“Immoral, deceptive, or scandalous” trademarks are not eligible for registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. See 15 U.S.C. 1052 (Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act). Similarly, Florida law bars registration of “immoral, deceptive, or scandalous” marks. See Fla. Stat. 495.021(a). Such refusals are not that uncommon. In fact, a colleague and former professor of mine, Marc Randazza, has blogged extensively on the subject.
A recent story on WPTV.com out of West Palm Beach brought to my attention a state-based trademark application that was rejected as being immoral. I’m pretty sure this is the first state trademark application that I’ve seen rejected on such grounds. (The state registration system is not nearly as robust as the USPTO’s online system, so it’s difficult to find out how many state applications are refused and under what grounds.)
The applicant operates a restaurant named “fuku,” which, according to the owner, means “good fortune, wealth and prosperity.” (Doesn’t it seem like every Japanese word means good fortune/luck/prosperity?) Apparently the examiner reviewing the application didn’t like the “fuck you” sound and rejected the application. (Again, the state system is crude, so I’m unable to read the actual refusal letter.)
At the federal level, the USPTO has an inconsistent history with “fuku” marks. FUKU-BONSAI was allowed registration. FUKU for clothes probably would have been registered if the applicant had responded to an Office Action. However, FUKU for condoms and retail stores selling adult toys seems to be having some trouble.
According to the news reports, the owner of fuku restaurant plans to appeal the refusal. (Another strategy might be file an application with the USPTO. Federal registration requires interstate commercial use. Depending on the restaurant’s location and marketing [i.e. if it is near a major interstate highway or tourist spot], it may be possible to allege interstate commerce. But, I’m guessing that fuku’s attorney will be able to overcome the state refusal based on the Japanese meaning.)
Additional coverage: HuffPo