10 January 2022TrademarksMuireann Bolger

Snapchat sues USPTO over ‘spectacles’ TM refusal

Snap, the owner of video-sharing app, Snapchat, has sued the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in a bid to overturn a decision refusing a trademark for the word ‘spectacles’.

The California-based company filed the complaint at the US District Court for the Central District of California, on January 5, arguing that the office had erred in finding that ‘spectacles’ was too generic in November.

Snap introduced its ‘spectacles’ brand in 2016, “as a way for users to capture photos and videos and automatically upload them to Snapchat, and applied for a trademark with the USPTO.

In December that year, the USPTO issued the first of several office actions refusing registration of the applications on the ground of descriptiveness, holding that the term was a generic word for glasses. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board upheld these decisions in November 2021.

Snapchat introduced the ‘spectacles’ brand of wearable digital video cameras to be used with its Snapchat app in 2016, enabling users to experience augmented reality (AR).

A ‘double entendre’

In its complaint against the USPTO, Snap held that “a descriptive term is one that imparts or conveys an immediate idea of the ingredients, qualities, or characteristics of the goods”, and insisted that the meaning of ‘spectacles’ is suggestive when considered in relation to Snap’s camera product because it communicates a “double entendre”.

The company argued that the term evokes an incongruity between an 18th century term for corrective eyewear and Snap’s high-tech 21st-Century smart glasses, and that the term was suggestive of the camera’s purpose, to capture and share unusual, notable, or entertaining scenes and while also encouraging users to make “spectacles” of themselves.

The filing also contended that this evocation was valid because the public, the media, and Snap’s competitors all refer to the type of products sold under the ‘spectacles’ mark as “smart glasses” or “camera glasses,” not ‘spectacles’.

A large ‘spectacles’ community

Snap added that the word is not generic because it does not refer to an entire genus, class, or category of goods.

“The test for determining whether a mark is generic is its primary significance to the relevant public,” said Snap. “None of the specified goods in the applications refer to any description of eyewear or other optical instrument with a lens and frame used as a viewing aid.”

Snap insisted that the media and consuming public understand that ‘spectacles’ is a brand of smart glasses made by Snap, and that it had built a community for the disputed brand that generates consistent consumer engagement, with more than 200,000 followers across its various ‘spectacles’ social media accounts.

It asked the court to reverse the TTAB's decision and direct the USPTO to grant its trademark application.

The case is Snap v Hirshfeld, US District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:22-cv-00085.

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