Justice White, delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue in this case is whether the trade dress
Respondent Taco Cabana, Inc., operates a chain of fastfood restaurants in Texas. The restaurants serve Mexican food. The first Taco Cabana restaurant was opened in San Antonio in September 1978, and five more restaurants had been opened in San Antonio by 1985. Taco Cabana describes its Mexican trade dress as
In December 1985, a Two Pesos, Inc., restaurant was opened in Houston. Two Pesos adopted a motif very similar to the foregoing description of Taco Cabana's trade dress. Two Pesos restaurants expanded rapidly in Houston and other markets, but did not enter San Antonio. In 1986, Taco Cabana entered the Houston and Austin markets and expanded into other Texas cities, including Dallas and El Paso where Two Pesos was also doing business.
In 1987, Taco Cabana sued Two Pesos in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas for trade dress infringement under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U. S. C. § 1125(a) (1982 ed.),
In so holding, the court below followed precedent in the Fifth Circuit. In Chevron Chemical Co. v. Voluntary Purchasing Groups, Inc., 659 F.2d 695, 702 (CA5 1981), the court noted that trademark law requires a demonstration of secondary meaning only when the claimed trademark is not sufficiently distinctive of itself to identify the producer; the court held that the same principles should apply to protection of trade dresses. The Court of Appeals noted that this approach conflicts with decisions of other courts, particularly the holding of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Vibrant Sales, Inc. v. New Body Boutique, Inc., 652 F.2d 299 (1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 909 (1982), that § 43(a) protects unregistered trademarks or designs only where secondary meaning is shown. Chevron, supra, at 702. We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict among the Courts of Appeals on the question whether trade dress that is inherently distinctive is protectible under § 43(a) without a showing that it has acquired secondary meaning.
The Lanham Act
A trademark is defined in 15 U. S. C. § 1127 as including "any word, name, symbol, or device or any combination thereof" used by any person "to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown." In order to be registered, a mark must be capable of distinguishing the applicant's goods from those of others. § 1052. Marks are often classified in categories of generally increasing distinctiveness; following the classic formulation set out by Judge Friendly, they may be (1) generic; (2) descriptive; (3) suggestive; (4) arbitrary; or (5) fanciful. See Abercrombie & Fitch Co. v. Hunting World, Inc., 537 F.2d 4, 9 (CA2 1976). The Court of Appeals followed this classification and petitioner accepts it. Brief for Petitioner 11-15. The latter three categories of marks, because their intrinsic nature serves to identify a particular source of a product, are deemed inherently distinctive and are entitled to protection. In contrast, generic marks—those that "refe[r] to the genus of which the particular product is a species," Park `N Fly, Inc. v. Dollar Park & Fly, Inc., 469 U.S. 189, 194 (1985), citing Abercrombie & Fitch, supra, at 9—are not registrable as trademarks. Park `N Fly, supra, at 194.
The general rule regarding distinctiveness is clear: An identifying mark is distinctive and capable of being protected if it either (1) is inherently distinctive or (2) has acquired distinctiveness through secondary meaning. Restatement (Third) of Unfair Competition § 13, pp. 37-38, and Comment a (Tent. Draft No. 2, Mar. 23, 1990). Cf. Park `N Fly, supra, at 194. It is also clear that eligibility for protection under § 43(a) depends on nonfunctionality. See, e. g., Inwood Laboratories, supra, at 863 (White, J., concurring in result); see also, e. g., Brunswick Corp. v. Spinit Reel Co., 832 F.2d 513, 517 (CA10 1987); First Brands Corp. v. Fred Meyers, Inc., 809 F.2d 1378, 1381 (CA9 1987); Stormy Clime Ltd. v. ProGroup, Inc., 809 F.2d 971, 974 (CA2 1987); Ambrit, Inc. v. Kraft, Inc., 812 F.2d 1531, 1535 (CA11 1986); American Greetings Corp. v. Dan-Dee Imports, Inc., 807 F.2d 1136, 1141 (CA3 1986). It is, of course, also undisputed that liability under § 43(a) requires proof of the likelihood of confusion. See, e. g., Brunswick Corp., supra, at 516-517; Ambrit,
The Court of Appeals determined that the District Court's instructions were consistent with the foregoing principles and that the evidence supported the jury's verdict. Both courts thus ruled that Taco Cabana's trade dress was not descriptive but rather inherently distinctive, and that it was not functional. None of these rulings is before us in this case, and for present purposes we assume, without deciding, that each of them is correct. In going on to affirm the judgment for respondent, the Court of Appeals, following its prior decision in Chevron, held that Taco Cabana's inherently distinctive trade dress was entitled to protection despite the lack of proof of secondary meaning. It is this issue that is before us for decision, and we agree with its resolution by the Court of Appeals. There is no persuasive reason to apply to trade dress a general requirement of secondary meaning which is at odds with the principles generally applicable to infringement suits under § 43(a). Petitioner devotes much of its briefing to arguing issues that are not before us, and we address only its arguments relevant to whether proof of secondary meaning is essential to qualify an inherently distinctive trade dress for protection under § 43(a).
Petitioner argues that the jury's finding that the trade dress has not acquired a secondary meaning shows conclusively that the trade dress is not inherently distinctive. Brief for Petitioner 9. The Court of Appeals' disposition of this issue was sound:
Although petitioner makes the above argument, it appears to concede elsewhere in its brief that it is possible for a trade dress, even a restaurant trade dress, to be inherently distinctive and thus eligible for protection under § 43(a). Brief for Petitioner 10-11, 17-18; Reply Brief for Petitioner 10-14. Recognizing that a general requirement of secondary meaning imposes "an unfair prospect of theft [or] financial loss" on the developer of fanciful or arbitrary trade dress at the outset of its use, petitioner suggests that such trade dress should receive limited protection without proof of secondary meaning. Id., at 10. Petitioner argues that such protection should be only temporary and subject to defeasance when over time the dress has failed to acquire a secondary meaning. This approach is also vulnerable for the reasons given by the Court of Appeals. If temporary protection is available from the earliest use of the trade dress, it must be because it is neither functional nor descriptive, but an inherently distinctive dress that is capable of identifying a particular source of the product. Such a trade dress, or mark, is not subject to copying by concerns that have an equal opportunity to choose their own inherently distinctive trade dress. To terminate protection for failure to gain secondary meaning over some unspecified time could not be based on the failure of the dress to retain its fanciful, arbitrary, or suggestive nature, but on the failure of the user of the dress to be successful enough in the marketplace. This is not a valid basis to find a dress or mark ineligible for protection. The user of such a trade dress should be able to maintain what competitive position it has and continue to seek wider identification among potential customers.
This holding is in considerable tension with the provisions of the Lanham Act. If a verbal or symbolic mark or the features of a product design may be registered under § 2, it necessarily is a mark "by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others," 60 Stat. 428, and must be registered unless otherwise disqualified. Since § 2 requires secondary meaning only as a condition to registering descriptive marks, there are plainly marks that are registrable without showing secondary meaning. These same marks, even if not registered, remain inherently capable of distinguishing the goods of the users of these marks. Furthermore, the copier of such a mark may be seen as falsely claiming that his products may for some reason be thought of as originating from the plaintiff.
Some years after Vibrant, the Second Circuit announced in Thompson Medical Co. v. Pfizer Inc., 753 F.2d 208 (1985),
The Fifth Circuit was quite right in Chevron, and in this case, to follow the Abercrombie classifications consistently and to inquire whether trade dress for which protection is claimed under § 43(a) is inherently distinctive. If it is, it is capable of identifying products or services as coming from a specific source and secondary meaning is not required. This is the rule generally applicable to trademarks, and the protection of trademarks and trade dress under § 43(a) serves the same statutory purpose of preventing deception and unfair competition. There is no persuasive reason to apply different analysis to the two. The "proposition that secondary meaning must be shown even if the trade dress is a distinctive, identifying mark, [is] wrong, for the reasons explained by Judge Rubin for the Fifth Circuit in Chevron. " Blau Plumbing, Inc. v. S. O. S. Fix-It, Inc., 781 F.2d 604, 608 (CA7 1986). The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit also follows Chevron, Ambrit, Inc. v. Kraft, Inc., 805 F.2d 974, 979 (1986), and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit appears to think that proof of secondary meaning is superfluous
It would be a different matter if there were textual basis in § 43(a) for treating inherently distinctive verbal or symbolic trademarks differently from inherently distinctive trade dress. But there is none. The section does not mention trademarks or trade dress, whether they be called generic, descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary, fanciful, or functional. Nor does the concept of secondary meaning appear in the text of § 43(a). Where secondary meaning does appear in the statute, 15 U. S. C. § 1052 (1982 ed.), it is a requirement that applies only to merely descriptive marks and not to inherently distinctive ones. We see no basis for requiring secondary meaning for inherently distinctive trade dress protection under § 43(a) but not for other distinctive words, symbols, or devices capable of identifying a producer's product.
Engrafting onto § 43(a) a requirement of secondary meaning for inherently distinctive trade dress also would undermine the purposes of the Lanham Act. Protection of trade dress, no less than of trademarks, serves the Act's purpose to "secure to the owner of the mark the goodwill of his business and to protect the ability of consumers to distinguish among competing producers. National protection of trademarks is desirable, Congress concluded, because trademarks foster competition and the maintenance of quality by securing to the producer the benefits of good reputation." Park `N Fly, 469 U. S., at 198, citing S. Rep. No. 1333, 79th Cong., 2d Sess., 3-5 (1946) (citations omitted). By making more difficult the identification of a producer with its product, a secondary meaning requirement for a nondescriptive trade dress would hinder improving or maintaining the producer's competitive position.
Suggestions that under the Fifth Circuit's law, the initial user of any shape or design would cut off competition from
On the other hand, adding a secondary meaning requirement could have anticompetitive effects, creating particular burdens on the startup of small companies. It would present special difficulties for a business, such as respondent, that seeks to start a new product in a limited area and then expand into new markets. Denying protection for inherently distinctive nonfunctional trade dress until after secondary meaning has been established would allow a competitor, which has not adopted a distinctive trade dress of its own, to appropriate the originator's dress in other markets and to deter the originator from expanding into and competing in these areas.
As noted above, petitioner concedes that protecting an inherently distinctive trade dress from its inception may be critical to new entrants to the market and that withholding protection until secondary meaning has been established would be contrary to the goals of the Lanham Act. Petitioner specifically suggests, however, that the solution is to dispense with the requirement of secondary meaning for a reasonable, but brief, period at the outset of the use of a trade dress. Reply Brief for Petitioner 11-12. If § 43(a) does not require secondary meaning at the outset of a business' adoption of trade dress, there is no basis in the statute to support the suggestion that such a requirement comes into being after some unspecified time.
We agree with the Court of Appeals that proof of secondary meaning is not required to prevail on a claim under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act where the trade dress at issue is inherently distinctive, and accordingly the judgment of that court is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
Justice Scalia, concurring.
I write separately to note my complete agreement with Justice Thomas's explanation as to how the language of § 43(a) and its common-law derivation are broad enough to embrace inherently distinctive trade dress. Nevertheless, because I find that analysis to be complementary to (and not inconsistent with) the Court's opinion, I concur in the latter.
Justice Stevens, concurring in the judgment.
As the Court notes in its opinion, the text of § 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U. S. C. § 1125(a) (1982 ed.), "does not mention trademarks or trade dress." Ante, at 774. Nevertheless, the Court interprets this section as having created a federal cause of action for infringement of an unregistered trademark or trade dress and concludes that such a mark or dress should receive essentially the same protection as those that are registered. Although I agree with the Court's conclusion, I think it is important to recognize that the meaning of the text has been transformed by the federal courts over the past few decades. I agree with this transformation, even though it marks a departure from the original text, because it is consistent with the purposes of the statute and has recently been endorsed by Congress.
It is appropriate to begin with the relevant text of § 43(a).
For a number of years after the 1946 enactment of the Lanham Act, a "false description or representation," like "a false designation of origin," was construed narrowly. The phrase encompassed two kinds of wrongs: false advertising
Over time, the Circuits have expanded the categories of "false designation of origin" and "false description or representation." One treatise
Today, it is less significant whether the infringement falls under "false designation of origin" or "false description or representation"
Even though the lower courts' expansion of the categories contained in § 43(a) is unsupported by the text of the Act, I am persuaded that it is consistent with the general purposes of the Act. For example, Congressman Lanham, the bill's sponsor, stated: "The purpose of [the Act] is to protect legitimate
Although Congress has not specifically addressed the question whether secondary meaning is required under § 43(a), the steps it has taken in this subsequent legislation suggest that secondary meaning is not required if inherent distinctiveness has been established.
In light of the consensus among the Courts of Appeals that have actually addressed the question, and the steps on the part of Congress to codify that consensus, stare decisis concerns persuade me to join the Court's conclusion that secondary meaning is not required to establish a trade dress violation under § 43(a) once inherent distinctiveness
Justice Thomas, concurring in the judgment.
Both the Court and Justice Stevens decide today that the principles that qualify a mark for registration under § 2 of the Lanham Act apply as well to determining whether an unregistered mark is entitled to protection under § 43(a). The Court terms that view "common ground," though it fails to explain why that might be so, and Justice Stevens decides that the view among the Courts of Appeals is textually insupportable, but worthy nonetheless of adherence. See ante, at 768 (opinion of the Court); ante, at 781-782 (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment). I see no need in answering the question presented either to move back and forth among the different sections of the Lanham Act or to adopt what may or may not be a misconstruction of the statute for reasons akin to stare decisis. I would rely, instead, on the language of § 43(a).
Section 43(a) made actionable (before being amended) "any false description or representation, including words or other symbols tending falsely to describe or represent," when "use[d] in connection with any goods or services." 15 U. S. C. § 1125(a) (1982 ed.). This language codified, among other things, the related common-law torts of technical trademark infringement and passing off, see Inwood Laboratories, Inc. v. Ives Laboratories, Inc., 456 U.S. 844, 861, n. 2 (1982) (White, J., concurring in result); Chevron Chemical Co. v. Voluntary Purchasing Groups, Inc., 659 F.2d 695, 701 (CA5 1981), cert. denied, 457 U.S. 1126 (1982), which were causes of action for false descriptions or representations concerning a good's or service's source of production, see, e. g., Yale Electric Corp. v. Robertson, 26 F.2d 972, 973 (CA2 1928); American Washboard Co. v. Saginaw Mfg. Co., 103 F. 281, 284-286 (CA6 1900).
Over time, judges have come to conclude that packages or images may be as arbitrary, fanciful, or suggestive as words or symbols, their numbers limited only by the human imagination. See, e. g., Ambrit, Inc. v. Kraft, Inc., 812 F.2d 1531, 1536 (CA11 1986) ("square size, bright coloring, pebbled texture,
Because the Court reaches the same conclusion for different reasons, I join its judgment.
Bruce P. Keller filed a brief for the United States Trademark Association as amicus curiae.
This provision has been superseded by § 132 of the Trademark Law Revision Act of 1988, 102 Stat. 3946, 15 U. S. C. § 1121.
"Any person who shall affix, apply, or annex, or use in connection with any goods or services, or any container or containers for goods, a false designation of origin, or any false description or representation, including words or other symbols tending falsely to describe or represent the same, and shall cause such goods or services to enter into commerce, and any person who shall with knowledge of the falsity of such designation of origin or description or representation cause or procure the same to be transported or used in commerce or deliver the same to any carrier to be transported or used, shall be liable to a civil action by any person doing business in the locality falsely indicated as that of origin or in the region in which said locality is situated, or by any person who believes that he is or is likely to be damaged by the use of any such false description or representation." 15 U. S. C. § 1125(a) (1982 ed.).
"Beginning in about 1803, English and American common law slowly developed an offshoot of the tort of fraud and deceit and called it `passing off' or `palming off.' Simply stated, passing off as a tort consists of one passing off his goods as the goods of another. In 1842 Lord Langdale wrote:
"`I think that the principle on which both the courts of law and equity proceed is very well understood. A man is not to sell his own goods under the pretence that they are the goods of another man. . . .' "In 19th century cases, trademark infringement embodied much of the elements of fraud and deceit from which trademark protection developed. That is, the element of fraudulent intent was emphasized over the objective facts of consumer confusion." 1 J. McCarthy, Trademarks and Unfair Competition § 5.2, p. 133 (2d ed. 1984) (McCarthy) (footnotes omitted).
"The purpose underlying any trade-mark statute is twofold. One is to protect the public so it may be confident that, in purchasing a product bearing a particular trade-mark which it favorably knows, it will get the product which it asks for and wants to get. Secondly, where the owner of a trade-mark has spent energy, time, and money in presenting to the public the product, he is protected in his investment from its misappropriation by pirates and cheats. This is the well-established rule of law protecting both the public and the trade-mark owner." S. Rep. No. 1333, 79th Cong., 2d Sess., 3 (1946).
By protecting trademarks, Congress hoped "to protect the public from deceit, to foster fair competition, and to secure to the business community the advantages of reputation and good will by preventing their diversion from those who have created them to those who have not. This is the end to which this bill is directed." Id., at 4.
"As written, Section 43(a) appears to deal only with false descriptions or representations and false designations of geographic origin. Since its enactment in 1946, however, it has been widely interpreted as creating, in essence, a federal law of unfair competition. For example, it has been applied to cases involving the infringement of unregistered marks, violations of trade dress and certain nonfunctional configurations of goods and actionable false advertising claims." S. Rep. No. 100-515, p. 40 (1988).