BIG SIX nixed for wine trademark as the big six is generic in the wine world.
The Trademark Trial and Appeals Board and the USPTO don’t work in a vacuum and this recent opinion over a company’s attempt to register BIG SIX for wine shows just how well they’re doing in researching and protecting common vernacular so alcohol manufacturers can continue to utilize common terms.
In this case, the applicant, Plata Wine Partners, LLC, sought to register BIG SIX for “wine” (Class 33). The examining attorney refused registration on the grounds that BIG SIX “is a term of art in the wine industry” so it was merely descriptive of the applicant’s goods. The examining attorney also found that the term BIG SIX was generic in connection with wines and made the mark incapable of functioning as a source-identifier for the applicants wines.
The wine partners appealed and the TTAB agreed. You can read the opinion in In re Plata Wine Partners, LLC , here.
Generic terms do not qualify for trademark protection – they are incapable of indicating a particular source of the goods or services. Any term that the relevant public uses or understands to refer to the genus of goods, or a key aspect or subcategory of the genus, is generic.
BIG SIX refers to six common types of wine, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red), Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon – these are 80 percent of the world’s wines. The TTAB’s opinion lists no fewer than twenty-one citations to articles available simply through a Google search demonstrating how common the term is.
The wine partners argued that BIG SIX was simply about the varietals and wasn’t a generic designation for wine itself, but the TTAB held that the name was both for the grape varietals and the types of wines made from those grapes. No one asks for “white wine comprising the chardonnay varietal grape” they ask for a glass of “chardonnay.”
The wine partners also argued the BIG SIX wasn’t descriptive. But whether a mark is descriptive is a determination about the type of goods sought and the context he mark is used in connection with those goods and an ingredient of a good is descriptive. The TTAB rejected the descriptive argument on the basis the BIG SIX is descriptive of a feature of the wines, namelty the category of wines offered for sale or the types of varietal grapes used to produce the wines. in deciding this, the TTAB noted that the “major reasons for not protecting such [merely descriptive] marks are: (1) to prevent the owner of a mark from inhibiting competition in the sale of particular goods; and (2) to maintain freedom of the public to use the language involved, thus avoiding the possibility of harassing infringement suits by the registrant against others who use the mark when advertising or describing their own products.”