Penn State officials are decidedly unhappy after the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office declined a request to trademark the “Happy Valley” nickname for university merchandise.
“Happy Valley” is a longtime nickname for the State College area. However, it was that precise geographical association that factored into the office’s decision to refuse the trademark.
“The primary significance of the mark is a generally known geographic place or location,” wrote Janet Peyton, an attorney representing the federal office.
“It’s really a place, and not a trademark,” said David Radack, a member of the intellectual property department at Eckert Seamans in Pittsburgh. “So other people have to be able to use that phrase when they’re describing where they’re from.”
Examples would include State College businesses like Happy Valley Brewing, Happy Valley Launchbox and Happy Valley Optical.
Peyton also wrote that the use of “Happy Valley” as an ornamental feature on products, rather than a mark identifying a specific company or the source for a particular product, factored into the decision.
“In this case, the submitted specimen shows the applied-for mark, ‘HAPPY VALLEY,’ located directly on the upper-center area of the front of the shirt, where ornamental elements often appear,” Peyton wrote. “Furthermore, the mark is displayed in a relatively large size on the clothing such that it dominates the overall appearance of the goods.
“Lastly, the applied-for mark appears to be a slogan that is used in a merely decorative manner that would be perceived by consumers as having little or no particular source-identifying significance,” she wrote.
Radack put it more simply: “If you put ‘I’m Really Hot’ on a t-shirt, that’s not a trademark, it’s just a phrase.”
The decision is not final. Penn State officials are able to respond and make an additional case for using “Happy Valley” as a trademark.
Radack said it may be possible to get around the geographical issue by proving what he called “secondary meaning.”
“If you can show that when people see ‘Happy Valley,’ they think of Penn State University, that’s a way to overcome that particular refusal,” he said. “But the ornamental refusal will be more difficult.”
Penn State officials are considering their options.
“We are reviewing the information from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office,” university officials said in a statement emailed to the Tribune-Review. “Under the procedures outlined by the government, the university has six months to respond.”
The response must be submitted by Sept. 11.