Appellant North Carolina Lottery (“N.C. Lottery”) sought to register the mark “FIRST TUESDAY” in connection with lottery services and games to market the introduction of new scratch-off lottery games on the first Tuesday of every month. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board denied the registration and N.C. Lottery appealed.
N.C. Lottery’s application included promotional materials with explanatory text such as “[n]ew scratch-offs the first Tuesday of every month.” The examining attorney found that the mark, as used in context of the promotional material, was merely descriptive. The Board affirmed the refusal to register, finding that “[n]o mental thought or multi-step reasoning is required to reach a conclusion as to the nature of the involved goods and services.”
On appeal, N.C. Lottery contended that the descriptiveness inquiry should not include the additional context from its advertising. The Court responded that the Board “must consider a mark in its commercial context to determine the public’s perception.” In re Nett Designs, 236 F.3d 1339, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2001). The public’s understanding or perception of a mark is evidenced by “[a]ny competent source,” including websites, publications, or advertising materials. In re Abcor Dev. Corp., 588 F.2d 811, 814 (C.C.P.A. 1798); see also In re Nett Designs at 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2001). Here, the commercial context demonstrated that a consumer would immediately understand the intended meaning of FIRST TUESDAY and that the mark is less an identifier of the source of goods than a description of a feature or characteristic of those goods or services. The Court declined to categorically discount explanatory text from supplying commercial context in a descriptiveness inquiry. While explanatory text associated with a mark does not necessary make the mark descriptive, “distinctiveness of a mark in the context of explanatory text remains a case-specific analysis.” The Court affirmed the Board’s decision refusing to register FIRST TUESDAY.
The distinctiveness of a mark in the context of explanatory text is a case-specific analysis that turns on evidence of the public’s understanding or perception of a mark.