Geographic-TermsGeographic terms are words that describe a location or contain names of regions of the world (countries, states, counties, districts, cities, neighborhoods, mountains, lakes, rivers, etc). If geographic terms are used in a trademark to describe where the products are made or services performed, the trademark will typically be unregisterable unless the terms have acquired distinctiveness or attained secondary meaning in the eyes of consumers.  The Lanham Act describes four different types of geographic terms: (1) primarily geographically descriptive terms, (2) geographically deceptive terms, (3) primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive terms, and (4) regional certification marks.

Primarily Geographically Descriptive Terms

Primarily geographically descriptive terms are words that describe the geographic origin of a product and/or service and are typically not registrable when the primary meaning of the trademark is the name of a location that is generally known to the public, the public would believe the goods/services originate in that location, and the goods/services actually do originate in that location. A geographically descriptive trademark may, however, achieve trademark registration if the mark attains a secondary meaning. This requires that the trademark applicant show that consumers associate the word or phrase with the source of the products or services offered.

Geographic terms describe a location or contain the names of parts or regions of the world. The could be cities, neighborhoods, rivers, or even unofficial names for places (lowcountry for Charleston). These trademarks are typically afforded registration when they have obtained a secondary meaning.

Geographically Deceptive Terms

Geographically deceptive terms are words or phrases that deceive as to the location where the products or services originate. A term is geographically deceptive if the trademark would lead consumers to believe that the products or services originated in the location even though the products or services originated elsewhere. These types of trademarks are unregistered with the USPTO if the misrepresentation is material to the public’s decision to purchase the product and/or service.

Geographically Deceptive Misdescriptive Terms

The test to determine if a trademark is deceptively misdescriptive is whether the trademark misdescribes the products and/or services, and whether consumers are likely to believe that the misdescription is true. These trademarks cannot be registered unless the trademark owner can show the mark achieved a secondary meaning prior to December 8, 1993.

Regional Certification Marks

A regional certification mark is a trademark that certifies that a particular good or service originates in a given geographic region. These trademarks are allowed federal trademark registration with the USPTO as long as the relevant purchasing public would understand that the goods or service containing the regional certification, come only from that region as indicated by the mark.