World Trademark Review – Why the SPECTACLES trademark case is one to watch

With engineering organization Snap having the USPTO to courtroom for rejecting the registration of a SPECTACLES trademark, Phillips Nizer spouse Alan Behr outlines his ideas on the dispute in our most up-to-date feeling column.

Decades in the past, while beginning an tour as part of the once-a-year assembly of the Worldwide Trademark Association (INTA), which was in Orlando that year, I sat on a tour bus with an analyzing legal professional from the USPTO. She presented a tip for how to describe merchandise and solutions in a US trademark software: “We are like children,” she mentioned. “We are incredibly literal.”

What applies to producing an software is also a element should really the application become the matter of adversarial proceedings, whether in the TTAB (which is the unit in the USPTO that hears an applicant’s petition to reverse the examiner’s refusal to sign-up the mark for which a turned down software had been submitted) or in a federal lawsuit that may outcome ought to the TTAB preserve an examiner’s refusal to sign up.

The USPTO conducts its proceedings in English and, certainly, expects English translations of any marks that may possibly have meanings in international languages. It utilizes the translations to assistance it gauge, on an apples-to-apples linguistic foundation, if there is any chance of confusion in the market. For the reason that, for fashion and other client items, the marketplace is typically seen to be the American general public or,some conditions, specialized niche marketplaces this kind of as consumers of luxurious goods, phrases contained in marks are ordinarily evaluated dependent on perceived well known meanings. As a outcome, over the a long time, this attorney-hefty workplace of the government department of the federal government—an agency of the Commerce Office, to be specific—has become a fairly curious custodian of American English.

That was pushed residence all over again recently in a circumstance filed in federal courtroom in the Central District of California by Snap Inc, which owns the popular Snapchat app. Snap is suing to pressure the USPTO to reverse alone and make it possible for the registration of SPECTACLES as a trademark for its equipment that glimpse like pairs of sun shades with cameras built in. The product or service line, to which it assigns “smart glasses” as the generic expression, permits end users to file online video for use with the brand’s well-known Snapchat app.

In support, the plaintiff asserts that use of the expression spectacles in the sense of vision glasses is “old-fashioned”. Look at Benjamin Franklin, generally regarded as the creator of bifocals, who observed in a letter in 1784 that he was, “happy in the invention of double spectacles, which serving for distant objects as well as close to types, make my eyes as valuable to me as at any time they were”.


The USPTO had rejected the registration of two SPECTCACLES programs, rejections upheld by the TTAB, which held that spectacles is a generic phrase – that it stays, in easy phrases, a synonym for eyeglasses. It ruled that Snap experienced been unable to prove that its marketing and advertising and revenue endeavours have altered the most important importance of the expression spectacles to necessarily mean its merchandise line.

In easy conditions, the problem presented to the courtroom is no matter whether the original indicating of term spectacles in the two the medical feeling (as eyesight aids) and fashion perception (eg, the wire-rims of John Lennon and the Persol sun shades of Steve McQueen) has been outmoded in common American English by a new tech this means: a brand name of digicam-bearing eyeglasses owned solely by Snap. If so, henceforth, for any these kinds of eyeglasses and any merchandise or solutions fairly similar to them, Snap will be the exclusive operator of the word spectacles and the sole arbiter of how that phrase is used for as prolonged as it shall so use the mark in interstate commerce.

If that is now true, we would assume that the indicating of the Franklin quotation over would no more time be greatly comprehended by these not familiar with archaic phrases or the record of eyewear. As someone who has named his have eyeglasses his “specs” for as lengthy as he can try to remember, when I 1st read of the case, I puzzled if I should nurture a concern about particular linguistic obsolescence. It was thus a reduction when, on asking my middle schooler to outline spectacles, he replied that it meant his eyeglasses and other folks like them.

Must the courtroom agree, the case will very likely finish suitable there, but it will be exciting to watch the sort of evidence and testimony that the plaintiff will provide in its try to encourage the judge if not. If it can show at demo that the American community (beyond my relatives) alternatively thinks largely of Snap’s intelligent eyeglasses every time the phrase spectacles is pointed out, it will have prevailed. American English will thereby have been adjudicated to have shifted a notch—and I suppose that my son and I will have to reconsider our own lexicons.