording “ORGANIC,” which indicates that the goods contain organic ingredients. This feature or ingredient is important to a purchasing decision because consumers looking to purchase organic products will believe the applicant’s goods to be made from organic ingredients.
If the goods do not, in fact, contain organic ingredients, the applied-for mark will deceive the public as to an important factor in its purchasing decision...If the goods do contain organic ingredients, applicant can amend the identification of goods to state this fact, and the refusal will be withdrawn.”
Of course, there are many other situations in which USPTO would refuse a mark based on deceptive matter, but the use of ORGANIC as part of a name is just one example that is the basis for trademark refusal.
So, while consumers continue to see ORGANIC claimed on products and services more often, we can be assured that at least the USPTO is making steps to ensure we aren’t being deceived or misled while trying to make the conscious choice to go “green.”