Online classified advertising giant Craigslist has been denied trademark registration for the purple peace symbol it uses in connection with its services. The USPTO found that Craigslist’s mark was not sufficiently different from the iconic universal peace symbol to make it an inherently distinctive mark, worthy of registration.
Craigslist submitted a black peace symbol in its original application to the USPTO which was denied, but then appealed to the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), amending its original application to substitute a purple version of the peace symbol. Craigslist argued that this change in color gave the sign an inherently distinctive character. The TTAB, however, found that lacking any distinctive matter, the change in color alone was insufficient to transform the symbol into an inherently distinctive mark and give it a source-indicating function.
Further complicating Craigslist’s bid was that it was seeking to trademark a universally recognized symbol. The USPTO’s Refusal on Basis of Ornamentation rule states “the significance of the proposed mark is a factor to consider when determining whether ornamental matter serves a trademark function.” The peace symbol, originally designed in 1958, became emblematic of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and has since been a symbol of world peace. Its significance is such that along with the “smiley face” and the phrase “Have a Nice Day,” it is specifically cited in the Refusal on Basis of Ornamentation rule as a common expression or symbol normally not perceived as a mark.
The TTAB’s refusal to grant Craigslist a trademark in the peace symbol illustrates the difficulty in seeking to use a universally known symbol as a trademark. Wal-Mart encountered this difficulty when it was denied protection from infringement of its “smiley face” mark. In order to serve as a source of origin and function as a trademark, such well-recognized symbols require distinctive modifications.