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Friday, October 25, 2013

Cities Have No Authority to Trademark their Seals or Insignias

A federal circuit court recently held that the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C §1051) prevents municipalities from obtaining federal trademark protection for their official seals and insignias.
In the consolidated cases of In Re City of Houston & In Re Government of the District of Columbia, (October 1, 2013), the City of Houston and the District of Columbia had filed applications to register their respective government seals/insignias as trademarks under the Lanham Act. In both cases, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the applications, citing §2(b) of the Lanham Act as prohibiting municipalities from registering city seals on the federal register. Both cities appealed the decision to the Federal Circuit, and the cases were consolidated. 
The Lanham Act allows an applicant to register its mark on the principal register, but only if the mark complies with the provisions of the Act. Section 2(b) of the Act provides that an applicant is prohibited from registering a proposed trademark that "[c]onsists of or comprises the flag or coat of arms or other insignia of the United States, or of any State or municipality, or of any foreign nation, or any simulation thereof." The Federal Circuit cited Section 2(b) in upholding the administrative denial of the two trademark applications.
The court concluded that municipalities may have other means of "preventing 'pirates and cheats' from using its city seal to deceive the public" such as passing an ordinance to prohibit such activity.  Alternatively, the court suggested that municipalities could seek a legislative amendment from Congress.


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