Companies whose marks toe the descriptive-suggestive line can have complicated paths to “full” trademark protection on the US Principal Register. Let’s look at one what is now a well-known brand traveled the path to a strong registration portfolio – the house mark for Chipotle, the Denver-based fast Mexican chain. The company now has more than fifty active US filings, about half of which are registrations for its house mark or stylizations thereof. Andrew Roppel of Holland & Hart’s Boulder Office is the filing correspondent for the company’s US marks.
Chipotle’s first trademark registration was for CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL & Design, shown below. The full prosecution history has never been scanned by the USPTO, but the application was filed in 1994 based on use since the prior year; a registration eventually issued on the Supplemental Register in late 1995. Why did it end up on the Supplemental Register? A chipotle pepper is a dried, smoked jalapeno pepper, either used on its own or packed in a spicy adobo sauce often used in Mexican cuisine, including in some of Chipotle Mexican Grill’s own food.
The company revisited its trademark portfolio in 1998, filing for the logo above, the word mark CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, and the word mark CHIPOTLE with 2(f) claims in 1998, eventually obtaining registrations for each in 2000. The company faced a 2(e) refusal for these re-filed applications. In response, it submitted extensive arguments arguing that CHIPOTLE was suggestive rather than descriptive, but the Office continued to refuse the mark as merely descriptive. A 2(f) claim based solely on 5 years’ use was sufficient to move forward to registration.
At the same time, the Office requested that the company disclaim CHIPOTLE and MEXICAN GRILL in the combined application. A response making a 2(f) claim and disclaimer of “Mexican Grill” overcame that issue, too.
The company’s expansion into prepared food products in 2005 generated similar issues, although, since the applicant was initially filed as an intent to use application, its 2(f) claim was initially refused on the grounds that (a) “chipotle” was more related to the applied-for foods than even restaurant services, and the distinctiveness for the prior registrations for services would not necessarily translate. The applicant was able to argue around the refusal based on the relationship between the goods and services, without having to fully paper out an evidence-based acquired distinctiveness claim. The application for CHIPOTLE alone for foods also ran into some prior-pending applications for BAJA CHIPOTLE for meat, CHIPOTLE BEEF PATTY for burgers, and CHIPOTLE for pizza, but each of them was abandoned prior to registration – the BAJA CHIPOTLE mark after an opposition by Chipotle Mexican Grill, the other two due to run of the mill prosecution inconveniences.
Chipotle has since obtained numerous registrations for variations of its house mark, all with little fuss – the 2(f) claims aren’t generating push-back from examiners any more, largely because most have probably eaten at a Chipotle restaurant at least once.
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