Calling Non-Traditional Trademarks By Name

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Things that are worth talking about need names. Good, distinctive names are best. As you may recall, last year we wrote this about non-verbal logos needing names:

“Marketing types, when brand owners operate in the world of non-verbal logos, isn’t spreading the news by word of mouth more difficult without a word to bring the image to mind, like Nike’s Swoosh, McDonald’s Golden Arches, or Coca-Cola’s Contour Bottle?”

Toyota’s Lexus automobile brand appears to be in agreement – applying this principle to non-traditional configuration trademarks too – because it created an engaging name for the unique automobile grille feature depicted below:

Two months ago Toyota received a federal trademark registration for the above-shown Lexus grille design, dubbed the “spindle” — here is the USPTO drawing for the mark:

Last September Toyota submitted 324 pages of argument and evidence to convince the USPTO that the “spindle grille” design functions as a trademark that has acquired distinctiveness in a very short period of time (seven months between the claimed first use date and the date when evidence of distinctiveness was submitted).

I’m convinced that having an engaging name for the grille design not only went a long way in facilitating word of mouth media buzz about the new look, but it also facilitated the equivalent of look-for advertising (an important element of proof in establishing non-traditional trademark rights). Toyota’s lengthy USPTO submission is replete with dramatic references to the signature ”spindle grille” design feature:

“In the Lexus LF-CC’s case, the concept clearly shares some design clues with the LF-LC concept released earlier this year, but in its own unique way.  This is perhaps the boldest interpretation yet of the now signature Lexus spindle grille: Framed by the front edge of the hood, deep lower spoiler, and projecting front fender tips, the grille mesh takes on a pronounced form.”

The Lexus website tells a wonderful story that reinforces the trademark claim in the grille design:

“A DASHING VISUAL FEATURE INTRODUCED WITH THE CURRENT GENERATION GS IN 2011, THE SPINDLE GRILLE HAS HERALDED A NEW CHAPTER FOR LEXUS AS A PREMIER AUTOMOTIVE BRAND”

“The bold, 3-D appeal of the grille’s profile is the result of an ongoing design evolution. The upper half of the grille, a trapezoid-like shape, was first introduced in 2005 with the GS model. It was part of Lexus’s attempt to create an individual face for the brand — soon leading to the decision to develop an additional lower grille aperture, forming the resultant spindle grille.”

“‘Everyone at Lexus believed that we should try putting forward one L-finesse design philosophy in a much bolder manner,’ explains Takeshi Tanabe, project manager of the Lexus Design Division. ‘L-finesse consists of the following three elements: seamless anticipation, intriguing excellence and incisive simplicity. They all must be reinforced in our design.’”

“Many drawings and clay models later, the overall design concept was perfected. The upper and lower grille apertures have been merged to form one distinctive shape, with chrome lining decorating the grille’s trim, making a bold visual statement.”

“GRILLE TRIM CHROME FINISHING”

“The vehicle’s finishing traces the contour of the spindle grille to create a unified appearance so distinctive that the origin of the car could not be mistaken for any other brand.”

But, here is where it starts to get a bit ugly, from a trademark perspective anyway:

“LOWER GRILLE APERTURE”

“Positioned low on the front end, the lower grille aperture gives a strong road presence to the vehicle. Its trapezoid-like shape assists the flow of air into the engine room.”

And, it gets worse, read on — here comes the dreaded F-word, right out of Toyota’s own mouth, or aperture:

“The recognizable geometric grille is a result of its function, too. In particular, the lower half is structured to assist intake airflow, optimizing the temperature of the engine under the hood.”

Was it really necessary to highlight functionality as part of the story? Everyone knows that air passes through a grille, but touting the shape as improving function, not good.

The trademark story was so compelling, and then it all comes to a screeching stop.

Any predictions on whether Toyota will be able to successfully deploy an airbag to prevent a non-traditional trademark casualty here?

Topics:  Automotive Industry, Toyota, Trademarks, USPTO

Published In: Communications & Media Updates, Intellectual Property Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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