The USPTO refused registration of the mark PARSONS for golf equipment and various ancillary goods and services (six applications, each in a different class), finding the mark to be primarily merely a surname under Section 2(e)(4). Examining Attorney April E. Reeves pointed out that the founder of Applicant PXG is Bob Parsons, whom applicant describes as a “well-known businessman, philanthropist and golf nut.” Applicant argued that the word “parsons” has another meaning and therefore is not primarily a surname. How do you think this came out? In re Parsons Xtreme Golf, LLC, Serial Nos. 86666031, 86700421, 86701458, 86701787, 86702680, 86706223 (December 17, 2018) [not precedential] (Opinion by Judge Cynthia C. Lynch).

Rareness: The evidence showed that tens of thousands of individuals in this country have the surname PARSONS. Wikipedia lists nearly 80 “[n]otable people with the surname of Parsons,” including Applicant’s founder, who is identified as an entrepreneur. Applicant introduced U.S. Census Bureau data to argue that the number of people with the PARSONS surname, as a percentage of total population, is extremely small. The Board was unmoved: “such a comparison with even the most common surname would represent only a small fraction of the U.S. population.”

The widespread appearance of the surname in mainstream media, as well as indications that well-known celebrities bear the surname, contribute to public perception of PARSONS as a surname. Based on this evidence, we find that PARSONS is not rarely encountered as a surname, and therefore it is likely to be perceived by the public as having surname significance.

Bob Parsons: Applicant’s founder, Bob Parsons, bears the surname, and applicant publicizes that connection on its website and in its promotional materials. This evidence weights in favor of the surname refusal.

Other Meaning: Applicant urged that because “parsons” can be defined as members of the clergy, the non-surname significance undercutting a claim that the proposed mark is primarily merely a surname. Applicant pointed to the reference to “Parson Brown” in the popular Christmas song “Winter Wonderland.” The examining attorney argued that the surname meaning is far more familiar to consumers.

The Board observed that the mere existence of other non-surname meanings of a mark does not preclude a finding that it is primarily merely a surname. See, e.g., Mitchell Miller, PC v. Miller, 105 USPQ2d 1615, 1621 (TTAB 2013) (MILLER primarily merely a surname).

Applicant’s golf-related goods and services and other promotional items do not relate in any way to the clergy, and Applicant offers no reason why a consumer would associate that meaning of PARSONS with its mark, rather than the surname meaning. Particularly given Applicant’s own extensive promotion of PARSONS as the surname of its founder, we find that the consumers would apply the surname meaning to Applicant’s mark.

Structure and Pronunciation: There was no evidence that PARSONS is structured like other surnames. The examining attorney contended that PARSONS is like other English occupational surnames, and is derived from historical use as a surname for relatives or servants of a clergyman. The Board was not impressed, since this evidence did not show any similar pronunciation with or structural similarity to other common surnames.

Conclusion: The Board found that “the record, taken as a whole, establishes that the primary significance of PARSONS to the purchasing public is merely that of a surname within the meaning of Section 2(e)(4).”

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Text Copyright John L. Welch 2018.