In a case handled by our firm, the TTAB recently affirmed the refusal of the mark LITTLE MERMAID for use in connection with dolls. Will this decision have ramifications for other public domain names? For other goods? We will have to wait and see.
The key quotes, in my opinion, from the decision:
“Similarly, a fictional public domain character like the Little Mermaid of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale is not necessarily linked to a specific commercial entity and may be presented in various embodiments because prospective purchasers expect dolls labeled as LITTLE MERMAID to represent the fairy tale character and, thus, describes the purpose or function of the goods (i.e., to represent the Little Mermaid of the fairy tale). ” Citations omitted.
“The record supports the conclusion that prospective customers immediately know that dolls described as or named LITTLE MERMAID refer to the fictional public domain character, and other doll makers interested in marketing a doll that would depict the character have a competitive need to use that name to describe their products.” Citations omitted.
“In summary, when consumers encounter a doll displaying the LITTLE MERMAID mark, the evidence before us persuades us that they will understand the mark to describe the public domain character in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, as well as a young or little mermaid, rather than perceiving LITTLE MERMAID as a mark identifying the commercial source of the goods. Accordingly, we find that LITTLE MERMAID when proposed for use in connection with dolls is merely descriptive.”
The full decision and case history can be found here on TTABvue.