Khvost /
11 December 2014Trademarks

USPTO gets knickers in twist over 'vulgar' underwear mark

A Norwegian underwear brand called Comfyballs has been denied a trademark registration in the US—because the term is too vulgar.

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) denied the application on the grounds that due to it covering underwear the word “balls” could only relate to male genitalia.

The office added that, as the word was a slang and offensive term, the application would cause offence.

“There are at least four standard dictionaries in which the definition of ‘balls’ includes the often vulgar slang for testicle,” the office said.

“It is a straightforward use of the word ‘balls’ instead of testicles. When used in this way, the word ‘balls’ has an offensive meaning,” it added.

Anders Selvig, founder of Comfyballs, told WIPR in emailed statement: “Maybe the guidelines applied by the USPTO when assessing trademark applications should be reviewed.”

Selvig claimed that trademark applications for ‘Nice balls’ and ‘I Love [in the shape of a heart] My Balls’ had also been approved by the USPTO.

“Luckily, Europeans have a softer view on what is deemed to be vulgar and the EU allowed Comfyballs to [get a] trademark without hassle earlier this year,” Selvig added.

The principal statute regulating trademark law in the US is the Lanham Act, which forbids the registration of marks that consist of immoral or scandalous matter, or that disparage people, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.

One of the most high-profile controversial trademark cases in recent times centres on the American Football team Washington Redskins, which had its trademarks—all variations of the term “Redskins”—cancelled because they were deemed to be offensive to Native Americans.

Redskin is a slang term for a Native American.

The USPTO also likened Comfyballs’s application to ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s attempt to market an ice cream flavour called Schweddy Balls, for which a trademark was also denied.

Comfyballs’s underwear incorporate a design called PackageFront, which claims to increase comfort by “reducing heat transfer and restricting movement”.

The USPTO did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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More on this story

5 March 2015   An underwear maker that was denied a US trademark because it contained the “vulgar” word ‘balls’ has created a survey to determine whether the term is offensive.
22 August 2016   WIPR readers have reacted angrily that the term ‘Comfyballs’ has been approved for women’s products but not men’s.