UGG boots – a descriptive term or a trademark in the US?

Dennis Crouch, the author of the IP blog Patentlyo reports about an interesting trademark dispute in the US.

The case concerns the term UGG which is used in Australia for describing sheepskin boots. The terms derives from a quote by the surfer Shane Stedman who said that these boots were ugly = ugg.

Different Australian companies use this term for such boots, which are well-known, and from that perspective the term is generic in the country.

The problem arose several years ago when one of those Australian companies imported UGG boots in the US.

A lawsuit for trademark infringement was initiated by Deckers Outdoor Corp based on already registered US trademark for UGG for the same class of goods.

The case was successful for the US company and the Australian importer appealed before the US Supreme Court referring the following questions:

1. Whether a term that is generic in the English-speaking foreign country from which it originated is ineligible for trademark protection in the United States.

2. Whether and, if so, how the “primary significance to the relevant public” standard in 15 U.S.C. § 1064(3) for determining whether a registered trademark has “become” generic applies where a term originated as generic before registration.

It is interesting what will be the Court conclusion on this matter. Nevertheless the case is indicative for the fact that one and the same term can be a trademark and a descriptive term in different countries. This can create risks for both the trademark owners and the users of the term depending where it is used.

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