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Penn State’s ‘Happy Valley’ Trademark Application Denied

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has initially rejected Penn State’s trademark application for the term “Happy Valley,” which it filed for officially-licensed merchandise in December.

The refusal was based on the fact that the term is geographically descriptive and the use of it is “ornamental,” according to trademark attorney Josh Gerben.

The trademark office noted that the primary significance of the term “Happy Valley” is a commonly used nickname for State College and that the university is merely located in the region.

The issue with the “ornamental” use is that the term is represented on Penn State clothing examples as a slogan instead of an actual mark of representation.

“With respect to clothing, consumers may recognize small designs or discreet wording as trademarks, rather than as merely ornamental features, when located, for example on the pocket of breast area of a shirt” the USPTO office action reads. “Consumers may not, however, perceive larger designs or slogans as trademarks when such matter is prominently displayed across the front of a t-shirt.”

Penn State has the option to resubmit the trademark application if it has evidence that its use of the term can address its two shortfalls that led to the initial rejection.

The university would have to show it has claims to “acquired distinctiveness” — which it would be able to claim by showing the term has been used in conjunction with the university’s goods for more than five years.

It would also have to address the “ornamental” objection, which would require that the university was using the term on tags or labels instead of just slogans on t-shirts, according to Gerben.

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About the Author

Steve Connelly

Unfortunately, former editor Steve Connelly has graduated. Where is he now? He might be doing something related to that PR degree he got in 2019. Maybe he finally opened that sports bar named after one of his photos, the Blurry Zamboni. Or he might just be eating chicken tenders and couch surfing. Anything’s possible. If you really want to know, follow him on Twitter @slc2o.


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