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Trade Marks and the Doctrine of Foreign Equivalents

Translation of Foreign Language Trademarks

Language translation issues often come up in the context of foreign language words in trademarks. In a case involving vodka, the TTAB clarified its definition of the Doctrine of Equivalents by refusing to register the mark Moskovskaya. The central issue was the definition of “the ordinary American purchaser” in reference to the applied for mark.

Although it was Russian vodka, the vodka in question did not originate in Moscow. However, the term Moskovskaya is Russian for “from Moscow”. The applicant argues that the meaning is not geographic in nature because the average American purchaser would not translate the mark into English. The examining attorney, on the other hand, argues that “under the doctrine of equivalents, the ordinary American purchaser refers to the ‘ordinary American purchaser who is knowledgeable in the foreign language,’ and will translate the mark into its English equivalent.”

In its ruling, the Board ruled the applicant was taking the definition of “ordinary American purchaser” out of context and instead agreed with the examining attorney, refusing to register the mark. Thus, when applying for a copyrighted mark, it is essential to bear in mind that an exact foreign language translation will be used by the court.

See In re Spirits International N.V., 86 USPQ2d 1078 (TTAB 2008).

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