Trademark Board Eliminates CARBON ELIMINATOR Application

In yet another example of eco-mark applicants struggling with descriptiveness, a trademark application for CARBON ELIMINATOR for a “non-chemical enzyme fuel additive” recently went down as merely descriptive of the goods.

After the Examining Attorney refused registration of the mark, Star-Brite Distributing, Inc. (Star-Brite) appealed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board).

Under U.S. trademark law, a mark that is merely descriptive of the goods or services it is being used to market or sell is not registrable on the Principal Register because that would restrict competitors from conveying information about their goods or services.  A merely descriptive mark is one that immediately conveys to consumers the nature of the goods or services.

A major problem for Star-Brite was that the product packaging states that CARBON ELIMINATOR “removes tough carbon deposits” (see below).

Carbon Eliminator

In addition, a product description submitted as a specimen in the application said the product “uses enzyme technology to remove carbon, gum and varnish deposits.”

Based on the packaging and description, the Board found the mark descriptive of what the product actually does:

[A]s Applicant’s specimen and product packaging make clear, Applicant’s enzyme fuel additive eliminates carbon engine deposits.

Star-Brite argued that the term “carbon” does not describe an enzyme fuel additive and the associated chemical reaction and that CARBON ELIMINATOR is a double entendre because the product reduces carbon dioxide emissions of hydrocarbon fuel-burning engines.

The Board disagreed, explaining that CARBON ELIMINATOR is descriptive of the “purpose and and result of that biochemical reaction” and noting that all meanings of the alleged “double entendre” are nonetheless merely descriptive.

The Board concluded that the mark as a whole does not convey “any distinctive source-identifying impression contrary to the descriptiveness of the individual parts.”

Finally, the Board stated that consumers would view the mark as simply signaling what the product does and, re-stating a principal policy of descriptiveness law, noted that competitors ought to be able to use the terms to describe similar products:

On this record, it is clear that consumers familiar with Applicant’s goods would immediately understand, upon seeing Applicant’s proposed mark, that the fuel additive removes carbon deposits.  Furthermore, Applicant’s competitors who also offer products which remove deposits should, like Applicant, have the opportunity to use the term “carbon eliminator” or variations thereof to explain the purpose of their products.

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Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.