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Churrascos, Delicious Grilled Meats, Can't Be Trademarked

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 03, 2016 7:00 AM

Churrascos are delicious grilled meats found throughout Latin America, as skirt steaks in Puerto Rico, barbecue in Brazil, or slathered in chimichurri in Nicaragua. Churrascos is also a small chain of restaurants which sell, of course, South American grilled meats, along with other dishes. Cordua Restaurants Inc., the owner of the Churrascos chain, sought to register a stylized trademark of that name -- and was denied.

The Federal Circuit upheld that denial recently, finding that the term was too generic to be entitled to trademark protection.

Beef or Grilled Meet, Generally

Cordua originally obtained trademark registration for the name Churrascos in 2008, for use in connection with "restaurant and bar services; catering." Three years later, it sought to register the stylized version of that name, but found its application denied. The trademark examiner rejected it as "merely description" and generic description of the services. The Lanham Act bars trademark registration for marks that are simply a description of goods and services, such as "black beans," "dry cleaners," and, according to the examiner, "churrascos."

In Latin America, a restaurant serving churrascos is generally referred to as a churrascaria. But in the U.S., the examiner found, "churrascos" "refers to beef or grilled meat more generally" and "identifies a key characteristic or feature of the restaurant services, namely, the type of restaurant."

Too Generic to Be Trademarked

Cordua appealed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, who similarly denied registration, finding that the early registration of "Churrascos," sans stylization, had no bearing on the current application. Cordua appealed again, and was once again rejected. The Federal Circuit sustained the examiners determination that "churrascos" was too generic for protection.

According to the court, the critical question for determining genericness was "whether members of the relevant public primarily use or understand the term sought to be protected to refer to the genus of goods or services in question." The examiner, the court found, had provided clear evidence that churrascos was a generic term for a restaurant selling grilled, Latin American meat.

Further, the court rejected Cordua's argument that the stylized version of the name made it distinct enough for protection. "The display of Applicant's mark," the court wrote, "consisting primarily of stylized letters, does not make the applied-for matter registerable, despite the genericness of the term churrascos, since it does not create a separate commercial impression over and above that made by the generic term."

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