Essentially, the USPTO found that the logo was too weak to have any trademark significance. And the State of Tennessee apparently agrees. This week, the state responded to the rejection by amending the application to the Supplemental Register.
What the heck is the Supplemental Register? It’s the 70-pound weakling to the Principal Register when it comes to federal trademark protection.
So what’s next for the state? It can meekly accept its supplemental registration and let the logo die an ignominious death. Or it can work on acquiring distinctiveness for the logo through the development of secondary meaning so that the logo becomes associated in the mind of the public with the applied-for services. Secondary meaning can be acquired through consistent and exclusive use over an extended period of time (the benchmark applied is 5 years; however, it is possible to acquire and demonstrate secondary meaning in a shorter period of time through significant advertising and market presence, as evidenced by survey evidence). An example of a weak mark that became strong and therefore capable of being registered on the Principal Register is the mark DOG CHOW for dog food, which was first used by the Ralston Purina Company in 1926.
Given the controversy over the $46,000 price tag for the logo, it will be interesting to see if the state is willing to commit the time, money and resources necessary for the logo to acquire distinctiveness. Stay tuned!