The TTAB's Dangerous Dismissal of 'Doubt'

Charles E. Colman

William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

November 7, 2013

Harvard Journal of Law and Technology Digest (Nov. 12, 2013)
NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 13-75

On September 30, 2013, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued a troubling decision in In re Bottega Veneta Int’l S.a.r.l. Viewed in a broader context, the decision reflects the Board’s growing reluctance to apply the doctrine of “aesthetic functionality” in ex parte prosecution proceedings to bar the issuance of potentially anticompetitive trade-dress registrations. The TTAB gives its imprimatur to the dubious “trade dress” at issue in Bottega Veneta through procedural tactics whose novelty and import have gone largely unacknowledged — specifically, (1) the Board’s declaration of its intention to resolve “doubts” as to aesthetic functionality in favor of applicants, and (2) the Board’s disposal of concerns about product-design monopolization through reliance on supposedly limiting conditions agreed to by the applicant, but which the federal courts will not observe or enforce. As such, In re Bottega Veneta — despite its technical status as a mere “non-precedential” decision by an agency whose determination can theoretically be revisited by the federal courts — will improperly hinder marketplace competition and restrict creative freedom among designers.

For a proposal that the courts and USPTO rely more heavily on the doctrine of “genericism” as a potential solution to the problems associated with the “aesthetic functionality” doctrine, please visit the Law of Fashion website — containing a presentation given at the NYU 2014 Tri-State IP Workshop and forming the basis for a full-length work-in-progress.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 20

Keywords: TTAB, trademark, prosecution, registration, trade dress, patent, design patent, antitrust, anticompetitive, product design, monopoly, Bottega Veneta, aesthetic functionality

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Date posted: November 3, 2013 ; Last revised: January 16, 2014

Suggested Citation

Colman, Charles E., The TTAB's Dangerous Dismissal of 'Doubt' (November 7, 2013). Harvard Journal of Law and Technology Digest (Nov. 12, 2013); NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 13-75. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2349076

Contact Information

Charles Edward Colman (Contact Author)
William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i at Manoa ( email )
2515 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822
United States
8089567966 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.hawaii.edu/person/charles-e-colman
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