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TENNIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION is Generic and Therefore Not a Trademark, Says TTAB

By David Lilenfeld on February 18, 2016

Tennis Industry Association applied to register TENNIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION as a trademark for informational services related to tennis. On administrative appeal, the applicant argued the Trademark Office failed to provide clear and convincing evidence needed to support its genericness refusal.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board disagreed with the applicant, expressing concern consumers would perceive the trademark as a generic name for tennis services.  Trademark Trial and Appeal Board also found a lack of support for applicant’s assertion that Tennis Industry Association had acquired distinctiveness.

A trademark is generic if it merely refers to a category of goods or services in which it is used. Initially, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found the genus of services to be adequately defined by applicant’s explanation of services: “association services, namely, promoting the interests of tennis facilities, tennis manufacturers, tennis retailers and tennis court contractors; providing market research services to track the economic vitality of the tennis industry.”

Then the TTAB looked to determine whether the phrase TENNIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION is understood by relevant consumers to refer to that genus of services. The phrase should be examined under the American Fertility approach. This approach deems the dictionary definition of words not sufficient to support a finding of genericness. Rather, the phrase as a whole must be used to refer to the genus of services.

The examining attorney found five examples from the Lexis/Nexis database and Internet websites, using the term "tennis industry association" in lower case letters in a way that did not appear to indicate source in any particular entity. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found that the PTO failed to meet its burden of establishing by clear evidence that the phrase TENNIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION as a whole is generic.

Applicant purported that TENNIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION is not generic but rather has acquired distinctiveness under Section 2 (f). The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board recognized that a highly descriptive trademark is less likely to be perceived as a trademark and thus will require more substantial evidence to establish its distinctiveness. Applicant relied upon use of the trademark TENNIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION since 1974, a 2009 press release, a 2008 annual report and 499 Westlaw articles. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found the Westlaw articles not to be compelling for a variety of reasons. The record contained little direct evidence that relevant consumers view the phrase TENNIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION as a source indicator.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board reversed the refusal under Section 2 (e) (1) on the ground that the trademark is so highly descriptive as to be generic. However, the PTO affirmed the refusal under Section 2 (e) (1) because the trademark is merely descriptive since the applicant failed to show the trademark has acquired distinctiveness.

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