LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Bruce E. Burdick | Dec 19, 2011

Geographical Names as Trademarks

In view of frequent questions about use of geographica terms, here is a brief guide:

A town name is, in trademark parlance, a "geographically descriptive term" and thus not subject to trademark protection absent sufficient secondary meaning that the name becomes so closely associated with a particular source that the name takes on a new meaning (we call that "secondary meaning") as an identifier of the goods of that particular source. The US Pat & TM Office has an excellent webpage describing this at http://www.uspto.gov/ip/global/geographical/faq... Being that I am from the Saint Louis area, I can give some local examples: SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS (aka the world champs), SAINT LOUIS RAMS (formerly "The Greatest Show on Turf, but lately more like the "lambs"), SAINT LOUIS BLUES (currently hottest team in NHL) sports teams SAINT LOUIS for fruits and vegetable reg. 3012050 to Primo Agritrading of Santiago, Chile ST. LOU IS for advertising services reg. 3438569 St. Louis Visitors & Conv. Commission ST. LOUIS SPACES for rental advertising reg. 3585751 Village Voice Media Holdings ST. LOUIS MILLS for shopping centers reg. 2878701 Mills Ltd. Or as regards, for example, Manchester: MANCHESTER locks (BLACK & DECKER CORPORATION-Towsen, MD) Registered 1993 MANCHESTER cutoff tools (Kennametal, Inc.) Reg. 0730056 Registered April 17, 1962 MANCHESTER wood flooring (Armstrong Wood Flooring Co. of Lancaster, PA) 1990 MANCHESTER employment services (Manchester, Inc.- King of Prussia, PA) 1993 and about 30 others. Some of the world's most famous brands include town names (LONDON FOG coats, NEW YORK TIMES newspaper, CHICAGO musical group, etc.) or state names (ALABAMA country band), countries (SWISS MISS chocolate, ICELANDIC seafood, etc.) or even the universe (UNIVERSAL movies).

Also, increasingly various countries give trademark-like protection to "geographical indications" due their immense commercial value. Geographical indications are indications that identify a good as originating in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin. Examples of geographical indications from the United States include: "FLORIDA" for oranges; "IDAHO" for potatoes; "VIDALIA" for onions; and "WASHINGTON STATE" for apples, or "NAPA VALLEY" for wine. Geographical indications are valuable to producers for the same reason that trademarks are valuable. Geographical indications serve the same functions as trademarks, because like trademarks they are:

  • source-identifiers,
  • guarantees of quality, and
  • valuable business interests.

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