Getting Too Cute with an Acronym Could Cost You Your Trademark Registration by William Brees, Esq.

Generally the concern with an acronym is that the words the acronym stands for may be merely descriptive or generic and that the meaning of those words will be used as a basis for a finding that the acronym itself is merely descriptive or generic. As explained by the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, this can happen if the acronym is “readily understood by relevant purchasers to be ‘substantially synonymous’ with the merely descriptive wording it represents.” TMEP § 1209.03(h).

However, if an acronym itself is a term that is merely descriptive or generic of the Applicant’s goods or services, that in and of itself may be the basis for a refusal by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to register the trademark. Rieker Instrument Company, Inc. recently learned this lesson after it attempted to trademark the acronym “CARS” for computer software used for capturing road data and determining safe curve speeds for automobiles; computer hardware used for capturing telemetry and road data; and software as a service featuring software for capturing road data and determining safe curve speeds for automobiles. Rieker Instrument Company, Inc. stated that the CARS trademark was an acronym for the words “Curve Advisory Reporting System.”

In a non-precedential opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board upheld the Examining Attorney’s refusal to register the CARS acronym because the goods and services cited in the Federal Trademark Application were related to automobiles, which the Board found to be synonymous with the word “cars.” Rieker Instrument Company, Inc. was not able to show adequate proof that consumers would understand the term CARS to be an acronym. Therefore, the board held that consumers would understand the term CARS instead to hold it’s ordinary and customary meaning of automobiles.

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