LNJ Vineyards LLC applied to register HAPPY NEW YEAR as a trademark for wine. The USPTO Examining Attorney refused registration asserting that HAPPY NEW YEAR did not function as a trademark when used in connection with wine.
The Examining Attorney said:
“HAPPY NEW YEAR, is a common sentiment usually conveyed when wishing someone happiness in the new year…Further, such phrases are commonly associated with wine and wishing someone a happy new year. … Accordingly, the mark functions only as the sentiment it conveys, rather than as a trademark/source identifier for the wine.”
If you heard/saw “HAPPY NEW YEAR” in connection with wine, would you think its a brand or would you think it was the common sentiment wishing you a happy new year? People drink wine on new years eve and commonly wish each other a happy new year. So, the use of HAPPY NEW YEAR in connection with wine is not likely to be understood as indicating a source of wine, i.e. functioning as a trademark.
The case would probably be even stronger if the goods were Champagne rather than wine. Not surprisingly, December is the month with the largest sales of champagne, according to the Guild of Sommeliers. So there is likely a strong connection between the HAPPY NEW YEAR sentiment and Champagne.
When choosing a trademark, make sure that the mark is not in wide and common use as a sentiment with respect to the intended goods or services. Otherwise it may not function as a trademark.
However, if HAPPY NEW YEAR was used on goods having no prior connection to new years celebrations, it could function as a trademark. Mattel applied to register HAPPY NEW YEAR for dolls, doll clothing, and doll accessories. And the USPTO granted the registration.
Here’s the HAPPY NEW YEAR Barbie doll:
Of course, Mattel’s trademark registration does not stop anyone from wishing others a Happy New Year. This is a common misunderstanding of trademark law. Mattel’s rights are confined to the use of the phrase as a trademark in connection with dolls.
Happy New Year everyone.