Component part images in logos raise serious issues

Images of component parts of a product are often incorporated into logos. From a trademark perspective, this can raise some problematic issues. In some cases, the Trademark Office has rejected logo marks (“stylized” marks) on the ground of the mark being “merely descriptive.” In other words, the Trademark Office believes that a consumer encountering the image would regard it as describing the goods rather than an indicator of the source of the goods.

Let’s take a look at an example. A fast food restaurant has a mark that incorporates an image of a hamburger in its mark accompanied by the word (literal elements) “Burgers.” A consumer encountering this logo on as a sign or menu of the business, they probably regard it as describing a feature food you sell at the restaurant rather than as a brand: Burger brand hamburgers.

This situation happened to Swatch and its Tourbillon mark for watches and jewelry. This case was interesting because Swatch was willing to disclaim the term “tourbillon” for horological and chronometric instruments but not for jewelry. Swatch felt jewelry was not described by the term or image of a tourbillon. The Trademark Office, however, refused registration deeming watches essentially synonymous with jewelry because the average person considers watches a type of jewelry.

In the Swatch case, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board pointed out the design was not an exact drawing of the tourbillon part, however, it did not add any fanciful, arbitrary, or suggestive element or subject matter. Thus, a take-away from this case is that images of component product parts should include identifiable differentiating elements in the design for the best chance of federal trademark registration.