Weak Marks Leave Only Stylistic Elements Protected: DIY Auto Edition

It is usually not good when the trademark office considers the whole text of your mark to be generic, as the registration for DIY AUTO REPAIR SHOPS demonstrates below. When you want to use a generic element in your mark to describe the goods or services offered, it is usually better to combine that with a unique text element so you have something protectable, to which your reputation can attach.

DIY AUTO, LLC applied to register the DIY AUTO and design, shown below, for the services of providing a website featuring information about automotive maintenance and repair service.

The Examining Attorney refused registration based on DIY AUTO REPAIR SHOPS and design, shown below, registered for the services of a do-it-yourself vehicle repair shop.


The Trademark Trial and Appeals Board reversed the refusal and allowed the application on DIY AUTO to register. The board said that “we find that the purchasing public, who are interested in repairing their own vehicles, will understand the terms DIY, DIY AUTO, and DIY AUTO REPAIR in the generic sense, rather than as indicating a particular source of do-it-yourself auto repair services.”

Here, given DIY AUTO and DIY AUTO REPAIR are generic, all that is left for the trademark registrations to protect is the stylistic (logo) presentation–i.e. the blue and white badge-like logo of the first mark and the orange and blue badge-like logo of the second mark–but not the text alone. That’s not a lot of protection considering consumers can use or encounter the mark audibly or orally. Indeed, words are often used by customers to refer to or request goods/services. See e.g. TMEP 1207.01(c)(iii).

The terms DIY AUTO are telling customers what they get in connection with auto repair and auto repair information, but the mark owners are not staking out any substantial ground that can distinguish one source of goods/services from another, apart from the graphics. Each of these marks are or will be registered, but the scope of protection is narrow.

It would be better if these parties attached DIY AUTO to a protectable text mark, e.g. ACME DIY AUTO. That way each could build brand recognition in the protectable text (ACME) and also inform customers what they get (DIY AUTO).

Use Your Trademark Consistently or It Will Be Weak: WD-40 in the Crosshair

Most damaging to Sorensen’s argument regarding this factor is his inconsistent use of the crosshair [trade]mark. – Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sorensen_v_WD-40_CrosshairIn 1997, Jeffery Sorensen founded a company and began selling rust preventive products under the trademark THE INHIBITOR. Sorensen claimed trademark rights in THE INHIBITOR mark and common law trademark rights in the Sorensen Crosshair provided on some of his products, shown to the right.

In 2011, the WD-40 Company, began selling WD-40 Specialist Long-Term Corrosion Inhibitor for a similar purpose. The WD-40 product contained the same volatile corrosion inhibitor as Sorensen’s product.

Sorensen sued WD-40 for infringing THE INHIBITOR and crosshair trademarks in the case of Sorensen v. WD-40 Company, No. 14-3067 (7th Cir. June 11, 2015). But he lost on all counts.

While its not the only reason that Sorensen lost on his claim that WD-40’s crosshair infringed Sorensen’s crosshair, one factor in the defeat was the fact that Sorensen did not use the crosshair consistently across his products and marketing.

The consistent use of a trademark is very important to maintaining its strength. Trademark strength is one factor in determining whether there is a likelihood of confusion between two marks and therefore infringement. If you have a weak trademark you will have a harder time asserting infringement against similar marks.

In the WD-40 case, the court stated:

Inconsistent use makes a symbol less helpful to consumers as a source indicator, and therefore a weaker mark.

The court noted that Sorensen’s products, shown in the image below, provided evidence of inconsistent use of the crosshair. The court stated, “Sorensen’s crosshair has been used since 1997, but inconsistently—sometimes the crosshair has symbols in each quadrant, sometimes the quadrants are empty, and many times there is no crosshair at all, but rather a bull’s eye.”


The court concluded that the inconsistent use of the crosshair mark weighed in favor of WD-40. This, together with other factors, ultimately led the court to find the WD-40 did not infringe Sorensen’s crosshair trademark.

To strengthen your trademark rights ensure consistency in all usage of your trademark. It is best to use the same capitalization, the same font, and the same color scheme for a given trademark for maximum consistency.