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Lee Greenwood Fails in Bid for ‘God Bless the USA’ Trademark

Dec. 2, 2020, 8:46 PM

Country singer Lee Greenwood can’t register “God Bless the USA” as a trademark for accent pillows, wooden centerpieces, and decorative wall hangings, a trademark tribunal ruled.

Greenwood’s mark fails to function as a trademark because consumers wouldn’t perceive it as identifying the source of the goods, as many other sources also use it, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board said Tuesday.

The precedential decision also rejected a late bid to alter the trademark to say “The Lee Greenwood Collection God Bless the USA.” The TTAB decision affirmed an examiner’s refusal to register.

The trademark office regularly rejects proposed marks where consumers would likely perceive them as merely communicating the ordinary meaning of words. Meanwhile, the decision to reject the amendment stemmed from rules prohibiting amendments that “materially alter the mark” and its commercial impression.

Greenwood tried to save the original “God Bless the USA” by arguing that his 1984 hit of that name meant people would immediately associate the products with him.

But because his application failed to put limits on the protected channels of trade or classes of consumers, the general public would be the relevant consumers, the TTAB said. That meant it would have to be perceived as a trademark by people who may or may not be country music aficionados, the board said.

Even Greenwood fans may perceive the proposed mark as merely an expression of patriotism, the board added. It cited the use of the phrase on various products by many third parties unaffiliated with Greenwood as evidence that it would fail to function as a trademark.

Material Change?

Greenwood tried to save the application by adding his already registered trademark, “The Lee Greenwood Collection,” onto the mark. As with the “God Bless the USA” application, that registration covers “accent pillows, decorative centerpieces of wood” and “decorative wall hangings, not of textile.”

But the examining attorney deemed the addition an impermissible “material alteration.”

Greenwood said the amendment merely added his previous mark, registered for the same goods, to the application. He noted a regulation stating “adding an element that the applicant has previously registered for the same goods or services may be permitted.”

Greenwood cited a 1959 Trademark commissioner decision where a perfume company was able to add its registered 4711 trademark to its application for “Elan.” It did so in an agreement with the owner of an “Elan Tibet” mark for perfume oil, which had objected. But subsequent cases and trademark regulation alterations made clear that adding an already registered mark can, but doesn’t have to be, a permissible alteration, the board said.

The ultimate question is whether the alteration changed the commercial impression of the mark, the TTAB said. Previous registration of an addition “is not an exception to the rule against material alteration; it is a factor to be considering in determining whether the alteration is material,” the board said.

Bone McAllestar Norton PLLC represented Greenwood.

The case is In re Lee Greenwood, TTAB, Serial No. 87168719, 12/1/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Jahner in Washington at kjahner@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloomberglaw.com, Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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