ROSELUX CHEMICAL CO. v. PARSONS AMMONIA COMPANY Patent Appeal No. 6715.
299 F.2d 855 (1962)
ROSELUX CHEMICAL CO., Inc., Bonnie-Lan, Inc., and Proxite Products, Inc., Appellants, v. PARSONS AMMONIA COMPANY, Inc., Appellee.
United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals.
March 9, 1962.
George B. Finnegan, Jr., New York City (John R. Murtha, Hamden, Conn., of counsel), for appellee.
Before WORLEY, Chief Judge, and RICH, MARTIN, and SMITH, Judges, and Judge WILLIAM H. KIRKPATRICK.
Registration of "sudsy" is opposed. Opposers are appealing from the decision of the Patent Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (124 USPQ 524) dismissing three consolidated oppositions, Nos. 37,969, 37,975, and 37,976, all opposing the issuance of a Principal Register registration on appellee's application Ser. No. 38,558, filed October 8, 1957, of "sudsy" as a trademark for "aqueous ammonium hydroxide composition," as the goods are described in the application. Comprehension of the issues in this case requires a more accurate understanding of what the goods are. To that end we set forth some background.
Appellee, Parsons Ammonia Company, Inc. (hereinafter called "Parsons"), is the direct successor in business to one C. C. (Charles Chauncy) Parsons who, in 1876, introduced ammonia water, otherwise known as aqua ammonia, to the American housewife. Ammonia, in the technical sense, is a gas (NH
The application on appeal relies on section 2(f) of the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. § 1052(f), 15 U.S.C.A. § 1052(f) ) and states:
That showing consists of an affidavit of Parsons' president, Philip C. Ingham,
The foregoing is advertising. The record in this case shows that the formulation for the new sudsy product, essentially a combination of synthetic detergent and aqua ammonia, was worked out for Parsons by Foster D. Snell, Inc., consulting chemists in New York City, carrying out an idea conceived by Mr. Ingham.
The record also shows that to avoid deteriorating the value of the old "C.C. Parsons' Household Ammonia" on hand in stores, the new synthetic detergent-containing product was gradually substituted as new orders were filled, beginning in 1948, without making any change in the front labels on the bottles. Bottles also carried a back label, however, and in 1948 it was modified to have a light blue background of small soap bubbles and to say at the top, "PARSONS' Sudsy HOUSEHOLD AMMONIA." The "Directions" printed at the bottom read, in part:
In 1949, Mr. Ingham testified, Parsons put "NEW" and "SUDSY" on the front label where previously it had said "ONE QUART" (see illustration, infra) but, when viewing a bottle on the shelf, he said, "It was so small you couldn't see it." A new back label was designed in which a little more prominence was given to the word "Sudsy" in the heading, that word being enlarged, in blue, and in quotation marks, but still in the same phrase as in 1948. The directions still told the user to "swish up suds," as they do to this day.
Since Parsons has not relied for registrability on the bubble backgound, but only on the significance of the word "sudsy," we are disregarding the background in this discussion.
The specimen front label attached to the application contains one added feature not shown in the above illustration, namely, a panel, about half the height of the top panel in which "sudsy" appears, extending across the label directly beneath the word "AMMONIA" and filled by the words "ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER." Mr. Ingham said this change was made in 1956. The label shown above therefore represents the one in use during most of the period between first use in 1948 and the filing of the application in 1957. At the time of application, therefore, the prominent words on the front label, where one would expect to find whatever trademark was being used on the product, were "SUDSY C.C.PARSONS' HOUSEHOLD AMMONIA ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER." "C.C.PARSONS' HOUSEHOLD AMMONIA" is in white letters on a black background, the lattice-work design is black on a gold background, the "sudsy" panel is printed in red on white and the "ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER" panel in white on red. The antidote notice is red on white.
The board summed up opposers' position thus:
Does "sudsy" Describe The Product?
The first issue which emerges in this case is the descriptiveness of the common English word "sudsy" in the context of its use on "C.C.Parsons' Household Ammonia." This necessitates consideration of the characteristics of the product.
The pre-1948 Parsons' ammonia, the cloudy type, did not form substantial suds when shaken in its bottle nor did it make a solution, when diluted for use, in which suds could be worked up. The change in the product which took place in 1948, the addition of or combination with a synthetic detergent,
We add thereto the fact that the new product is sudsy whether water is added to it or not. After all, it is primarily "gassed water," as Mr. Ingham testified. (See footnote 1). One or two shakes of a partly filled bottle of Parsons' detergent ammonia, sold under the above illustrated label, which material is in evidence, fills the bottle to its neck with long-lasting suds.
Mr. Ingham prepared a "Chronology" of the development and promotion of the new product which is in evidence. Under
"Sudsy" is a common word defined in Webster's New International Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (1937) as meaning "Full of suds; frothy; foamy." It is unnecessary to labor the issue of descriptiveness because Parsons' witnesses and briefs admit the descriptiveness of the word "sudsy." One instance should suffice. Mr. Ingham, president of Parsons, asked on cross examination about an application to register the word, filed July 29, 1950, and why it was abandoned, replied, "Because, at that time, there was no question that the word was descriptive, so we didn't pursue it."
We find it impossible to reach any conclusion from such admissions, and there are many like it, other than that "sudsy ammonia" is a common descriptive name for the product, contrary to the board's finding on this point. The board said:
There seems to be implicit in this statement an assumption, for which there is no legal foundation, that a product has only one common descriptive name, and that such name here is "detergent ammonia." Consider, however, that the product commonly known as tooth paste is also commonly known as dentifrice and dental cream. A gravestone is also commonly known as a headstone, a tombstone and a monument. One common descriptive name of the product to which "sudsy" is applied is "detergent ammonia" but proof of this fact does not establish that "sudsy ammonia" is not also a common descriptive name. Another descriptive name is "ammonium hydroxide solution containing synthetic detergent". However, in considering whether "sudsy ammonia" is a common descriptive name of the product we cannot fail to take into consideration the class of people who will commonly be using it and what they will commonly call it. The record here shows, through the testimony of Mr. Ingham and in other respects, that the product is intended, not for chemists, but in his words for "Mrs. Consumer," the average housewife. Assuming her familiarity with clear ammonia or cloudy ammonia or even pine-scented ammonia, the thing she is most likely to remember about this new product especially after having once used it or seen it demonstrated, is that it is sudsy ammonia. That is the one characteristic that was "plugged." It seems to us that this is as clearly its common
For these reasons we are constrained to disagree with one of the main premises of the board's decision, that the record does not show that "sudsy" is a type designation for an ammonia compound. There is no apparent reason for omitting "sudsy" from the list of type designations. Not one of the others as aptly describes the compound here involved.
Uses of "sudsy" by Others
Opposers' main point is that the word sought to be registered is so highly descriptive that they and others should be left free to use it. They showed that they and others had already used "sudsy" descriptively on ammonia products. The following uses are shown by the record:
B. T. Babbitt, Inc., New York, marketed as early as 1954 or 1955 a product labeled "Instant Am-O powdered AMMONIA". The label in evidence bears the words "SUDSY NON-POISONOUS", one above the other, in prominent type above the more prominently displayed trademark "Am-O." The label also states that the contents of the can is "equal to 1½ quarts of bottled ammonia."
The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was shown to have sold a liquid ammonia product. The label in evidence reads thus:
with a picture of a sailboat in the background.
American Stores Co., Philadelphia, was admitted by Mr. Ingham, testifying on cross examination in May, 1959, to have recently brought out a product labeled "SPEEDUP Sudsy AMMONIA with PINE Detergent." The label is in evidence.
Mr. Ingham also said he was acquainted with the existence of a product called "Sea Mist Sudsy Ammonia with Pine Detergent," marketed by Trager Mfg. Co., Inc., of Scranton, Pa., which product is advertised in undated pages from a book of product listings put out by "Seaman Brothers, the White Rose people," a large wholesale grocery company. Testimony showed that product had probably been on the market at least as early as May 1957. Around May 1959 the label appears to have been changed to omit "sudsy" and to say "Detergent Ammonia with Swiss Pine Fragrance."
Opposers' own products are as follows:
Roselux Chemical Co., Inc., has marketed "Rose-X SUDSY PINE DETERGENT AMMONIA" from about October 1957. Preparation for such sales evidently began several months earlier.
Proxite Products, Inc. was selling PROX Bonnie Sudsy AMMONIA" as early as February 28, 1955, and the remaining opposer, Bonnie-Lan, Inc., a corporation under the same management at the same address, sold "SUDSY Bonnie Lanolin AMMONIA" from mid-1956 on.
We think Parsons tacitly admits "sudsy" to be descriptive. It insists, however, that it is not "generic" and so is capable of becoming distinctive. The main burden of its argument is that its evidence of acquired distinctiveness is "over-whelming."
Parsons has established that it is the country's major producer of ammonia for home use, the only one with national distribution, that its sales in 1958 exceeded $3,000,000 (its only product being ammonia), and that "sudsy C.C.Parsons' Household Ammonia" constitutes 95% of its sales, the rest being some private brands it makes for others. In other words, the only product Parsons sells directly is the single product "sudsy C.C.Parsons' Household Ammonia." It claims to have spent over $1,000,000 in promoting a product which its officers like to think of with a certain fondness as "SUDSY," the sales of which are more
It has produced the testimony of about twenty witnesses that they associated "Sudsy" ammonia only with Parsons. These witnesses were employees, brokers, retailers, and like people in the trade, working in the chain of distribution. Since Parsons was the only purveyor of a sudsy detergent ammonia from 1948 until about 1954 or 1955, such an association within the trade would be inevitable. There are also some unsolicited letters from ecstatic consumers referring with affection to "Sudsy." Under the circumstances, the product being a good one and plugged over radio and TV as "Sudsy," a file of such letters was bound to result.
However, proof of distinctiveness requires more than proof of the existence of a relatively small number of people who associate the word "sudsy" with Parsons. Distinctiveness means that the primary meaning of the word, in this limited field, is as a designation of source rather than of a characteristic of the product. We think the proof does not establish this.
To show the state of the ultimate consumer's mind with respect to the word "sudsy" as applied to ammonia, Parsons has referred to two independent surveys, one made by Home Makers Guild of America for Owens-Illinois Glass Company in 1955 and the other by Good Housekeeping Magazine in 1959. Taking Parsons' own interpretation of the results, presumably most favorable to its contention, we see that the Home Makers' survey shows, at best, that of the actual users of Parsons' product only 9% referred to it simply as "Sudsy." The other 91% called it "Parsons' Household Ammonia" or simply "Household." The Good Housekeeping survey, at best, shows that those designating Parsons' product called it "C.C.Parsons" 190 times, "Parsons' Sudsy" 42 times, "Parsons Household" 14 times, "Sudsy" alone 31 times (assuming a competing product was not meant), "Household" alone 14 times, and "Sudsy Pine" once. Those actually referring to Parsons' product called it simply "Sudsy" in only about 10% of the instances. The surveys are open to other criticisms but it seems sufficient to say that even if 10% of the people who actually know the product call it "sudsy" alone, we cannot assume therefrom that the primary significance of the word to purchasers of ammonia is as a designation of origin. Evidently 90% or so of actual users look to other features on the label for that purpose.
Based on such evidence, Parsons is here asking for a Principal Register registration which, under section 7(b), (15 U.S.C. § 1057(b), 15 U.S.C.A. § 1057(b) ), would be prima facie evidence of its "exclusive right to use" the common word "sudsy" on sudsy detergent ammonia. From what we have said it will be evident that in our opinion "sudsy ammonia" and "sudsy detergent ammonia" are common descriptive names of the composition named in Parsons' application and that anyone who sells such a composition is entitled to call it by these names, as many had done before, or were doing, when Parsons applied for registration. The fact that Parsons was enjoying sales of such product many times the volume of all other sellers combined, partly as the result of advertising and plant expansion
Registrability of "sudsy" must be determined on the basis of the facts as they exist at the time when the issue of registrability is under consideration. DeWalt, Inc. v. Magna Power Tool Corporation,
The legal principles applicable here are those enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in Kellogg Co. v. National Biscuit Co.,
Two common descriptive names of the product here involved are "sudsy detergent ammonia," and, more succinctly, "sudsy ammonia." While we can agree with the board, literally, that the record does not show that "sudsy" alone is a common descriptive name, it is, as an adjective, half of a common descriptive name. As such, contrary to the board's finding, it is clearly, and in common parlance, a type designation. It is, beyond question, descriptive. Parsons' uses of the word on its product, in the forms "sudsy C.C.Parsons' Household Ammonia," "Parsons' sudsy ammonia," "Parsons' sudsy Detergent Ammonia," notwithstanding a certain amount of emphasis on "sudsy," have been descriptive uses. Some uses in label texts and some advertising of the word "sudsy" as a sort of nickname or familiar name for the product, while they may have caused some users to refer to the product itself as "Sudsy," fall far short of establishing that this descriptive word has acquired a new primary meaning indicative of the origin of the goods. As of the time when registration is being sought, others are, or in the immediate past were, using the term descriptively on the same or closely similar products, precluding the possibility that it could, to purchasers generally, indicate origin only in Parsons. The word "sudsy" started as a type designation and, on the record before us, it is still primarily such a word.
For the above reasons, Parsons is not entitled to the registration sought and
WORLEY, Chief Judge, and MARTIN, J., concur in result only.
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